25 June 2015

Digital camera hand grip modification

I reached the limit of tolerance with my pocket compact digital camera as I realized my images were lacking sharpness when light conditions were not ideal.
Most of my images are displayed on monitors (web use) and only occasionally I print the very best pictures of mine.
While all images look great when displayed small things don't look so good once they are enlarged.
Add, low light and the tiny lenses of most compact cameras suddenly look a bit fuzzy.
If you believe that the images you take on your smart phone are good enough, then don't need to read any further: you are wasting you time.

I want better results for my photographic efforts but I refuse to schlep a large camera with me.
Weight and bulk are always my concern (some say, personal too :-) but gone are the days of toting around a large heavy camera.
If the subjects that I want to photograph would be within reach of a short walk away from the car I would worry less, but when I take my cameras in a backpack and lug it around for days in the back country, or it has to fit inside my kayak on extended trips, then size does matter.

Oly vs Nikon_lens
Olympus camera and lens compared to Nikon, similar focal length, same f/stop
For my second trip to Scandinavia I wanted to have a higher quality camera, one that allows me to apply my skills and one that would reward my creativity. My intention was no longer to simply record my trip, I wanted images I would be happy to hang on my wall.

The Micro Four Thirds system of cameras is the perfect compromise for me: images are sharp and the cameras have features than no other system has, size being one of the major ones.
I can afford to have a camera body and a couple of lenses with me and not really feel it in my backpack, something I could not do with a lot of DSLRs.

But where the Micro 4/3 system excels it also poses some problems with users with slightly bigger hands: the hand grips are often a bit small.
As I started to attach larger/heavier lenses on my Olympus cameras I felt that the grip was a bit diminutive and I had to clutch the camera too tightly.
I could use their Pro models but that would defeat the idea of compact and light: I just wanted a better grip, not a bigger camera.

camera size comparison_3
same image sensor, different body, same image result
Commercially available add-on grips look too bulky (no need to have a base plate bolted to the bottom if one is not needed) and the glue-on aftermarket grips were not available for the camera I was using.
However those aftermarket grips looked really good and that prompted me to come up with my own DIY modified hand grips.

commercially available stick-on grip, here

I used Sugru, a silicon putty that feels like Plasticine but cures hard like rubber, sticks well and does not feel too slippery.
A small packet of Sugru contain enough material to shape a single grip if a large one is desired, or just enough for two smaller ones. Bright colors are available but I went with conservative black.
I have so far modified an Olympus E-PM2 (smallest of the M4/3 series) a couple of E-P5 and several E-M5.

grip mod on PM2
Olympus E-PM2
Once the putty is kneaded and then firmly pressed onto the existing small protrusion where the fingers grip the camera, I shape the soft material with a small bladed knife to create a clean edge.
A moistened index finger keeps on shaping the putty until I am happy with the overall shape, then I run the back of the knife blade to create a perfectly uniform surface (not bumpy).
If the form of the grip is in its final shape I like to add some texture to enhance the surface and create more friction for my fingers.

Sugru grip on P5_3
Olympus E-P5
Here I use a combination of pins, pen ends (to create little circles) and an old toothbrush for finer texture.
I try to achieve a look that matches the existing camera finish but I simply will never be able to replicate the faux leather surface.
Before I let the camera rest to cure I check that there are no bits of stray silicon putty on the grip, where I don't want it.
While the cured silicon does become hard like rubber it is not impossible to remove it mechanically but one needs to scrape vigorously to get it off.

Sugru grip on M5_2
Olympus E-M5
I have seen some photographers push their fingers into the soft putty before it's cured to have an "imprint" look; I go for a more universal one where the grip is an extension of the original one and less fully-custom.

Sugru grip on M5_3
Olympus E-M5 and E-P5, modified grips

The grip on my Olympus cameras is now much more positive: my fingers don't have to clutch the body so tightly and the softer grip fatigues my hand much less when on longer photo shoots.

Photographing the sunset_c .


  1. cool idea, damiano
    (i'm still doing frame grabs with the gopro 4!)
    re resolution - I think the web will always lag behind what high end cameras can produce

    1. I find that too: the so popular YouTube (or Vimeo) channel does not give the GoPro footage enough credit, even if streamed at 1080p.
      There is a difference of chalk and cheese between watching the original footage directly from my PC or from YouTube.
      Now, if I paid them money (pro account) maybe things might look different? no sure
      4K? no thanks, I don't have the ability to properly edit that footage and streaming it is just futile.
      Now, when it comes to still images, there is problems with interpolation between what size I upload and what I display.
      I could upload the exact same size as what I intend to display but since my published images often differs in size I can not plan to export all different sizes of the same image to then use the size I need published. The images of mine that you see displayed here are a far cry from the original files.
      For the rare times that I have an image that I want to print, the larger camera does produce sharper files for printed display.
      Last but not least: 5 axis in body image stabilization on the Olympus M5 and P5: it's like having the camera mounted on a Steadycam, really.
      To get that out of GoPro I would need a brushless gimbal.

  2. At least Vimeo gives you the option of downloading!
    5 axis axis stabilisation sounds cool and I reckon GoPro will get there one day.

    ...yeah but, no but ....but yeah...
    for all our talk and equipment, and recording and sharing, kayaking images and video....
    nothing comes remotely close to being 'out there' doing it!
    I s'pose if it gets someone 'out there doing it' we've done some good! ; )

    1. but since I can't always be "out there doing it" (a 9to5 job prevents that) I get a nice feeling just watching the places I have visited before, reliving those moments, even if for just briefly


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