When you can't or won't use a tripod, these technologies steady your hand
By Mike Stensvold
Of course, it’s also important to hold the camera properly, as steadily as possible—see your camera manual for the best way for its particular shape and configuration. Don’t get sloppy and just use stabilization as a crutch.
CANON EF-S 17-55mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM EF-S 17-85mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM EF 28-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS USM EF 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6L IS USM EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM EF 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM EF 300mm ƒ/4L IS USM EF 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS USM EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS USM EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS USM
SIGMA 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 EX DG APO OS
A number of stabilizer lenses provide two stabilization modes. One compensates for both vertical and horizontal movement of the camera, ideal for photographing stationary subjects; the other counteracts only vertical moment, allowing you to pan the camera to track a moving subject, such as a racing car. (If you try panning the camera in the first mode, the stabilizing system will fight you, and image sharpness may suffer.)
Some lens-shift systems provide one mode that stabilizes both the recorded image and the viewfinder image, and another that stabilizes only the recorded image. The former provides a steadier viewfinder image for easier framing; the latter saves battery power and provides quicker operation.
STABILIZED COMPACT DIGITAL CAMERAS
Compact digital cameras make great outdoor companions—they’re self-contained and easy to take anywhere. Quite a few compact digital cameras provide stabilization—lens-shift, sensor-shift or electronic—and stabilization is especially valuable with these cameras. For one thing, their small size makes them more difficult to hold steadily, especially those with longer focal lengths and those with no optical viewfinder. Holding a tiny camera at arm’s length while shooting isn’t the steadiest method, so you can use all the help you can get. I find stabilization especially helpful on hikes, when I’m trying to handhold the camera while huffing and puffing on a steep trail. Also, compact camera users rarely want to cart a tripod around, the whole point of a compact camera being "compactness."
While some compact digital cameras offer lens-shift or sensor-shift stabilization, many utilize "electronic stabilization" that doesn’t shift lens elements or the sensor. What it does do is take data from the motion detector(s), then uses in-camera processing to sharpen the blurred images. This isn’t as effective as lens-shift or sensor-shift systems, which actually stabilize the image, making it sharper during shooting. However, this method is less costly, fits in tiny cameras and does improve images.
Canon Powershot G7
Some compact digital cameras feature ISO-shift "stabilization"—they provide higher ISO settings (up to 3200 with some models) than most compacts and automatically increase the ISO setting in dim light to provide faster, more handholdable shutter speeds. Faster shutter speeds are indeed an effective anti-shake measure (and they also help reduce blur caused by subject movement, which lens-shift and sensor-shift mechanisms can’t help), but higher ISO speeds result in poorer image quality than slower ISO speeds with any given camera. To counteract this, the up-the-ISO systems also generally employ automatic, advanced noise reduction to maintain image quality.
Another sharpness-increasing feature (currently found in Nikon’s Coolpix S7c) records a series of images and saves only the sharpest one.
With some systems, you must switch the stabilizer off when the camera is used on a tripod; with others, you can use stabilization with a tripod-mounted camera—again, check the instruction manual for your system.
Stabilizing systems increase battery drain, but it’s not by much. While recently testing the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, I made as many as 583 shots on a single charge of the standard battery that comes with the camera, using my EF 300mm ƒ/4L IS lens’ stabilizer for every shot (and often holding the shutter button partway down for several seconds at a time while waiting for a bird subject to do something photogenic). That’s not bad, considering the instruction manual says the battery is good for about 500 shots per charge without using a stabilizer
My recommendation? If you shoot handheld, use stabilized gear. Stabilization is especially useful in high-magnification (telephoto and close-up) and dim-light work, and when you want to make big blow-ups of the images, but it helps in any handheld shooting situation. I use it all the time.