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I have some 16 x 50 binoculars that my parents bought me years ago. Recently I have tried to do some basic lunar and planetary observations with them but I am seriously struggling with shaking. This was most noticeable tonight while attempting to observe the ISS.

While I accept that keeping the image of a moving target stable is going to be next to impossible, I would like to know how I could reduce my shaking while observing the moon and other objects.

Is anyone able to provide some simple techniques to reduce shaking?

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  • $\begingroup$ While it won't help with your existing equipment, a pair of image stabilizing binoculars such as Canon's 10 x 30 IS II Binoculars (which I own and use extensively) can really enhance your experience. They are unfortunately pricey. However when you use them, the effect is truly remarkable. The image almost locks into place and you can discern great detail. I have great fun using mine for astronomy, observing air planes, hiking to lookout points, etc. $\endgroup$ – ckb Jun 1 '16 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ In addition to the good advice given in the answers, you might want to make an appointment with a neurologist. This comment is based on personal experience. Hand-held binoculars are pretty much useless to me as of the last year or so. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Jun 1 '16 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'm only 33.... $\endgroup$ – Burgi Jun 1 '16 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, everyone that has replied, I am waiting for some clear skies in northern England to try some of the techniques. If it turns out I need new kit I'll report back. $\endgroup$ – Burgi Jun 12 '16 at 20:49
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Don't hold the binoculars in your hands. Humans are made of meat. wobbly wobbly meat. There's apparently devices that let you mount binoculars on tripods - (this google search would be a start). Those and a tripod would probably be helpful in decreasing shake.

I suppose it would affect mobility a little but that's a tradeoff.

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    $\begingroup$ wobbly wobbly meat :-) $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop Jun 1 '16 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ They're made out of meat $\endgroup$ – Madara Uchiha Jun 1 '16 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ I was totally thinking of this. $\endgroup$ – Journeyman Geek Jun 1 '16 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ "Hold still while holding the binoculars" $\endgroup$ – Michael Jun 1 '16 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ "Ugly bags of mostly water" $\endgroup$ – Jamie Hanrahan Jun 2 '16 at 4:07
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Tripods are good, as are monopods. These aren't as stable as tripods but are easier to lug around as they have 1/3 of the number of legs. When using a monopod you form the other two legs of the "tripod" to create the stability.

Other options:

  1. Lean your elbows on a wall or something else at the right height. This is more useful when looking at terrestrial objects, but you should be able to adapt the stance for looking the heavens.

  2. Sit down. Take a deck chair out with you and set it to recline as far as is comfortable. Then you can rest your elbows on your chest to give some more support.

  3. Wrap the binocular's strap around one arm so that the binoculars are now rigidly held in your hand. This will reduce (but not eliminate) the shake from your wrist.

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    $\begingroup$ Monopods, a stick with a crosspiece at the top, work quite well, as do the roofs of cars, sides of buildings, and fenceposts. $\endgroup$ – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 1 '16 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ I had very good results this morning simply by lowering to top (and outer) sash of a window, resting the objective ends on the top of the top sash, and resting my elbows on the top of the bottom sash. Directionally limited of course, but Orion Nebula was "right there". (Celestron 20x80.) $\endgroup$ – Jeff Y Oct 13 '16 at 14:19
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Ideally a tripod as Journeyman suggests.

Another idea is to use a different grip. Use both hands to hold the right hand objective housing. Allow the left hand objective to rest on the back of your left hand/wrist. Also if possible hold your elbows in closer to your body (this is really only possible if you're not looking very high up.)

This means your two hands are in a "relatively" rigid triangular arrangement. It's still far inferior to using a tripod, but it's a bit better than just holding the binoculars in the traditional way...

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I always recommend a good tripod. That said, there are a few tricks to stabilizing binoculars in human hands.

  1. Hold your elbows together, under the binocs and pressed up against your belly. This reduces the leverage that the binoculars have on your stable body by half.

  2. Hold something heavy on/under the binoculars. In the army I would take to full M-16 magazines and stack them under the binoculars, holding them all together. The increased mass reduced vibration. Note however that it does become more difficult to hold the binocs for long periods of time.

  3. Stand in a pistol stance. Legs spread apart, slightly wider than the shoulders and knees very slightly bent. Shoulders back.

The way that I would test my stability is to find lettering far from where I stand. I could very measurably increase the distance that I could read from by doing those three things. You would likely not have such a test available at night for astronomy observations, though.

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For binoculars, your best option isn't just a simple tripod, but a parallelogram mount (link for representation only, not a product recommendation) on a tripod. While many standard to slightly larger than standard binoculars will have an adapter to attach them to a standard tripod; except for looking at things near the horizon it won't be comfortable to use. The problem is that because they're short the binocular eye pieces will often be too close to the tripod legs themselves for comfortable head positioning. If you're showing things to other people a parallelogram mount has the added bonus of being adjustable in height without changing what its pointed at.

If you're hand holding the most important thing you can do is to use both hands and brace your arms in some way. The top rail of a tall fence or a table (if you're seated) often work well. If you don't have anything else you can use your body itself by resting your upper arms against your chest to form a cantilever brace.

A last option, although not one I particularly recommend for other reasons (RSI injuries in particular) would be to get a job filling jars in an artisan scale canning/bottling plant. A friend of mine does that and after several years has bulked up his arms to the point he was able to use my 15x70 binoculars with 1 hand the way an average person could do with a light weight 5x35 pair.

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  • Grip the binoculars as far out as you can. Shake is actually angular movement of the binoculars. Abstractly speaking your binoculars are a single-sided lever with the swivel-point where the eye-pieces are pressed against your face, while the hands cause angular movement. The longer the lever is, the smaller the angular deflection for a specific movement of the hands becomes. And with smaller angular deflection, the shake becomes smaller.

  • Press your elbows down against something solid, or — lacking that — push them against your rib cage. If you can fixate your elbows, then you restrict the movement of the hands greatly.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the simplest answer that works in a lot of ad-hoc situations. $\endgroup$ – Florin Andrei Jan 26 at 11:14
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Helmet mounted binoculars is best, but if all you had was your binoculars kneeling is better then standing and prone position is best.

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    $\begingroup$ Are these available in 16x50? $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Dec 13 '17 at 8:13

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