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Photography Talk
Image Stabilization
by Bob Dean

Several camera and lens manufacturers offer features on cameras or lenses that compensate for camera shake or movement. The methods do vary from one manufacturer to another.

The most common, and probably the most successful method, is the use of sensors within the lens. These are known as Image Stabilization (Canon), Vibration Reduction (Nikon), and Optical Stabilizer (Sigma). Within the lens is a set of sensors that detect small movement and correct for it by moving a small optical element in the opposite direction of the shake or movement.

Other companies (such as Konica Minolta) employ a similar function in the camera body and move a prism that is located between the lens and the image sensor.

Video cameras use a digital method where the image is retrieved from different pixels on the sensor to compensate for vibration or camera movement. That works well in the video arena but has significant image blurring in still work.

The movement compensation feature was originally designed to allow slower shutter speeds while hand holding the camera and still produce sharp images. Typical claims are an apparent increase of two to three stops.

Use of this technology is not without drawbacks. There is an added weight and cost factor for the lens based approach. The in camera version also adds cost to the body but does allow use of many more lenses.

When using the stabilization capability on a tripod, there is a potential problem. If the camera and lens are very stable, the electronic circuits in the lens may become slightly unstable and cause the image to blur a small amount. Some lenses have tripod sensors and correct for this. Others have a recommendation in the manual suggesting that the feature be turned off when the lens is on a tripod. As with all photographic “rules” there is a lot of controversy about this. The stabilization feature can compensate for movement and for vibration induced by tripping the shutter at slow speeds. Even when mounted on a tripod, the ability to reduce apparent shutter vibration can be a valuable tool.

The best approach is to do some research before buying or do some testing if you already own one of these lenses or cameras.