Image Stabilization and Vibration Reduction Explained

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I have pretty much arrived at the point where, with just a few exceptions, I will only purchase a lens if it has image stabilization capabilities.

Image Stabilization (IS in Canon lenses) or Vibration Reduction (VR in Nikon lenses) greatly improves your chances of getting a sharp photograph at long focal distances, or in dim lighting conditions. IS/VR helps to stop camera motion – a shaky hand, lens AF vibration, and the like. It also stabilizes panning shots by dampening the motion in one direction while the camera follows the action in the other direction.

Of course, for long exposure hand-held shots, IS/VR will not compensate for jiggling the camera. A tripod is still recommended for any shots over, say, 1/60th of a second (that’s a rule of thumb, there). When you use a tripod with an IS/VR capable lens, it is recommended to switch off the stabilization feature, which actually creates a bit of motion during auto-focus and is unnecessary when the camera is absolutely still.

If you’re like me, you really want to know how stuff works. After doing a bit of research, I’ve discovered the individual manufacturer’s techniques to be various and technical. Basically, though, IS/VR is accomplished using a pair optical sensors within the lens – one that detects horizontal movement, and one that detects vertical movement. Some lenses contain tiny gyroscopic sensors that sense overall angles of movement. Both the sensors and the gyroscopes make compensating movements to counterbalance the camera’s vibration to provide a clear image. This can be detected by the photographer as he or she looks through the viewfinder and auto-focuses the shot – I personally feel a bit of vertigo sometimes as a gently bobbing image becomes stable before my eyes.

Photo credit: “Nikon 70-200mm f2.9 VR” by Geisha Boy on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Cornell

    RE: “A tripod is still recommended for any shots over, say, 1/60th of a second (thatu2019s a rule of thumb, there).”rnrnIS/VR is supposed to compensate for camera shake 2 stops or more, depending on the lens. Your statement implies that IS/VR is, as a rule of thumb, of no use for normal or wide-angle lens focal lengths.

  • NOIR

    I really don’t know how to put this without it coming off as hostile.nnYou are aware that Pentax, Olympus, and Sony use in-body stabilization or did you just consider the other manufacturers unworthy of mention?nnIf the latter is the case, you certainly wouldn’t be alone, but it might be helpful to your readers to be aware of your bias against equipment that isn’t Canon or Nikon.nnYou know, full disclosure and all.

  • Tiffany

    I go with what I know. Most folks can infer that if the “big two” offer such features as IS/VF, other brands of cameras and lenses do, too.

  • Tiffany

    I go with what I know. Most folks can infer that if the “big two” offer such features as IS/VF, other brands of cameras and lenses do, too.

  • Tiffany

    That’s why it’s called a “rule of thumb”. Your mileage (experience) may vary. Regardless of how great a lenses IS/VR is, long exposures will still challenge it beyond its capabilities.

  • Tiffany

    That’s why it’s called a “rule of thumb”. Your mileage (experience) may vary. Regardless of how great a lenses IS/VR is, long exposures will still challenge it beyond its capabilities.

  • Cornell

    I don’t think you understand what I getting at. With older IS/VR lenses, a person could hand-hold a camera with 2 f-Stops longer shutter speed than with a non-IS/VR lens and get a sharp picture. New Lenses allow hand-holding up to 4 f-Stops longer than with a non-IS/VR lens. rnrnLet me give an example: rnFor a 28mm focal length lens, the rule of thumb for a non-IS/VR lens the rule of thumb is 1/30 second. With an older IS/VR lens, you can hand-hold as slow as 1/8 second and have a sharp picture. With newer IS/VR lenses, you can hand-hold as slow as 1/2 second and a sharp picture. However, you say that a tripod is recommended for any shots slower than 1/60 second.

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