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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

Image-Stabilized Lenses
In-Lens Vs. In-Camera Stabilization
In-lens and in-camera stabilization each has its strengths and weaknesses, but both work very well and will give you sharper images than you’d get without stabilization when shooting at slower shutter speeds.

In-lens stabilization can be optimized for the specific lens, which can make it more effective than sensor-shift stabilization, especially with the really long focal lengths. In-lens stabilization stabilizes both the recorded image and the viewfinder image, so you get a steadier image for composing and focusing. The drawbacks are that you have to buy stabilized lenses to get stabilization, and stabilized lenses are heavier and more costly than non-stabilized lenses.

In-camera sensor-shift stabilization works with any lens you attach to the camera, so you don’t have to buy special stabilized lenses. The main drawback is that it stabilizes only the recorded image, not what you see in the viewfinder. So you can’t really see how stable the image is until after you shoot it—unless your DSLR offers Live-View operation.

When Should You Use Stabilization?
At first glance, you’d think it’s a good idea to use stabilization anytime you’re handholding the camera, but that’s not necessarily true. I switch it off when doing bird-in-flight shots, for example, for a couple of reasons.

First, stabilization slows down camera operation. After focusing on the fast-moving bird, the camera’s processor has to calculate the needed compensation and apply it. (All-out pro DSLRs, with their more powerful processors, do this more effectively than mid-level DSLRs.)

Second, stabilization counters vertical and horizontal camera motion, while birds tend to zigzag in many directions, especially when pursuing prey. So I’ll often find the stabilizer fighting me as I move the camera to track the flying bird.

Other Types Of Stabilization

Some cameras offer “electronic” stabilization. This approach isn’t really stabilization, but a clever way of referring to automatic ISO. When the camera recognizes a slow shutter-speed situation, it automatically increases the ISO setting to provide a faster shutter speed. Increasing the ISO reduces image quality, and the point of stabilization is to improve image quality, so this isn’t the best method.

While it’s true that many late-model DSLRs produce quite good image quality at ISOs in the 800-1600 range and some even higher, you can manually set a higher ISO anytime you wish with a DSLR, and I’d prefer to do it myself when necessary rather than have the camera set a higher ISO on its own. Like in-lens and sensor-shift stabilization, electronic stabilization can be switched on and off as desired.

There’s also “digital” stabilization, where the camera shifts the image itself “X” pixels to counter camera shake. This isn’t currently used in DSLRs, but is used in some compact digital still cameras and camcorders. Note that some manufacturers use the term “digital stabilization” to mean increasing the ISO rather than true pixel-shift digital stabilization.


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