Well, no, you probably can’t. As much as wildlife photographers want to believe they have rock solid biceps and a shooting stance that anchors them with a firm foundation, long lenses and physics render this belief moot. A long lens shakes and because it magnifies things (why else would you use a long lens, right?) every little shake gets magnified as well. So you end up with blurred images. And usually just when you don’t want them.
Sucks, doesn’t it? Just when the eagle does something interesting I’m trying to hand hold my longest lens at an aperture that at least gives me some depth of field but at a lousy 1/125 sec. when I should be at least using 1/600 sec or faster (see below for why). Why would I do this? Because I wasn’t ready and thought a snap shot would work. Hey, my camera has in body stabilization – that should count for something, right? No, not really. The stabilization is meant to give you more latitude on aperture or shutter speed selection, not counteract the wrong decision.
Rule of thumb – shutter speed at least as fast as the reciprocal of your focal length. In my case, a 300mm lens on a Four-Thirds camera, meaning a 600mm equivalent. I thought I could just stand by my car, lean on the door, and let technology handle my bad judgement. And I missed a good image opportunity.
Use a tripod. Use a monopod. Rest your camera on a really solid object. Do something to eliminate those little jerks and shifts your hands and arms make when holding something. Actually, use a tripod and be done with it.
How much difference does it make? I continued to use poor judgement for at least half the images during the shoot so here’s a comparison. These two shots were taken within a minute of each other.
Even on the computer screen the difference is very noticeable. Bird images must be sharp – our eyes are too used to seeing details in feathers, eyes, beaks and claws. When I use a tripod with this lens, use the mirror lock-up (to reduce vibration even more) and apply just a little post-processing sharpening, a correctly made image just works.
Some photographers claim to never use a tripod – great, they have better muscle control than I do. But I bet they don’t photograph wildlife. You can get away with hand held images with short lenses, bright flashes (they freeze action), incredibly fast shutter speeds (1/1000 sec or faster) or an artistic decision that all your images will be blurred. But to present reality as people are used to seeing it, many times a sharp image is important, by which I mean not blurred. Long lenses are great tools but you have to use them correctly and respect their limitations. Get a solid tripod and use it. Hang your camera bag from it to stabilize it more. Learn how to lock up your mirror and do so (except for you high-end Sony users with the semi-transparent mirror!). Overcome your feeble, shaky hands with rock solid technique and produce the images that amaze viewers.