By Allan Weitz
If you enjoy taking pictures, professionally or simply of family and friends, sporting events, or other occasions where you just enjoy taking pictures, chances are you use a digital camera. And if you do not use a camera, a box of donuts says you were running around taking pictures with your cell phone.
Canon 15x50 IS binoculars
technology first appeared in binoculars and video cameras
Not all that long
ago that last sentence would have sounded like pure science fiction.
Not any longer. Times have changed and they continue to change
One of the ways camera manufacturers have been enabling us to take sharper, clearer pictures is by incorporating technologies that help to eliminate camera shake.
Anti-shake technology has been around for quite some time. It first
appeared on the consumer market in the form of binoculars and video
cameras. The technology worked as promised. Jumpy images of Junior riding his bike into the garage door and cock-eyed horizon lines became less frequent in our home videos.
Advanced versions of IS technology quickly found their way into
Canon lenses for the popular Canon EOS film and digital cameras.
Canon's IS-series lenses and Nikon's VR-series lenses make it
possible to handhold SLR & DSLR cameras at shutter-speeds of up to
three-stops slower than normally recommended.
with anti-shake technology:
Canon 24-105/4 L IS
Canon 70-300/4-5.6 IS
Nikon 70-200/2.8 AF-S VR
A long-accepted rule of thumb is you should never handhold any lens
at a shutter-speed slower than the focal length of the lens on your
camera. If you are using a 200mm telephoto lens, this works out to
1/200th of a second. A 20mm wide-angle lens should be handheld at no
less than 1/20th of a second. A 1000mm lens should be used at
nothing less than 1/1000th of a second.
A 200mm lens enhanced with IS technology, on the other hand, can be
handheld at shutter speeds as low as 1/25th of a second, while a
20mm IS lens can be handheld as low a half-second. A 1000mm lens?
How about 1/125th of a second. If your plans include photographing
Red-Tailed Hawks at dusk with a long lens this technology is well
worth the extra expense.
How Image Stabilization technology works is as interesting as it is
complex. Both Canon IS (Image Stabilization) series lenses and Nikon
VR (Vibration Reduction) series lenses utilize a "floating" lens
element that is controlled by small, microprocessor-driven motors.
These electronically controlled motors shift the lens element about
in response to any motion that is detected whenever the auto-focus
system is engaged.
As motion is detected, the microprocessors shift the floating
element in the opposite direction of the subject's movement. If
there is a slight shift to the right, the lens element shifts
slightly to the left. As the subject shifts up, down, left, right,
or diagonally within the frame, the lens element shifts the exact
amount in the opposite direction. By enabling this floating element
to "fix" the image on the same point on the film or sensor, sharp
pictures can be captured at shutter speeds that used to be
considered rather dicey.
The latest generation of anti-shake lenses work equally well for
stationary subjects as well as subjects that require panning action
such as sporting events and chasing 5-year olds.
Though many variable aperture zoom lenses in the slower 3.5 - 5.6
f/stop range incorporate anti-shake technology as a means of making
"slower" lenses practical to use under low light conditions, both
Nikon and Canon also offer anti-shake technology in their faster
70-200/2.8 AF lenses.
While you might think it's not necessary to smooth out the action
when using faster lenses outdoors, the higher resolution imaging
sensors found in top-of-the-line DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon
have added a new wrinkle into the mix, namely the fact they are
sharper than their film-based SLR counterparts
The newest generation DSLRs such as Nikon's D200 and D2x, and
especially Canonís full-frame EOS 5D and EOS 1Ds, have pushed the
resolving power of the best lenses these manufacturers have to
Even though Canon manufactures over 50 lenses, they only recommend
about a dozen of them for use on Canon's full-frame DSLRs. On film
cameras, all of Canon's EF lenses work well. On the EOS 5D and EOS
1Ds however, Canon strongly recommends you stick to their "L"-series
and macro lenses if you plan on producing large prints from your
The same holds true for pictures taken with the higher resolution,
APS-sized chips found in Nikon's D200 and D2x.
The bottom line is if you want to get your money's worth from any of
the current high-end DSLRs, think twice about your choice of lenses.
Many digital point-and-shoot cameras are also incorporating
anti-shake technologies to help insure sharp pictures. Smaller
cameras in particular are prone to shaky images because we tend to
compose our photographs while holding our cameras out at arms
length. Conversely, when we take pictures with SLR-type cameras we
usually tuck our elbows tightly to our body, which steadies our grip
on the camera. Not so with our trusty point-and-shoots.
Konica-Minolta was the first to incorporate anti-shake technology in
the form of "digital" image stabilization. Rather than shifting a
lens element around to smooth out the action, digital image
stabilization shifts the imaging sensor back-and-forth. Sony
currently utilizes similar technology in several of their own
While optical and digital technologies achieve the same goal, there
is often a slight loss of image sharpness in pictures taken with
digital stabilization technology due to the mechanics of the
process. At the end of the day the "softer" pictures you get from
the digitally stabilized cameras are still sharper than the images
you get from their non-stabilized counterparts.
Exilim-series point-and-shoot camera's currently offer
digital stabilization in it the 5 to 7-megapixel range.
Casio Exilim EX-S500
Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-T21 digital point-and-shoot has
broken the mold by incorporating optical image stabilization
into the camera's Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 10x (optical) zoom
lens. This camera should be shipping shortly and should
prove to be a honey.
As for cell phones, NTT Kyocera recently announced a 3.3-megapixel
cell phone that offers yet a third type of anti-shake technology.
Rather than juggling lens elements or imaging sensors, the Kyocera
NTT N902i captures a quick burst of images each time you take a
picture and synthesizes these images into a single sharp image.
Science fiction isn't what it used to be - is it?