IS, or Image Stabilization, is a patented technology that helps reduce the effects of camera shake during long exposures. When you’re shooting in low light conditions, this feature can help to produce sharper images.
This article will focus on how IS works and how you can use it to improve your photography skills. We’ll break down the various kinds of stabilization systems and go over some essential dos and don’ts when using them so you get the best quality out of your photography gear.
What is Image Stabilization?
Image Stabilization or IS is a feature found on camera lenses that help to stabilize the image when shooting in low light conditions. It decreases the blur caused by camera shake.
Why Does Camera Shake Make My Photos Blurry?
When you shoot handheld, even at slow shutter speeds, your hands are moving just enough for your images to become blurry. The longer the shutter speed, the more movement you have to contend with. In fact, at 1/2 second, there’s about a 10-degree movement that can make a noticeable difference in your photos. You’re probably familiar with this effect having tried to photograph something while being in constant motion yourself.
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How Do I Know If I Need Image Stabilization?
There are a few things you should know before you start using your IS lens. First, manufacturers base their IS system on full frame cameras. So for APS-C systems, you may not notice the difference in performance as much. However, if you have a crop body camera with a 1.5x or greater crop factor then IS is going to be less effective at reducing camera shake because the focal length will be longer than what it was designed for. The larger the sensor size of your camera, the more you’ll notice the benefits of IS technology. Assuming you’re using an APS-C camera with a crop factor less than 1.5x, it’s still recommended that you use IS technology.
Benefits of Image Stabilization
Any shutter speed is a compromise between the sharpness and how much light you get. In low light situations or long exposures, every time you press the shutter button to take a shot, your camera’s sensor has to use some of that light to create your image. The resulting shot is often fuzzy and lacking in color, depth, and detail since there wasn’t enough light for a nice clean picture.
With IS technology, you’re able to use slower shutter speeds, such as 2 to 4 stops slower, and still achieve sharp pictures. If your IS is turned on, you can reduce the effects of camera shake even when shooting handheld or in situations that aren’t completely stationary.
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Using Image Stabilization Technology
IS technology works by shifting one of the lens elements slightly so that it neutralizes any movement made by your hands. It’s called “shift” because a certain axis moves from left to right inside the lens for all models except for Canon’s newer IS systems that move in an up and down direction.
There are three types of Image Stabilization systems currently on the market:
Vibration Reduction (VR) – This is a passive system that works by combining a lens’ image stabilization and optical image stabilization. The VR system allows you to take more hand-held shots and stays active even when the camera is turned off, meaning you can break long shutter speeds without worry of missing action. Canon’s second-generation Canon IS technology is an example of this type of system. Optical – This IS technology uses a set of specific elements that move in groups to counteract changes in the lens barrel caused by camera shake. Nikon’s newest IS lenses are an example of optical system that’s currently on the market. Internal – This is a system that uses two or more lens elements mounted inside the lens barrel to counteract changes in the lens caused by camera shake. Canon’s second-generation IS technology is an example of this, as is Nikon’s newest IS lenses for both Micro Four Thirds and APS-C cameras.
Not every lens has image stabilization built into it, so you’ll need to check with your manufacturer about which lenses have it and how much you should expect to pay for it.
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How to Use Image Stabilization Technology
To activate IS, you need to turn the IS-switch on the lens or toggle it on and off. You also need to make sure that your camera’s metering system is set for exposure based on evaluative metering instead of spot metering.
When you’re using a lens with IS technology, it may be necessary to use a tripod or other support device. There will be less movement at slower shutter speeds and IS will help ensure sharp images even when shooting handheld in difficult conditions.
Some cameras have built-in image stabilization so you don’t have to flip the switch if you’re using a dedicated IS lens and don’t mind spending more money for better quality.
Manufacturers have built image stabilization technology into some of their latest cameras. If you buy a camera with VR capability, it’s easier to get the same image stabilization effects without having to deal with an extra lens. If you’re not sure whether or not your camera has Image Stabilization, look in your manual for the sensor size and compare it to the guide below.
Camera Sensor Size Image Stabilization Offered Notes Canon APS-C Yes Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Nikon APS-C Yes Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Pentax APS-C Yes Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Sony APS-C Yes Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Canon Full Frame No Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Nikon Full Frame No Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Pentax Full Frame Yes Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view. Sony Full Frame Yes Pixels in excess of 1.6x crop factor are cropped so that image stabilization is only “active” for the full frame equivalent (35mm) field of view.
Image Stabilization can also be found in a more portable form. Some lenses offer this feature and some have built-in stabilization when paired with a compatible camera body. One example is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens, which comes with Image Stabilization. The Pentax SMC DA 8-16mm f/3.5-4.5 ED AL [IF] SDM WR lens also offers built-in Image Stabilization.
Image Stabilization is a great feature for travel photography, for those who want to minimize camera shake in low light situations, and also when photographing sports or other action. When in doubt about the benefits of image stabilization, if the significant cost savings are not an issue, then always consider adding this feature to your camera kit. If you end up being disappointed with the choice to bring along that lens and leave behind the image stabilization (and when you have a big purchase price difference it’s relatively easy to resell), then you can always turn it back off in your camera menus.
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If you have a long telephoto lens without image stabilization or a stabilized lens with image stabilization, and you are in low light at slow shutter speeds, then image stabilization can help reduce the impact of camera shake. However, this is not a universal solution for every lens. For example, an ultra-wide-angle lens might inherently have more shake due to the movements that we make when we take pictures (for example, zooming is often used to optimize the composition when shooting landscapes with an ultra-wide angle). But if you’re using that same ultra-wide angle or telephoto lens for action photography – such as photographing sports – then you might find that image stabilization comes in handy.
Can image stabilization be used on certain types of lenses? Yes. Image stabilization can be used with all lenses and it works with zoom lenses, fixed-focal length zoom lenses, and specialty lens types such as macro, super-macro, ultra-telephoto, and cinema lenses. The image stabilization modes are available on the Sony A7 line of cameras.
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What is “VR”? I don’t know what VR means…
VR stands for Vibration Reduction, and refers to a class of image stabilization technology that uses motion sensors in the lens to detect camera shake and then compensate for the movement through a mechanism in the lens. This class of technology was initially introduced by Nikon, and is now offered by Canon.
What VR does is take a picture and look at how much the lens moved while taking that picture – it can be as much as 1/3 of an inch! If it’s moved less than a certain amount, then it knows you’ve got a stable shot… if it’s moved more than say 1/4″ then the image is blurry from camera shake so it corrects for that movement in software.
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