It's a very dirty word to golfers. Some of them don't even like to hear it spoken, as if the word itself has magic powers that could cause them to get infected.
In golf, the yips is a movement disorder known to interfere with putting.
Yips or the yips is the apparent loss of fine motor skills without apparent explanation, in one of a number of different sports. The technical term is focal dystonia. Athletes affected by the yips demonstrate a sudden, unexplained loss of previous skills. Athletes affected by the yips sometimes recover their ability, sometimes compensate by changing technique, or may be forced to abandon their sport at the highest level. (Wikipedia)
Although it sounds somewhat comical, it's actually not. At least temporarily or intermittently, it affects between 25% and 50% of golfers middle-aged or older. It has ended some spectacular careers: the golfer Tommy Armour gave up tournament play because of it. In the great Ben Hogan's case, it manifested as mental paralysis—he couldn't bring himself to draw the putter back to make a stroke, and would stand motionless over a putt for agonizingly long periods of time. He described this as being completely involuntary—he was trying to move but couldn't.
I don't know what it is, but something locks between my ears—maybe it's sawdust—and I just can't swing the putter back. That's why it takes me so long to putt, and I know it's awful for the people to watch. It's embarrassing for me, even when I'm alone on a practice green. I get up there, and I just can't hit the ball. I don't care where the ball goes, I just want to putt it—but sometimes I can't move the club. (Ben Hogan after the third round of the Masters in 1967)
It's been a problem for me with a camera for about ten or twelve years. When I attempt to hold the camera steady for a long exposure, I get tense and make involuntary small jerks or tremors.
I'm reasonably convinced that half my problem is 90% mental (to paraphrase another great mid-century sportsman, Yogi Berra). The reason is that when I performed experiments to test how long an exposure I can hand-hold, on two separate occasions, I performed perfectly!
I've done this twice over the years. I won't describe the somewhat more involved experiments I performed with film, because it's extremely easy to test with a digital camera: in moderate or subdued light, focused on a detailed subject 15 or 20 feet away, just make several exposures at every shutter speed from 1/125th down to 1 second, adjusting ISO to keep the aperture constant. Then examine the files to see at which shutter speed you start to see motion blur. Examining the files at 100% is good enough—if you drill down to 300% or more you might be cutting the data too fine. What looks good enough at 100% will generally look just fine on the Web and in a print.
This should give you two important data points: the lowest shutter speed you can reliably handhold—the lowest one at which all your test shots are sharp—and your "hail Mary" shutter speed, which is the lowest one where at least a few shots are sharp, even though the rest might be blurry.
My problem was that when it's okay to shake the camera, I don't. The second time I tested this, I used neutral density filters to take a picture of a bush some fifteen feet from me. I knew as soon as I made the exposures that I'd held every single test shot rock-steady. Sure enough, even the one-second exposures were dead sharp.
The trouble is, I cannot do that on purpose. If I try to get a real picture at 1/15th, I'll tighten up and move the camera. The shot will most likely not be sharp. One-fifteenth is my Hail Mary speed with a 35mm or 35mm-e lens—maybe one shot out of four will be sharp. At 1/30th, only one shot out of maybe five will show any evidence of motion blur, and at 1/60th I'm fine*.
And here's the fascinating thing. I handhold much better with a camera that has image stabilization (IS)—but I'm reasonably convinced (having not conducted scientific experiments on myself, I'll admit) that this is partly because knowing it's there helps me to relax.
In other words, with some sort of IS present and functioning, I don't get the yips. Knowing it's all up to me to hold the camera steady makes me anxious, and I do worse than I would do otherwise.
I can't be positive of any of this, of course, but I've been convinced for some time that IS makes more of a difference for me than it does for other people, and that part of its advantage for me is not technical—well, not actual—but psychological.
For this reason, I think I'd choose the Olympus OM-D E-M1 if I had to choose between it and the Fujifilm X-T1.
If IS were not a distinction between the two, and/or if my personal peccadillo regarding IS were not an issue, then I'd choose the X-T1. I like its control layout better, and I find it even a little more fun to use (although the Olympus is very pleasant to use too).
P.S. The yips cannot touch me on the golf course, because I can't play golf worth a damn anyway.
*I did have trouble even at 1/250th once—leaning out over a bridge taking a picture of the body of a recent suicide on the pavement far below—pool of blood and everything—with a cop practically on my elbow yelling at me to move along and stop taking pictures. I was using an 85mm lens, the longest I had with me, and my adrenaline and agitation levels were both very high. So what I'm saying is that it is situational to some extent.
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Featured Comments from:
scott kirkpatrick: "There's an apocryphal but relevant tale about teaching recruits to hover in a helicopter. It's really tough, since the 'copter is unstable, and thinking about what you are trying to do only makes it worse. So the instructor reaches down, flips a switch, and says 'try it for a while with the auto-stabilizer helping.' Everything settles down. Then, after a while, he says 'now you're ready to try it again without help,' turns the switch off, and the landing light goes out."
Dan Montgomery: "I too had the yips while shooting at a high shutter speed. Driving home from Sequoia National Park one day, I spotted a bear at the side of the road (as if anyone could have not spotted him). I stopped and cracked the window enough to stick my 85mm lens outside. I'm pretty sure I was shooting at 1/250th, too, and the bear filled the frame. I was sure I was getting superb shots—sure to run in the Visalia, Calif., Times-Delta, where I worked at the time. I'm not particularly afraid of black bears, but still, I was a few feet from a bear. Every frame was blurry."
Dave in NM: "Sounds very much like a shooting flinch—the pre-recoil anxiety that's so difficult for a rifle shooter to overcome."
Jack Nelson: "I'm probably not telling you anything new, but I find it helps to put the camera on burst mode and then take 3–5 shots while trying my best to hold it steady. I can usually get one of these to turn out OK."
John Leathwick: "One trick I use when wanting to nail a longer exposure (e.g., ND filter on my OM-D with 1/10th to get water movement) is to switch on the two-second delay. That way I get the finger movement for depressing the shutter release out of the way as a separate operation, bracing myself and staying nice and still while the exposure occurs. I've been surprised at just how long an exposure I can get away with when using my 12mm and 17mm wides—a second at times if well braced."
Richard Newman: "As you note, this problem (yips) is common to many sports, just differing in what its called and how it manifests. It is primarily a mental issue, and there are a number of techniques used to reduce or eliminate it. However, there is a muscle training component to it, and I think it applies to photography. In competitive shooting, there are two relevant muscle components—the ability to isolate trigger finger movement from the rest of the hand (which you don't want to move) and the prevention of 'trigger jerk,' which is a sudden uncoordinated motion of the trigger finger which almost always causes the shot to be in the wrong place.
"Similarly in photography, the shutter pressure finger needs to be isolated from the rest of the hand, and sudden (jerk) pressing of the shutter will almost always cause motion. In film days, it probably was most prevalent among amateur sports photographers who couldn't shoot 10 or more shots within a few seconds, as they tried to record the 'peak' of the action. Training and practice can help. The goal is to develop mental control so that the decision to 'shoot!!!' doesn't result in a spasm response. This applies to long exposure holding of the shutter as well, as both mental control and developing good 'muscle memory' through proper reptition can improve performance.
"Of course, as with most sports, old age and/or physical problems tend to degrade performance. But if you want to be good at long handheld exposures, it's like getting to Carneige Hall—practice, practice, practice...."
Jamie Pillers: "It's those little lightweight cameras you've been using of late, Mike. You need to go back to something with heft...the A99 perhaps. Or gaffer-tape a brick to the bottom of that Fuji...or Pany...or whatever you're enamored with these days. :-) "