February 9, 2009

Image Stabilization

If your photographs are out of focus, camera shake is always a likely culprit. Image stabilization technology can help solve that problem and it’s starting to work its way into even the consumer-level cameras.

On the professional and pro-summer side, several manufacturers, including Canon and Nikon, make lenses that incorporate image stabilization technology. Canon labels its technology IS (Image Stabilization), and Nikon labels its as VR (Vibration Reduction). Mechanisms inside the lenses compensate for any movement by the photographer (or wind or vehicles) and allow for hand holding at lower shutter speeds. As of this writing, Canon has a broader line of IS lenses compared to Nikon’s VR lenses, although Nikon is catching up. In the future, image stabilization will originate from the camera body itself, eliminating the need to design IS or VR lenses. We’re seeing this trend develop right now in many high-end digicams and a few other cameras.

So look for IS cameras and lenses if you want to get sharper images.

Here’s a little background on image stabilization. Canon launched the first modern-day image stabilizing technology in its original 70-300 IS lens. I bought that lens the day it came out. While it was virgin technology, it worked. Now everybody is talking stabilization and Canon’s innovation has been copied by others. And that’s a good thing.

If you can find a camera or lens you like, and you can afford the stabilized version. Spend the money.

Stabilized cameras or lenses let you make steady and sharp pictures without a tripod. You can typically get a two or three-stop advantage when you shoot under stabilized conditions. Meaning that if you apply the old rule, i.e., shutter speed equals focal length, (a 500mm lens requires shooting at a 500th of a second to get a sharp hand-held image) then using stabilized gear, you could shoot that same 500mm lens at around 125th of a second to get the same result.

While it’s always good to use a tripod, in some cases that’s not possible. That’s where stabilization comes in handy. It’s even more important with big glass. Even when using a tripod, a 600 mm lens can benefit greatly from stabilization.

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Join the conversation! 0 Comments

  1. Scott,
    Do you have any knowledge or experience with the differences between in-body stabilization versus in-lens? Is one better than the other at reducing camera shake?

    One of the reasons I chose the Pentax K200D as my first DSLR was the in-body stabilization, which opens up the possibility of picking up older, second-hand, lenses, and still having the shake-reduction option.

    Reply
  2. Scott,
    Do you have any knowledge or experience with the differences between in-body stabilization versus in-lens? Is one better than the other at reducing camera shake?

    One of the reasons I chose the Pentax K200D as my first DSLR was the in-body stabilization, which opens up the possibility of picking up older, second-hand, lenses, and still having the shake-reduction option.

    Reply
  3. Some may disagree with me on this. I’ve used a Nikon VR lens as my primary outdoor lens for more than about 2-years. The lens is a relatively slow F3-5.6 24-120mm AF-S ED VR Zoom. It may be this particular iteration of the Nikon VR wasn’t all it’s could have been. But, I really only see the greatest benefit from the VR at the top end of the focal length range. I’ve taken pictures at 120mm (180mm eq.) and 1/40s and been sharp. But, I don’t expect sharpness with 30mm taken at 1/8s without a tripod.

    I think that there is a current class of relatively slow wide-to-normal VR kit zooms that are aimed at consumers who understand “Vibration Reduction” better than F-numbers. I think it’s worth pointing out that faster lenses are a better choice in short-to-normal focal lengths. Of course, in longer focal lengths where the faster lenses run about the price of a small Toyota and still require a tripod, VR is a great feature.

    Reply
  4. I’ve often come across the recommendation to turn off stabilization when using a tripod because the stabilization mechanism itself introduces vibration when the camera is otherwise steady. Perhaps this piece of advice applies to smaller lenses but not to the big cannons (no pun intended). What do you think?

    Reply
  5. I’ve often come across the recommendation to turn off stabilization when using a tripod because the stabilization mechanism itself introduces vibration when the camera is otherwise steady. Perhaps this piece of advice applies to smaller lenses but not to the big cannons (no pun intended). What do you think?

    Reply
  6. Scott,

    In terms of in-body image stabilization, the future is now! Current (K20D, K200D) and recent (K10D, K100D) bodies from Pentax feature in-camera image stabilization.

    Dave

    Reply
  7. Scott,

    I’m not sure I agree with this particular statement:

    “In the future, image stabilization will originate from the camera body itself, eliminating the need to design IS or VR lenses.”

    First off, in-camera stabilization, like Pentax’s Sensor-shift technology, requires additional room around the sensor for shifting to be done, resulting in (al beit slightly) larger camera build.

    Furthermore, because the stabilization is done at a sensor level you will not be able to see its effectiveness through the viewfinder. I find that when I am shooting with my Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS and 500mm f/4 IS that being able to see (and dramatically so) when the image stabilizer kicks in it allows me to relax my breathing and get the shot. It may be purely psychological but not knowing how effective my IS is while shooting seems really off-putting.

    Additionally, there are many claims that sensor-shifting image stabilization is only effective to a certain focal length (<300mm) due to greater distances the sensor must be shifted to counter act movement at the longer focal lengths.

    Finally, while this may be the future, frankly I am always nervous when you start incorporating more “moving” parts into a dSLR. Overtime I’m sure every professional photographer has experienced shutter failure on one of their cameras, what happens when the sensor-shifting motor(s) fails?

    I’m clearly a skeptic, and I appreciate that many users have and love sensor-shifting cameras, but I just don’t see it as “eliminating the need to design IS or VR lenses.”

    It never ceases to amaze me just how effective Canon’s second gen IS is on my two aforementioned lenses, I have a hard time believing that a sensor shifting camera could match such performance. To me it seems that while it’s convenient (and potentially less expensive) to have stabilization done in-camera, it is also very generic.

    Reply
  8. Scott,

    I have heard that one should turn off the IS feature on a lense when taking photos with a tripod becasue the servo in the lense will cause ‘shake’. Is this a myth or is there any truth to it.

    Reply
  9. Scott,

    I have heard that one should turn off the IS feature on a lense when taking photos with a tripod becasue the servo in the lense will cause ‘shake’. Is this a myth or is there any truth to it.

    Reply
  10. I believe that the future arrived in late 2004 with the Minolta Maxxum/Dynax 7D. This was at a time when both Canon and Nikon said that you couldn’t put stabilization in a DSLR.

    Reply
  11. Got one word for you… “MONEY”

    If I could have stabilization across my lens vers just one or two I would do it in a heart beat. At some point people are going to take some hard looks at things like sensors that are made in the same factory but come in a stabilized version and a lens only VR.

    I would hope it would make Cannon and Nikon to give us that in there cameras as well. It’s sort of silly they haven’t at this point when it’s part of lots of there point and shoots.

    Nobody will care at either company if the consumer doesn’t vote with there wallet on it.

    Reply
  12. Got one word for you… “MONEY”

    If I could have stabilization across my lens vers just one or two I would do it in a heart beat. At some point people are going to take some hard looks at things like sensors that are made in the same factory but come in a stabilized version and a lens only VR.

    I would hope it would make Cannon and Nikon to give us that in there cameras as well. It’s sort of silly they haven’t at this point when it’s part of lots of there point and shoots.

    Nobody will care at either company if the consumer doesn’t vote with there wallet on it.

    Reply
  13. I’ve got two images posted on my blog which “clearly” illustrate the effectiveness of VR on and off. I took both photos handheld at 1/3 of a second.

    Reply
  14. I’ve got two images posted on my blog which “clearly” illustrate the effectiveness of VR on and off. I took both photos handheld at 1/3 of a second.

    Reply
  15. A word of warning regarding “image stabilization” in some point-and-shoot cameras. Marketing departments have latched onto the value of using various versions of the term “image stabilization” to sell cameras, when, in fact, all the camera is doing is raising the ISO so that it can set a faster shutter speed.

    Reply

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