The Promise Of Stabilization

Between image-stabilized lenses, in-camera stabilization and high-ISO technology, the game has changed for photographers seeking the freedom to shoot handheld
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The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 ED VR II lens features in-lens stabilization.

Image-stabilized lenses and cameras let you capture sharp, handheld photos at lower shutter speeds than ever before, while supersensitive sensors let some DSLRs shoot in the dark. So is it time to retire your tripod?

Sony SLT-A55, Olympus E-5 and Pentax K-5 cameras provide sensor-shift stabilization.

Most experienced photographers agree that a sturdy tripod is the best tool to use when shooting in low-light situations without a flash. Because tripods reduce camera shake and other vibrations, they enable you to use slow shutter speeds to balance exposures or extend the depth of field in your photos by using small apertures—all while keeping your ISO setting low to maximize image quality. But now that image-stabilized lenses and camera bodies are readily available, and supersensitive, low-noise sensors are appearing in the latest DSLRs, are tripods losing their mass appeal?

That’s a trick question, since another key tripod benefit is to support the mass of equipment pros and advanced shooters truck with them, including heavy cameras, long lenses, WiFi adapters and battery packs. With the arrival of HDSLRs, the load increases with accessory microphones, rack-focusing devices and video lights. Add the benefits that fluid heads provide for video panning and tracking, and tripods actually may increase in popularity.

Which Is Better: Lens IS Or Camera IS?
If you’re a dedicated DSLR still shooter who likes to travel light, a tripod may soon be the last option you choose for improving your low-light photos and depth of field. Your most affordable and lightweight option is either an image-stabilized lens or a camera body with built-in sensor-shift IS.

How well do these two systems reduce vibrations, and is one better than the other? The answers depend on a number of factors, including the camera brand you own, your physical traits and the subject you’re photographing. Currently, manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Sigma only offer lens-based image stabilization (called IS, VR, Mega O.I.S. and OS, respectively) for their DSLRs. On the other hand, Olympus, Pentax and Sony only offer DSLR models with sensor-shift IS. Note: Even if you purchase third-party IS lenses from Sigma, Tamron or Tokina to use with a sensor-shift body, only one IS system will work at a time.

Claims for both types of image stabilization range from two to four stops of improvement over the maximum recommended shutter speed for cameras and lenses without IS (see “The Reciprocal Shutter Speed Rule” sidebar). That means that if the slowest recommended shutter speed is 1⁄200 sec., without IS, you may be able to capture sharp handheld shots all the way down to 1/12 sec. with a lens or camera, providing a four-stop advantage. In my experience, however, and based on several lab and field tests I’ve done, improvements from the best IS lenses and IS cameras are rarely higher than three stops—and that advantage is only reachable when using telephoto lenses with focal lengths over 100mm. With normal and wide-angle lenses, IS improvements are less noticeable and not as obvious on either system. The benefits of IS also decrease at higher shutter speeds, so if you dial in 1/400 sec. with a 200mm lens to reduce vibration from a moving vehicle (or from the four cups of coffee you drank), or chose 1/600 sec. to freeze action in the scene, the IS won’t significantly improve the shots.

The Reciprocal Shutter Speed Rule

Before turning on image stabilization, what’s the lowest shutter speed you should use while handholding a camera in order to prevent visible camera shake blur in your photos? (Subject motion blur is a different problem.) The answer varies based on the focal length of the lens being used and is calculated using the Reciprocal Shutter Speed Rule: 1/Focal Length. For example, if you’re shooting with a full-frame camera and your zoom lens is set to 200mm, your lowest shutter speed should be 1⁄200 sec. Of course, that assumes there’s enough light for the camera to set an aperture that produces a proper exposure. (If not, you’ll have to dial up your ISO.)

At that suggested shutter speed and faster, most images should appear sharp in a 4×6 or an 8×10 print (assuming correct focus and a stationary subject). Below that speed, images probably will show unwanted blur caused by the photographer (or environment) shaking the camera.

Several factors can modify the rule. If your DSLR uses a smaller APS-C or Four-Thirds sensor, you have to use the 35mm-equivalent focal length in the equation (multiply the actual focal length by 1.5x, 1.6x or 2.0x, depending on the sensor). For example, on a Nikon D5100 with a 200mm lens, the reciprocal shutter speed would be 1/(200 x 1.5) = 1⁄300 sec.

Camera shake also varies by body weight, breath control, physical traits and environmental factors, so use the suggested speed as a starting point and then consider increasing your shutter speed if you’ve had more than one coffee, and you’re cold and tired, or if you’re shooting from a vibrating car or platform.

A Selection Of Lenses With Built-In Stabilizers
Diam. x
Lngth (in.)
Weight Street
Canon EF 100mm ƒ/2.8L Macro IS USM 15/12 11.9 in. 1.0X 67mm 3.1×4.8 1.4 lbs. $1,049
Canon EF 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM 17/12 6.3 ft. 0.12X 52mm 5.0×8.2 5.6 lbs. $5,799
Canon EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM 17/13 8.2 ft. 0.13X 52mm 5.0×9.9 1.7 lbs. $4,879
Canon EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM 16/12 6.6 ft. 0.18X 52mm 5.0×9.8 5.2 lbs. $6,599
Canon EF 300mm ƒ/4L IS USM 15/11 4.9 ft. 0.24X 77mm 3.5×8.7 2.6 lbs. $1,399
Canon EF 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM 17/13 9.8 ft. 0.15X 52mm 6.4×13.7 11.8 lbs. $7,999
Canon EF 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM 16/12 8.9 ft. 0.17X 52mm 6.4×13.5 8.5 lbs. $10,499
Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS USM 17/13 11.5 ft. 0.12X 52mm 5.0×9.4 4.3 lbs. $6,399
Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS USM 17/13 14.8 ft. 0.12X 52mm 5.8×15.2 8.5 lbs. $6,999
Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS II USM 16/12 12.1 ft. 0.15X 52mm 5.7×15.1 7.0 lbs. $9,499
Canon EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS USM 17/13 18.0 ft. 0.12X 52mm 6.6×18.0 11.8 lbs. $8,899
Canon EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS II USM 16/12 14.8 ft. 0.15X 52mm 6.6×17.6 8.6 lbs. $11,999
Canon EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM 18/14 19.7 ft. 0.14X 52mm 6.4×18.1 9.9 lbs. $12,499
Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM 18/13 18 in. 0.23X 77mm 3.3×4.2 1.5 lbs. $1,099
Canon EF 28-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS USM 16/12 19.2 in. 0.19X 72mm 3.1×3.8 1.2 lbs. $450
Canon EF 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6L IS USM 22/16 2.3 ft. 0.3X 77mm 3.6×7.2 3.7 lbs. $2,649
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM 23/19 3.9 ft. 0.21X 77mm 3.5×7.8 3.3 lbs. $2,499
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM 20/15 3.9 ft. 0.21X 67mm 3.0×6.8 1.7 lbs. $1,329
Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L IS USM 19/14 3.9 ft. 0.21X 67mm 3.5×5.6 2.3 lbs. $1,599
Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM 18/12 4.6 ft. 0.19X 58mm 3.2×3.9 1.6 lbs. $1,329
Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM 15/10 4.9 ft. 0.26X 58mm 3.0×5.6 1.4 lbs. $559
Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM 17/14 5.9 ft. 0.20X 77mm 3.6×7.4 3.1 lbs. $1,675
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED 14/12 12 in. 1.0X 62mm 3.3×4.6 1.7 lbs. $984
Nikon AF-S VR Nikkor 200mm ƒ/2G IF-ED 13/9 6.2 ft. 0.12X 52mm 4.9×8.0 6.4 lbs. $5,099
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II 11/8 7.5 ft. 0.16X 52mm 4.9×10.5 6.4 lbs. $5,899
Nikon AF-S VR Nikkor 300mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED 11/8 7.2 ft. 0.16X 52mm 4.9×10.5 6.3 lbs. $5,499
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 400mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR 14/11 9.5 ft. 0.16X 52mm 6.3×14.5 10.2 lbs. $9,549
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm ƒ/4G ED VR II 14/11 12.6 ft. 0.14X 52mm 5.5×15.4 8.6 lbs. $8,579
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm ƒ/4G ED VR 15/12 15.7 ft. 0.14X 52mm 6.5×17.5 11.2 lbs. $10,299
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm ƒ/4G ED VR 17/12 11.5 in. 0.25X 77mm 3.2×4.9 1.5 lbs. $1,259
Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G IF-ED 15/13 19.2 in. 0.21X 72mm 3.0×3.7 1.3 lbs. $669
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II 21/16 4.6 ft. 0.25X 77mm 3.4×8.1 3.4 lbs. $2,399
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G 17/12 4.9 ft. 0.25X 67mm 3.1×5.6 1.6 lbs. $589
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm ƒ/4G ED VR II 24/17 6.6 ft. 0.27X 52mm 4.9×14.4 7.4 lbs. $6,999
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm ƒ/4G IF-ED 24/17 6.6 ft. 0.27X 52mm 4.9×14.4 7.2 lbs. $6,299
Nikon AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6D ED 17/11 7.5 ft. 0.42X 77mm 3.6×6.7 2.9 lbs. $1,849
Sigma 150mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro 19/13 15 in. 1.0X 72mm 3.1×5.9 2.6 lbs. $1,099
Sigma 50-500mm ƒ/4-6.3 APO DG OS HSM 22/6 5.9 ft. 0.32X 95mm 4.1×8.6 4.3 lbs. $1,659
Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM 22/17 4.6 ft. 0.13X 77mm 3.4×7.8 NA $1,399
Sigma 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 DG OS 18/11 4.9 ft. 0.26X 62mm 3.0×5.0 1.3 lbs. $359
Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM 23/18 5-8.2 ft. 0.12X 105mm 4.5×11.4 6.5 lbs. $3,199
Sigma 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 APO DG OS HSM 21/15 4.9 ft. 0.24X 77mm 3.6×8.0 3.9 lbs. $999
Sigma 150-500mm ƒ/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM 21/15 7.2 ft. 0.19X 86mm 3.7×9.9 4.2 lbs. $1,069
Tamron 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD 18/13 19.3 in. 0.33X 67mm 3.1×3.9 19.6 oz. $629
Tamron SP 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di VC USD XLD 17/12 5.0 ft. 0.25X 62mm 3.2×5.6 27.0 oz. $449
Sigma OS lenses are available in mounts for Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony/Minolta DSLRs, except the 18-200mm, which is available in mounts for Sigma, Canon and Nikon.
DC lenses are for APS-C-format cameras only; DG lenses can be used with full-frame and 35mm SLRs, too.Tamron VC lenses are available in mounts for Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Di II lenses are for APS-C-format cameras only; Di lenses can be used with full-frame and 35mm SLRs, too.

Diam. x
Lngth (in.)
Weight Street
Canon EF-S 15-85mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS USM 17/12 13.8 in. 0.21X 72mm 3.2×3.4 1.3 lbs. $779
Canon EF-S 17-55mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM 19/12 13.8 in. 0.17X 77mm 3.3×4.4 1.4 lbs. $1,159
Canon EF-S 17-85mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM 17/12 13.8 in. 0.2X 67mm 3.1×3.6 16.8 oz. $529
Canon EF-S 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS II 11/9 9.8 in. 0.34X 58mm 2.7×3.3 7.1 oz. $199
Canon EF-S 18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS 16/12 18 in. 0.21X 67mm 3.0×4.0 16.0 oz. $499
Canon EF-S 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 IS 16/12 18 in. 0.24X 72mm 3.1×6.4 1.3 lbs. $609
Canon EF-S 55-250mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS 12/10 3.6 ft. 0.31X 58mm 2.8×4.3 13.8 oz. $255
Nikon AF-S DX Micro-Nikkor 85mm ƒ/3.5G ED VR 14/10 11.1 in. 1.0X 52mm 2.9×3.9 12.5 oz. $529
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR 17/11 15.6 in. 0.22X 67mm 2.8×3.4 17.1 oz. $659
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G VR 11/8 10.9 in. 0.31X 52mm 2.9×3.1 9.3 oz. $199
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR 15/11 17.8 in. 0.2X 67mm 3.0×3.5 14.8 oz. $399
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G ED VR II 16/12 19.2 in. 0.22X 72mm 3.0×3.8 19.8 oz. $849
Nikon AF-S DX VR Nikkor 55-200mm ƒ/4-5.6G IF-ED 15/11 3.6 ft. 0.29X 52mm 2.9×3.9 11.8 oz. $249
Sigma 17-50mm ƒ/2.8 EX DC OS HSM 17/13 11 in. 0.2X 77mm 3.3×3.6 19.9 oz. $669
Sigma 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4 DC OS HSM 17/13 8.8 in. 0.37X 72mm 3.1×3.5 18.9 oz. $469
Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 DC OS HSM 16/12 11.8 in. 0.24X 67mm 2.9×3.5 13.9 oz. $199
Sigma 18-125mm ƒ/3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM 16/12 13.8 in. 0.26X 67mm 2.9×3.5 17.8 oz. $339
Sigma 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS 18/13 17.7 in. 0.26X 72mm 3.1×3.9 1.3 lbs. $399
Sigma 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM 18/14 17.7 in. 0.29X 72mm 3.1×4.0 1.4 lbs. $479
Sigma 50-200mm ƒ/4-5.6 DC OS HSM 14/10 3.6 ft. 0.22X 55mm 2.9×4.0 14.8 oz. $159
Tamron SP 17-50mm ƒ/2.8 XR Di II VC LD 19/14 11.4 in. 0.21X 72mm 3.1×3.7 1.3 lbs. $649
Tamron 18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD LD 16/13 19.3 in. 0.26X 62mm 2.9×3.5 15.9 oz. $649
Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 MEGA O.I.S. 16/12 11.5 in. 0.32X* 72mm 3.1×3.8 17.3 oz. $1,199
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm ƒ/3.8-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. 15/11 11.4 in. 0.42X* 67mm 2.9×3.7 15.3 oz. $649
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. 15/11 19.7 in. 0.36X* 72mm 3.1×3.6 18.9 oz. $1,699
Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm ƒ/2.8 MEGA O.I.S. 14/10 6 in. 2.0X* 46mm 2.5×2.5 7.9 oz. $899
Panasonic G Vario 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. 12/9 12 in. 0.32X* 52mm 2.4×2.5 5.8 oz. $199
Panasonic G Vario 14-45mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. 12/9 12 in. 0.34X* 52mm 2.4×2.4 6.9 oz. $349
Panasonic G Vario HD 14-140mm ƒ/4.5-5.8 MEGA O.I.S. 17/13 19.5 in. 0.40X* 62mm 2.8×3.3 16.2 oz. $849
Panasonic G Vario 45-200mm ƒ/4.0-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. 16/13 39 in. 0.38X* 52mm 2.8×3.9 13.4 oz. $349
Panasonic G Vario 100-300mm ƒ/4.0-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. 17/12 4.9 ft. 0.42X* 67mm 2.9×5.0 18.3 oz. $599
Samsung 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.4 NX ED OIS 18/13 1.6 ft. 0.28X 67mm 2.8×4.2 1.3 lbs. $799
Samsung 50-200mm ƒ/4-5.6 NX OIS II 17/13 3.2 ft. 0.2X 52mm 2.8×4.0 14.4 oz. $279
Samsung 60mm ƒ/2.8 OIS SSA Macro 12/9 7.2 in. 1.0X 52mm 2.9×3.3 15.9 oz. $599
Sony 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 OSS 12 in. 0.35X 67mm 3.0×4.0 1.2 lbs. $799
*Apparent magnification due to the 2x focal-length factor of Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds image sensors.

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The Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM, Sigma 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 DG OS and Tamron 18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II VC lenses feature in-lens stabilization.

Other significant differences between both IS technologies affect the way you shoot and the price you pay for lenses. Cameras with sensor-shift IS generally work well with any compatible lens, including older ones. IS lenses tend to cost a bit more than their non-IS counterparts, so you have to factor that into the equation. However, only image-stabilized lenses can be set to show the stabilization effect through the camera’s optical viewfinder. A few sensor-shift bodies let you preview the IS effect in Live View mode via the large LCD or through an electronic viewfinder (when it’s available). Some shooters find using a live IS preview in either system to be advantageous, while others note how fast it drains the camera battery.

The best IS lenses also feature special panning modes or switches for use when you’re tracking a moving target. These produce superior results by ignoring side-to-side motion and only reducing shake along the vertical axis. Other lenses can detect when the camera is set on a tripod automatically and turn off the IS so you can save battery life. Finally, when it comes to shooting video, both IS systems can help reduce shake to some extent, but IS lenses are generally quieter and further away from the built-in camera microphone. At least one zoom lens from Panasonic has a completely silent IS engine.

High ISO Changes The Rules For Working Without A Tripod
You may have noticed that neither the light-gathering capacity of the lens (determined by its maximum aperture) or the ISO setting of the camera is factored into the Reciprocal Shutter Speed Rule. These two features are only indirectly related to the amount of blur you can expect when shooting at low shutter speeds and, instead, determine whether you need to use a low shutter speed at all to produce a proper exposure. A brighter lens and higher ISO settings both let you use a faster shutter speed in a given low-light situation. Unfortunately, large-aperture telephoto lenses are expensive and rarely give you more than a two-stop advantage over a cheaper lens. But that two-stop advantage (for example, ƒ/2.8 vs. ƒ/5.6) is worth the price if you’re an avid low-light shooter or if you want the added depth-of-field separation provided by wider apertures.

Increasing the camera’s ISO to improve low-light performance can give you several more stops of improvement compared to a brighter lens or image stabilization. Many point-and-shoots do this automatically when their “electronic” image-stabilization feature is turned on. However, the price you pay for increasing ISO is a decrease in image quality. How much it decreases depends on the camera and its sensor. Most DSLRs let you dial up ISO to gain a three- to five-stop improvement in light sensitivity (compared to the camera’s base ISO) before image quality becomes unacceptable. For example, assuming you own a fairly modern APS-C DSLR with a base ISO of 100, you may find images shot at ISOs from 800 (three stops) to 3200 (five stops) to be acceptable.

Testing Your Minimum Handholding Speed

Because everyone is a little different, it makes sense to test your personal minimum handholding speed with each of your lenses. The process is simple. Find a subject with fine lines in it (a tree with open branch structure will do nicely), set the camera to Shutter priority, and then take a series of photographs at progressively slower shutter speeds. We recommend starting at a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec. and finishing at ¼ sec. Open all of the photos on your computer and view zoomed in to actual pixels. You’ll notice that there’s no dramatic difference from one to another. Instead, there’s a gradual softening as the shutter speed gets slower. At some point, the softness becomes objectionable and the shutter speed before that is your minimum handholding speed. Keep in mind that this is the minimum. It always makes sense to shoot at the fastest shutter speed you can when you’re going handheld. It’s a terrible feeling to get home after a day of shooting only to find that all of your images are soft.


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More recently, DSLRs such as the pro Canon EOS-1Ds Mark IV and the pro Nikon D3S gave us a preview of what to expect in the next few years as sensor technology and image-processing engines continue to push the high-ISO limit. Both DSLRs can be set to an ISO of 102,400, allowing proper exposures in near-dark conditions far below the sensitivity limits of the highest ISO 35mm films (those topped out at ISO 3200, with push-processing to ISO 12,800). While 100,000-plus ISO settings produce images that are fairly noisy and have low color saturation even in these pro models, many shooters are discovering that photos shot at ISO 6400 (six stops above ISO 100) and 12,800 (seven stops) can produce remarkably good images—in some cases, rivaling the noise levels and color shot on their previous models at ISO 800 and 1600!

It All Adds Up: High Advantages In Low Light
When you combine the benefits gained from image-stabilized lenses or cameras, wider-aperture lenses and extremely high ISOs, you’re looking at a potential seven- to 10-stop increase in light sensitivity when shooting handheld shots with the latest APS-C DSLRs, and a 13- to 14-stop advantage when shooting with the pro Canon and Nikon models mentioned earlier. That’s compared to a digital or film camera set to ISO 100 using an ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6 zoom lens without IS.

The real advantage goes beyond the numbers, as increased low-light capabilities allow DSLR shooters to capture still photos, and possibly HD videos, in ambient low-light situations that once were impossible to master without a tripod or additional lighting. Perhaps ghost images no longer will be limited to lens refractions.

In-Lens IS Vs. In-Camera IS

An in-lens stabilization unit. These technological wonders feature microprocessors and moving optics.

Both in-lens element-shift stabilization and in-camera sensor-shift stabilization work on the same basic principle: Gyroscopic angular-velocity sensors in the lens or camera body detect camera movement and transmit that data to an onboard microprocessor. The processor interprets the motion data, incorporating information about the lens focal length, and calculates the needed degree of compensation, then signals the stabilization system to move the stabilizing lens group or the sensor itself the proper amount and direction to compensate.

Each manufacturer’s system varies in its details, but the result in all cases is that you get sharper handheld images.
Early systems claimed a two-stop gain (i.e., if you normally could get sharp handheld shots with the lens at a shutter speed of 1⁄60 sec., the stabilization would give you similar results at 1/15 sec.). Today, some systems claim four to five stops of gain (you could handhold the aforementioned lens down to ¼ or ½ sec.)—this may be stretching it a bit, but even the original stabilizers were quite effective, and if you shoot handheld, you’ll love stabilization, be it in-lens or in-camera.

Canon introduced in-lens stabilization with the EF 75-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM telezoom in 1995.
Today, Canon (IS), Nikon (VR), Sigma (OS) and Tamron (VC) offer lines of lenses with in-lens stabilization. Konica Minolta introduced sensor-shift stabilization in the Maxxum 7D in 2005. While Konica Minolta no longer makes DSLRs, today Sony (which obtained Konica Minolta’s DSLR assets in 2006), Olympus and Pentax offer DSLRs with sensor-shift stabilization.

While early stabilizers had just one mode, some of today’s stabilized lenses offer more than one. For example, a Canon IS lens might offer Mode 1, which resists both vertical and horizontal camera shake, and Mode 2, which resists only shake in only one direction, allowing you to pan or track an action subject. A Nikon lens might offer Normal VR (for normal shooting) and Active VR (for shooting when you’re moving, as when shooting from a moving vehicle). Check the instruction manual for your stabilized lens or camera body for specific operating directions.

Some systems compensate for vertical and horizontal (up/down and left/right) motion, some for pitch (rotating up or down) and yaw (rotating horizontally). Some, like Canon’s EF 100mm ƒ/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, can compensate for both, thanks to the acceleration sensor, as well as angular-velocity sensors.

Michael J. McNamara is a professional photographer, founder of The McNamara Report and a longtime photography industry insider. You can see more of his work at