The reciprocal rule is handy to know when you are hand-holding your camera, especially with a long lens attached. It states “always use a shutter speed whose reciprocal is faster than the focal length of the lens”. So if you’re hand-holding a 500 mm lens, you have to use a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.
I still don’t fully trust hand-holding my long lenses so I’m always lumbering around with a big tripod. But after I bought the Nikon’s f5.6 200-500 mm, I thought I’d give myself a break, and make use of its light weight.
But I was getting pathetic results. That reciprocal rule, which worked so well in film and early digital days, just wasn’t working anymore. I kept complaining about the camera — that the mirror vibration was causing camera shake, the very thing the reciprocal rule was meant to prevent. Even with my heaviest tripod I wasn’t getting acceptable results.
And yet I was getting blazingly crisp images with flash. Clearly both the lens and sensor were capable of producing optimum sharpness. Finally after almost two years of struggle I had a realisation. The “reciprocal rule” no longer works — at least not with high resolution sensors like my Nikon D810. Once I started shooting at 1/1250 and faster (about 3x faster than the reciprocal rule), the sharpness was back at last.
I got into some bird photography during spring and summer (thanks to inspiration from local photographer Geoff White) and I’m happily hand-holding my long lenses like never before. So the tip is: nix the standard reciprocal rule and use much higher shutter speeds with hi res cameras.
Also, have a think about coming along to a workshop, bird photography or otherwise.