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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Image Stabilization And You

How to choose and make the best use of stabilized cameras and lenses

Labels: LensesD-SLRsGear

This Article Features Photo Zoom

In-Lens Image-stabilizing Unit

For the sharpest shots, a tripod is essential, but you have to carry it with you and set it up each time you want to make a shot—not great for capturing a bighorn sheep that suddenly bursts into view and is gone just as quickly. Handholding allows spontaneous freedom of movement, but camera shake can blur your images, especially when using slower shutter speeds or longer focal lengths. When using a tripod isn’t possible or practical, you want image stabilization. There are two types of stabilization systems, each with its own advantages.

In-Camera Image-Stabilizing Unit
Canon was the first to offer stabilized lenses when it introduced the EF 75-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM zoom for its EOS cameras in 1995. The “IS” means the lens contains an optical Image Stabilizer—a system of sensors that detects camera shake and a group of lens elements that moves to counter it. As a result, users could get sharp shots two shutter speeds slower than possible without stabilization. For example, you could get pictures at 1⁄50 sec. that were as sharp as shots taken at 1⁄200 sec. without stabilization.

Today’s IS lenses have doubled that to four shutter speeds. It’s important to note, however, that with any handheld shooting—with or without stabilization—how slow you can shoot depends in part on your skill, as well as the shutter speed and the focal length in use.

Canon followed with more IS lenses and today offers around 25 of them. Nikon was next to introduce its VR (Vibration Reduction) lenses, with similar effects. More recently, Sigma introduced a series of OS (Optical Stabilizer) lenses, and Tamron has its VC (Vibration Compensation) lenses. All of these lenses mean you can shoot sharper images handheld, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Nine years after Canon introduced that first stabilized lens, Konica Minolta gave us the first stabilized DSLR with an anti-shake mechanism that moves the image sensor to counter camera movement. While Konica Minolta is no longer making cameras, the sensor-shift stabilization method is found today in DSLRs from Olympus, Pentax, Samsung and Sony (the latter having acquired Konica Minolta’s DSLR technology in 2006).

The result of all this is that today you can shoot stabilized no matter what brand DSLR you prefer.

Tips For Using Stabilization

1. It takes the stabilization system a moment to detect shake and stabilize the image, so depress the shutter button halfway to activate the system, then wait for it to do its thing before fully depressing the button to take the shot. Earlier stabilized lens models can take a second or more to stabilize the image; newer ones are faster. With a stabilized lens, you can see in the viewfinder when the image has stabilized. With in-camera sensor-shift stabilization, there’s an indicator that lets you know when the system is functioning. If you use Live-View mode, you can see on the LCD monitor when the image is stable, with both in-lens and in-camera stabilization systems.

2. You can switch the stabilization system on or off, whether in-lens or in-camera.
Since the system does draw power, it will cause the battery to wear down more quickly than if you don’t use it. I haven’t found this to be a problem with my stabilized gear, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re down to your last battery and it’s running low.

3. If you use a lens with stabilization on a camera body with stabilization, switch one or the other system off; don’t try to use both in-body sensor-shift stabilization and in-lens optical stabilization simultaneously.


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