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.