Photo Camera Lens (Main Image)

In the overall history of camera technology image stabilization is a rather recent development. Image stabilized lenses did not appear up until 1995 when Canon introduced the EF 75-300mm f/4 – 5.6 IS – the first image stabilized lens. IS or Image Stabilization is the acronym that Canon uses to refer to this technology. The technology was actually first seen on a previous lens, also made by Canon, the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM. This lens however did not reach the market up until 1999 which made the 75-300mm the first commercially produced image stabilized lens the world has seen.

Nikon calls this technology VR or Vibration Reduction. Other manufacturers use different other acronyms to label this technology. However, at the end of the day, they all mean the exact same thing. Though, in this case it is fair to say that all technologies are not the same. In fact all lenses are not optically stabilized either. There are some manufacturers who prefer to stabilize the sensor inside the camera rather than the lens! Canon and Nikon, however, deduced that it was much easier to move the focusing elements inside the lens than moving the actual film.

Okay. Now we need to have a deeper understanding of how image stabilization works and why most professionals and serious enthusiasts prefer to pay more for image stabilized lenses.

Scenario 1

You are photographing your kids playing in the yard along with the family pet. They are running around and are generally having a great time. You set your aperture to f/5.6, your focal length to 200mm and shutter speed to 1/100th of a second and fire away. After a few minutes you see that the images are not sharp. In fact most of them are blurry.

Scenario 2

You are photographing the annual sports meet at the school. Your son is in the fray for the 100 meters sprint. The race starts. You pan your camera while firing away at 3-4 frames per second. After the race is over you review the images and notice that none of them are sharp. In fact all of them are moderate to extremely blurry.

Scenario 3

The subject is walking towards you while you have AF on with your camera on a tripod. You fire away at several frames per second. Later on, while reviewing the images, you notice that most of them did not have the subject in sharp focus.

Image Stabilization

In all of the above scenarios (barring the third one, where improper AF selection could also have contributed to the blurry results) image stabilization would have helped the photographer to avoid image blur. Image stabilization is a technology that uses gyros and sensors built into the body of the lens, or in some cases inside the camera, to bring the image back on to the image plane after it has drifted away from it, either due to hand movements or due to any other reasons.

Types of Image Stabilization Systems

There are four types of image stabilization systems currently available in the market. Canon produced the first ever commercially made lens that had optical image stabilization. Their lenses feature all these four types including hybrid image stabilization. Other makes also have their own varieties of image stabilization systems which are similar.

Image Stabilization – Type 1

The first image stabilized lens only compensated for unintentional hand movements. It worked like this. Let’s say you are shooting a flower from a distance of 50 meters. You are using a focal length of 200mm. Your hands are shaking and the fact that you are using a longer focal length, the problem is getting compounded. In this case image stabilization will engage when you half-press the shutter button. Focus will be acquired. Now, if your hands move, the image stabilization system will kick-in. The gyros and sensors inside will sense that the camera is moving and will move the focusing elements in the opposite direction to bring the image back on to the image plane (sensor). Some cameras also have a focus lock button. It give you some additional leverage by allowing you to take your finger off the shutter release (while having a finger firmly placed on the focus lock button) and still have focus lock.

Image Stabilization – Type 2

In scenario 2 above we had discussed about a race where you pan while shooting. This is a classic case where the traditional image stabilization systems can get it all wrong. Lens with traditional image stabilization will try to stabilize the panning movement. In this case you want the subject of focus to be sharp whereas the rest of the frame can be out of focus. This is facilitated by the second version of image stabilization. In this, when the camera moves in a horizontal direction for a while, the lens will disengage image stabilization for that movement. However, it will engage image stabilization for any movements that are vertical to the said horizontal, or in this case, panning movement.

Image Stabilization – Type 3

Sometimes, even with image stabilization version 2 it still remains difficult for photographers to pan properly. As soon as any vertical movements (one to the direction of panning) are detected, the lens’s image stabilization kicks-in. Some professional photographers prefer to have image stabilization stay quiet until they have actually pressed the shutter release all the way. This is ideal when one needs absolutely smooth panning.

Hybrid Image Stabilization

This type of image stabilization utilizes a different technology which compensates for any movement that are parallel to the image plane. Traditional image stabilization, we discussed above, actually compensates for movements that are at an angle to the camera.

Some Bonus Tips on Using Image Stabilization

Your hands could move for a number of reasons, strong breeze, unstable platform etc. Some photographers have less steady hands than others. The lens will stabilize in all such conditions. A small tip – just in case you are reading this and don’t have a lens with image stabilization. You should never set your shutter speed to anything less than inverse of the focal length. Let’s take the example of the above paragraph yet again. Say, the focal length at which you are shooting at is 200mm. The camera is set to aperture priority and it meters the scene at 1/120th of a second (you have set the aperture at f/5.6). In this situation, invariably, there would be image shake. Now, some people have steadier hands than others, but usually if the shutter speed is less than inverse of the focal length it would be impossible to hand hold the camera and get a blur-free image. If you don’t have image stabilization and is hand-holding the camera, the best solution is to shoot at a shutter speed that is more than the inverse of the shutter speed. In the above case a shutter speed of 1/120th of second or faster would be ideal to avoid image blur.

Tripod

You need to turn off image stabilization when you are using a tripod to shoot pictures. Tripods were the original tool of choice to stabilize the camera when built-in image stabilization was not around. Most nature photographers made it a point to lug a tripod at all times. A lot of them still do. However, with image stabilization, it is now possible to use shutter speeds up to 2 to 4 times slower while hand-holding the camera, making the tripod somewhat redundant. If for any reason you want to use a tripod, make sure that image stabilization is turned off. Otherwise, it will ‘imagine’ that the camera is moving and try to stabilize that imaginary movement.

Using Higher ISO

If you are using a compact point and shoot camera or a lens without image stabilization or don’t have a tripod and generally have no way to stabilize the camera, you could try tweaking the ISO number to compensate. At higher ISO, the sensor’s sensitivity to light is enhanced. This has the same effect of using a faster aperture, which in turn allows for the use of a faster shutter speed. As you are aware, a faster shutter speed freezes movement and minimizes image blur. However, at higher ISO some amount of digital noise could be involved. In that case you could shoot in RAW and adjust the noise in post processing.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

You may also like

Rajib Mukherjee July 28, 2015

The five questions you shouldn’t ask when buying your camera

Call it our ignorance or plain laziness, we hardly make the research to find out more about a ...

Ben Novoselsky September 22, 2016

Seven Photography Tools that You Should Possess to Improve Your Images

This discussion is about the tools of trade that we photographers need to possess in order to make ...

Ben Novoselsky June 9, 2015

Five Reasons to Invest in External Light

People more or less start the same way. Someone somewhere loves us dearly enough so as to send us a ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 29, 2015

Working with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

One of the least understood aspects of photography is color correction. Even experienced ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2016

The Uses of ND Filters in Landscape Photography

Often, amateur landscape photographers tend to have lots of issues trying to balance an exposure in ...

Rajib Mukherjee June 13, 2016

Google Ara: The Future of Smartphone Photography

Sometime last week during Google I/O, which has now become one of the most eagerly awaited events ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

Hasselblad X1D-50c: The world’s first medium format mirrorless camera is here

It’s official! Hasselblad is the world’s first medium format mirrorless camera. After months of ...

Ben Novoselsky August 27, 2014

5 Tips to Choose an External Flash

Congratulations on buying your first DSLR! Now you are well and truly on the road to photographic ...

Ben Novoselsky December 25, 2015

Shooting videos with your digital SLR – An Introduction

Today’s digital SLR cameras are extremely versatile. They are ideally suitable for not only great ...

Ben Novoselsky August 18, 2014

Everything You Wanted To Know About Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density filters are primarily used for balancing exposures. By balancing exposure, I mean ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Ben Novoselsky October 24, 2016

Using a Softbox as your Key Light

The soft box is your definitive source of lighting a model or an object in order to photograph it. ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 23, 2015

How to properly use a pop-up flash

A question that most amateur DSLR users seem to ask is what is the correct use of the pop-up flash ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Ben Novoselsky September 21, 2014

Using Circular Polarizing Filter (a C-PL Filter)

Photographers shooting landscapes in broad daylight or shooting objects with shiny metallic ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 6, 2016

Huawei Passes Image by 5D Mark III as Shot by P9, Apologizes

There is only one rule in advertising. It is not all right when you imply something in your ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

The Top 7 Compact Cameras for Travelers Under $2000

When it comes to travel photography you need not only to make great images, which is kind of given ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

Nikon D4S Discontinued

Nikon has officially marked the D4S as discontinued. One look at the official Nikon Japan website ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 5, 2016

Five Ways You Can Use An External Flash In Outdoor Shooting

This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 28, 2015

A Guide to Choosing the Right Camera Lens for the Job

Digital interchangeable lens cameras are the preferred choice for shooting professional quality ...

Rajib Mukherjee

Getting to Know Your Camera Lens

The optical piece of equipment that sits in front of your camera is the single most important piece ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 15, 2015

Advantages of a hand-held light meter over a built-in light meter

In one of the previous articles on this website I discussed in detail the many different metering ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 9, 2016

Samyang 20mm f/1.8 Manual Focusing Lens Officially Announced

Samyang 20mm f/1.8

Great news for full-frame shooters. Samyang has officially announced the 20mm ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 13, 2014

Understanding camera metering modes

As a photographer, digital or otherwise, one thing that you need to have a good idea of is the ...

Author March 9, 2017

Should I Upgrade my Camera Body or my Lens?

It is all too common for a wide range of emotions to complicate the decision to upgrade the body of ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 15, 2016

Don’t Decide on That Second Lens Until You Read This

Let me start by congratulating you. Why? You may ask. The fact that you are here looking for some ...

Popular posts

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 16, 2014

7 Tips to Shooting Great Portrait Photographs

Portrait photography is like a bread and butter thing for professional photographers. No matter ...

Kelsey Fox September 24, 2014

8 Unique Ideas for Wedding Photos

A new spouse, a new last name, and photos - the three must-have takeaways of any wedding. Though ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 16, 2014

How to Get Started in Wedding Photography – Part 2

Compositions are everything in wedding photography; at least when you are not shooting candid ...

Ben Novoselsky November 6, 2014

Portrait Photography Lighting Tips

Portrait photography, especially when we talk about studio portrait photography, as a genre, is ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 14, 2014

How to Get Started in Wedding Photography – Part 1

Weddings are not only fun but they are also one of the most solemn of occasions. Two souls unite ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 4, 2015

AF Tricks and Tips for Wildlife Photography

When it comes to wildlife photography, choosing the right auto-focusing mode can often make the ...