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Photography / Tips and Solutions

Image Stabilization: When to Use it and When to Turn it Off

         

Image stabilization, or vibration reduction, O.I.S., Optical SteadyShot, SR, VC, VR, MEGA O.I.S., and other equally catchy monikers, are technologies that enable photographers to take pictures under lighting conditions that once upon a time would have been considered too iffy for capturing sharp still images. Depending on the make, model, and vintage of your IS-enabled camera or lens, image stabilization allows you to capture sharp pictures at shutter speeds three, four, or five times slower than previously possible.

The rule of thumb for capturing sharp, handheld imagery is that you shouldn’t handhold a camera at shutter speeds slower than the equivalent focal length of the lens. This means a 500mm lens shouldn’t be handheld at speeds slower than 1/500-second, a 300mm lens slower than 1/300-second, a 50mm lens slower than 1/50-second, and a 20mm lens slower than 1/20-second.

Add image stabilization into the mix and suddenly you can capture sharp images of still objects with a 500mm lens at speeds down to 1/60-second, a 300mm lens at speeds down to 1/30-second, and a 20mm lens at speeds down to 1/2-second.

The problem is that, while setting up a new camera for the first time, many shooters turn the camera or lens’s image stabilization on and never look back, figuring “If I need it, it’s on,” but depending on your particular camera or lens, that may or may not be such a good idea.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the subject, it’s important to clarify a common misconception about image stabilization, which is that it enables you to “freeze” fast-moving objects at slower shutter speeds. This is totally false. Image stabilization only allows you the ability to capture sharp images of static subjects at slower speeds. Moving objects will be equally blurry or streaky—and in some cases blurrier or shakier with the IS turned on.

Lens-based stabilization: Camera and lens system when still

There are two types of image stabilization (IS): lens based and in camera. Lens-based stabilization uses a floating lens element, which is electronically controlled and shifted opposite to any camera shake recorded by the camera. In-camera systems work similarly, but will physically shift the image sensor to compensate for these movements. As for which form of image stabilization is better, there are pros and cons for both sides.

Lens-based stabilization: Camera and lens system jerked downwards, producing camera shake

The advantages of in-lens image stabilization include smoother performance when using longer focal length lenses. The downside of lens-based image stabilization is that it’s not available as an option for all lenses and it adds to the cost of the lens. Then again, if you don’t need IS, you often have the option of purchasing a non-IS version of the lens, or at least something similar.

Lens-based stabilization: Correction made by IS lens group

The pros of in-camera image stabilization are that you gain the advantages of IS technology with any lens you can mount on the camera for considerably less cost than multiple IS-enabled optics. The downside of in-camera image stabilization is that it’s less effective at smoothing the bumps when shooting with longer focal length optics when compared to lens-based image stabilization.

Camera-based stabilization: Camera and lens system when still

If you mount the camera on a tripod (or similar stable platform) without cutting the IS, you risk creating what’s called a feedback loop, in which the camera’s IS system essentially detects its own vibrations and starts moving around, even when the rest of the camera is completely still. This introduces motion objects to your camera system and brings with it blurriness. This is one of the key reasons to turn off image stabilization.

Camera-based stabilization: Camera and lens system jerked downwards, producing camera shake

Many systems feature specialized modes for panning action and this should be used when shooting action and other subjects that require constant side-to-side motion. However, some older lenses and entry-level systems may not have this option, or may not operate properly when panning, resulting in more blurring. This is an instance when it may be beneficial to turn your stabilization system off.

Lens-based stabilization: Sensor shift ameliorates camera shake

Also, another reason one could come up with to shut down their stabilization system is battery life. Electronically controlled and measured, IS will eat up battery power. This is especially true with larger lenses and larger sensors, which inherently require more energy to move around.

On a final note: it is well worth mentioning that, for the sharpest results when photographing still subjects, nothing beats a camera mounted on a sturdy tripod with the image stabilization turned off. This is because image stabilization, by its very nature, using motion along one axis to counter motion in the opposite axis, often creates varying degrees of image degradation of its own, whereas a camera firmly coupled to a stable tripod and tripped with a cable or remote release with the mirror locked in the up position will, in almost every instance, take a sharper picture.

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Great article.

Seems like people are saying that IS is not really useful for fast moving objects like in sports. Would this apply to birds too?

Hi Mark,

It's a gray area on whether IS has an impact on image quality when shooting action at generally fast shutter speeds (1/1000 sec or faster). However, IS can have a substatial impact on your viewfinder and can help stabilize the image to better track your subject. So, if you are birding with a long lens handheld, IS should probably be left on.

If I am shooting surfers using a canon 70-200 f4 is L at 200mm, with a canon 700D body, and I am using shutter speeds of 1/1000 or faster, should I have IS 2 switched on? Does IS make a difference at such high speeds or should I switch it off altogether?

Hi Conor,

IS has benefits beyond just stabilizing the image. While it will have less impact at high shutter speeds, it is still visible in the viewfinder, making it easier to compose while tracking fast subjects. I would test to see which works best for you, it is only a click of a switch if you find it better one way or the other.

I just read here that it might be best to choose either using lens based VR or body based VR, but not both at the same time. Then there is a side bar that says some manufactures are now allowing dual VR - lens and body together.

I'm shooting with a Nikon D5300 that has VR and a Tamron 16-300 lens that has Vibration Compensation (VC). Would I be running into issues if both were active?

Hello Jay,

In your case, the Nikon D5300 does not have in-body or sensor-based stabilization. So you will have to rely on the lens-based VR system. I am not 100% familiar with all of the D5300's settings though, and what you may find is a digital VR setting. These digital modes crop into the image, compromising image quality and I would avoid these settings altogether. Hope this helps.

I have a Canon SX50HS very-long-zoom camera.  In one place in the manual it says to turn IS off when shooting on a tripod; in another place it describes "smart IS" which automatically detects the lack of motion on a tripod and reacts appropriately.   Which is correct?

Actually, I seldom use a tripod.  I frequently take pictures of birds, which are moving targets, and for any serious use of the long-zoom capability, attach a home-made "handle" or "rifle stock" to the camera which lets me hold it reasonably steady as long as I can sit down or lean my body on a tree, etc, for stability.  There is still some wobble, and I never turn the IS off.   I have not really experimented seriously (body shake is random and many shots would have to be taken).  But I am usually satisfied with my results.  (I bought the tripod screw and nut from B & H.)

Hi Francis,

Best practice is likely to just turn it off when you use a tripod. However, if you rarely use a tripod and the camera claims a "Smart IS" mode, you likely won't have any noticeable loss of quality in your image if you always have it on.

Hi, great artical;

For a fast sport e.g cycling i use 1/100-1/250  just to clarify IS is not required shooting at those speeds?

Thanks

Hi Bailey,

It may or may not be helpful for your situation, depending on focal length and shooting style. Many modern IS systems can account for panning, which can dramatically improve your images. Also, assuming you are using telephoto lenses it seems that your shutter speed is a little slow, I would probably be up around 1/500 at least shooting cycling and with panning will be using IS. Hope this helps but you should do experiments with your equipment to see if you can get any improvements from one style to another.

I love this explanation.  Really helpful in understanding the science behind IS.  Can you point me to a similar article describing the difference between IS 1 and 2 on the Canon 70-200?  I know in general that IS 2 is for panning at slower shutter speeds, but I would love to understand the science behind that as well!

Unfortunately I was not able to find any particular articles that go indepth on the IS 2 mode.  Its essentially for panning as  you mentioned.  Most of the sites I could find discussing it were simply forum based sites with posters asking the same type of question.  Canon USA's own link discussing lens terms is also not super indepth.  Below is the link to Canon USA's website which discusses IS and other lens attributes.

http://bit.ly/1mFSWYx

I always have had the in-camera IS turned off and do not have lenses with IS and always shoot with a tripod.  However, while taking pictures on a bridge with traffic, the cars and busses would create vibration where I was set-up. I felt the pictures were not as sharp as they could have been. Should I turn the in-camera IS on in this situation even though I'm using a tripod? I use an Olympus OMD-EM5. 

Hi Mark -

You could certainly try turning the IS feature "ON", but I am not sure it will help.  You may want to try bringing along a firm rubber mat that can absorb some of the vibrations from the bridge traffic that seem to be travelling up the tripod legs to your camera.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I have a canon SX520. Would I want to turn off the IS when shooting on a tripod for a more expensive Point and shoot?

Thanks

What would be the effect of using a lens with IS on a body that also has IS? Would it make sense to use both? 

For the majority of camera/lens combinations, you would want to choose to use the image stabilization in either the camera or the lens.  You would not want to use both at the same time. 

Hello Ralph,

Many manufacturers lately have been implementing systems that not only enable the use of both in-body and lens stabilization simultaneously, but have them work together to provide better IS than each could do alone. For example, Panasonic has their new Dual I.S. and Sony's latest a7 series cameras will automatically balance the lens and sensor stabilization for maximum benefit. But, in the case where the manufacturer doesn't have such a system, it is best to test out different configurations for your style of shooting.

I recently bought a Sigma 70-200 with OS.. When shooting handheld and with OS on in either setting, as I press to focus the image in the viewfinder jumps thus altering my composition. I then have to recompose before clicking. Can you tell me why this is, please? 

Which specific model camera are you shooting with please?

can anyone tell me the frequecy tollerance range of sony image stabilization in the RX100IV  thanks

Unfortunately, this is not information we receive from Sony.  Though, you could try contacting them directly. 

Sony

Tel: 888-476-6972 or 800-222-7669

Website: http://www.sony.com/

Sir,

Since IS is most effective for shutter speeds below 1/20 sec for say a 20mm focal length lens, does that mean that I do not necessarily need IS featured enabled on the camera while shooting at shutter speeds above 1/20sec or 1/50sec for that matter??

Thanking you,

Jonney.

Essentially you're statement is correct, however it may vary from one user to the next.  I would recommend doing a test shoot at the various speeds with the IS on and off and compare them against each other and you'll then be able to see what your personal threshold is.

Ok sir. I'll give it a go. Thank you. :)

This is a great article and really summed up the physics behind vr,is,os etc. But one thing that was not covered was wether to use it on a flycam, stedicam stabilizer. Like being mounted on a tripod, would it make things worse if VR was on when mounted on a stabilizer?

In-camera and in-lens stabilization features are not useful when other means of stabilization are being implemented.  Doing so could actually counter-act the secondary stabilization from the particular rig.  For example, a camera/lens combo with VR/IS mounted on a tripod (with the stabilization activated) can actually confuse the VR/IS to think that the unit is not stable due to its own internal mechanisms moving.

I have a Cannon  28 mm x 135mm Lens for  my Cannon D40 and was wondering do i use Image Stabilization for Action High Speed Photos or Profile photos? I also noticed that my lens will not focus correctly on auto mode but its okay on manual mode? any suggestions? thanks Jeff 

Image Stabilization is most effective when shooting still subject matter at slower shutter speeds. With this lens it is less useful for action/high speed photos.  It would be better for profile/portraiture work where your subject is still, and you need to shoot at the slower speeds.

If your lens is not focusing correctly in Autofocus mode, make sure that the focus point is focusing on a part of the subject which offers some sort of contrast (focusing on a flat surface such as a wall can cause the lens to hunt).  If you're always experiencing issues with autofocus, you may want to have the lens checked out by Canon.  You can contact their technical support at 1-800-ok-canon.
 

Yossi; Thank You ! I will try that on my next shooting this weekend at a local area pavement track !  

I have found that image stabilization in panning works better in mode "1", even though Canon recommends mode "2". My yields are about the same (how many good shots I get in a burst), but the good ones are much better (I soot a lot of race cars, and a good one is where only the rotors and calipers are visible, and you can read text on the helmet). I've thought about this and have a theory. I believe the sensors detect acceleration, not motion per se. Therefore in a smooth panning motion, there is no acceleration to detect once tha camera is in motion. Of course, even the best of us cannot pan perfectly smoothly, and changes in our panning speed produce the acceleration the seneors see. But the smoother we are, the less it will be.The sensor correct for those changes in pan speed, not the pan motion itself. Comments?

Question:any body please advice me on how to capture the sound (human voice) vibration image ? I means what macro lens spec to be used ? what speed? thank in advance for your kindest. Djumadi.

I am not familiar with any cameras which have the ability to record the image of sound vibrations.  If you could provide us with more information on what you are trying to achieve, or possibly provide us with links to examples of what you are trying to do, that could help us understand your application and how to go about shooting it.  Thank you in advance. 

Hi, I have a question for you guys! I currently own a Nikon D5200 and I want to change to the Sony a7II which has sensor stabilization. I am also considering buying the Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 for my Nikon that has an in-lens stabilization system. My question is, if I buy the Sony, turn of the sensor stabilization and attach the Tamron via an adapter (without CPU contacts etc.), will the stabilization of the lens work by it self? Or it needs some kind of power from the camera in order to work, so in that case without contacts I have no power transmitted.(I know that I can work with the sensor stabilize, but I am asking just in case I want to use both stabilization systems at once). Thank you!

The Stabilizer in the lens requires electrical contacts/power from the camera.  The adapter you use would have to support that also (i.e. have CPU contact/communication). 

does the sony DCR-DVD108 handycam have image stabilization?

According to Marketing Specifications I found on Sony’s site, theirDCR-DVD108 does have Sony’s Super SteadyShot Image Stabilization.  In the manual, it looks like the default setting is for SteadyShot to be on, but there is the option of turning it off.  Information about this should be in your manual.  If you have lost it, you can find a PDF copy on Sony’s site.

Thank you very much for your explain,very good explain.I didn't understand why in Sony a6000 havent a image stabilation,thank you once again.

Ok, so.. if I'm shooting at say... late Morning.. with shutter speeds up around 1/2000 - 1/3000  ... Is it a good idea to shut IS OFF... or leave it on??

   I've heard that it sometimes can create not so sharp photos if you shoot at those speeds all the while KEEPING the IS on.. is this true? 

I'm thinking of Purchasing a Sigma 120-400mm lens that has OS.. I often shoot with a Tripod, so I will keep the OS off when I use that.. but while I'm out and about during the late Morning.. Early afternoon where I can acieve shutter speeds over 1/2000.. can I still take advantage of the OS?

Thanks   Erich

At those shutter speeds theres no real benefit to the stabilization being left on.  I would turn it off to conserve battery power and use the IS for the situations where it would be benficial as described in this article.  If you have the lens, take it out and do side by side comparison shots with the stabilization turned on and off, and see if there is any noticeable difference for your purposes. 

thanks for the article. I knew that ISshould be turned off when the camera is on a tripod but I did not know why.

Bill, any chance you're in Alaska? I am looking for my uncle who loves photography.

As an amateur/casual photographer, should i spend the money on a 70-300 IS USM lens? Or go for the 70-200 L series USM non IS?

As a good middle ground, I would suggest taking a look at the 70-200mm f/4 non IS version http://bhpho.to/Jg3ZVu. Even handheld, this lens is going to be faster and sharper than the 70-300mm IS USM lens, which is more of a consumer level lens aimed towards the parent looking to photograph children playing sports from a distance. 

Heather S is correct, the 70-200L non IS is the way to go. I hate IS, two of my Canons have had IS failure/malfunction/break-down which cost over $500 each, for the repair job/s. (Australia 2014). Other things to consider are, 1.If your lens model is replaced by a new/updated model, eg, 70-200 IS L to 70-200 IS L version 2, Canon "freeze" availability of spare parts so all us suckers have to buy the new model. 2. Before turning off the camera, turn off IS first so it "parks" itself. 3. One of my repair jobs, 300 f4 L IS, never had IS turned on. Go figure.

Hello,

I have some questions about IS, first of all I have an A7r and I want to buy a new camera Im deciding between Canon 7d mark II and Sony A77 2, the big difference between this cameras is the steady shot or IS, Sony has steady inside. I think that if you have IS inside and also in lense could work better, am I right?. I want to use the camera for sports so Steady could work a little bit but honestly I need to shoot at 1/500 or 1/1000 with an 70-200 2.8 so it is really necessary the IS?, Any way in video I think tat could work different so I believe that the steady in lenses and steady inside works in the same way for videos, but It is necessary to have IS in video or it is possible to use an external steady shoulder or flycam or rig to solve that?, Can you help me with that information?, I am trying to decide which camera its better but I am trying to understand differences between IS.

With the Sony A77II and stabilized lens options, you should only be shooting with the IS in the camera activated.  Using the stabilization on both could actually cause one to cancel out the other and thus confuse the lens and sensors.  As far as stabilization for sports goes, it’s not as useful as most people imagine.  Stabilization is useful at slower shutter speeds for still subjects.  Sports action shots take place at faster shutter speeds and the subjects are moving too quickly for stabilization to play an effective role.  As far as using a camera with stabilization in-camera vs. a system with stabilization in-lenses goes (i.e. Sony’s vs. Canon’s approach) I’ve honestly not noticed a huge difference to say one is so much better than the other.

As far as IS in video goes, its nice when you’re starting out, but the IS systems can put out some noise which can be picked up by on-board mics in the camera or that you have connected to them.  For video work stabilization is much better achieved through various stabilization rigs which help give fluid motion when hand-holding the cameras.

As far as sports goes, the speed of the two cameras is about the same (12 frames per second in the Sony and 10fps in the Canon).  The Canon has a more modern AF sensor design for faster and more decisive focusing, and also has a higher ISO rating which will allow for faster shutter speeds in low light and overall better shots in low light.

I have a sonya57 I have a long lens that mounts to the tripod.  I mounted the lens and when I try to use the camera, I get an error that tells me I need to use the tripod.  Do I need a new tripod?  I have a silk, and have used it before, but never with the new lens.

If you're stabilization is on when you are using the camera on a tripod, then turn the stabilzation off.  If this is occuring with the stabilization not activated, please send an email to askbh@bhphoto.com and indicate the specific lens you have mounted on the camera and also any details about the exposure modes etc you have the camera set to when you shoot, and our agents there can then see if there is any other issue you  may be able to correct for this issue.

I recently purchased a Sony AX100X camera and can't find where to set the IS function. I've read that out of the box the IS is set to default, in order to get the best out of this you will need to change the settings to Hybrid IS. The is no information on this topic in the User Manual.

Thanks!

Hi Uwe -

The only available MENU settings are:  ACTIVE, STANDARD, or OFF.

Please contact SONY for any undocumented features you may feel the camera offers:

1-800-222-SONY

Contact Sony Support

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Thanks Mark!

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