Image Stabilization, also known as vibration reduction and anti-shake, is a technology that helps prevent digital photos from becoming blurred. It reduces camera shake caused by hand movement, slow shutter speeds or when using a long telephoto lens without a tripod.
Almost all cameras today have some form of Image Stabilization (IS) including digital single lens reflex cameras. DSLR Image Stabilization is either built into the camera body or interchangeable lens.
Some types of image stabilization are more effective than others (see below).
Advantages of Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization helps a photographer take hand held shots about two stops slower than without it. It is important to point out that IS may not prevent blur if a subject itself is moving. However, new technologies progress and some companies claim their IS reduces or eliminates blur even when caused by moving subjects.
Some digital camera users report getting sharper images with Image Stabilization turned off. This assumes, of course, that the shutter speed is fast enough to prevent camera shake.
Image stabilization and tripods
The general consensus among digital camera users is to shut off Image Stabilization when using a tripod or other camera support. Some camera manufacturers recommend this so check your camera manual before shutting of IS.
In actual practice, results and preferences vary. Take test photos with and without IS enabled to find what works best with your camera.
Types of digital camera Image Stabilization
Optical Image Stabilization is hardware based. Digital cameras with optical IS typically have a built-in gyro sensor and microprocessor that detects camera shake as it occurs. The stabilizer compensates for any camera movement.
There are three main types of Optical Image Stabilization modes, though not every compact digital camera with IS has all three: Continuous, Shoot Only and/or Panning.
Sensor-shift image stabilization
Sensor-shift image stabilization is also known as mechanical image stabilization. The stabilization occurs in the camera body, not the lens. The sensor is adjusted to compensate for camera shake.
Some compact cameras have Digital Image Stabilization only, which simply boosts camera sensitivity (ISO) to obtain a faster shutter speeds to help prevent blur. No hardware is involved.
But increasing ISO causes image quality to degrade to varying degrees because of “noise,” similar to grain in photos taken with high ISO film. Digital Image Stabilization must be turned on via a setting or anti-blur scene mode.
Ask before buying
Optical image stabilization is much preferable to digital, so ask about the type before buying a digital camera. Words can be misleading, so don’t get take for granted that a camera has hardware-based Optical Image Stabilization.
Fancy terms such as Anti-blur Technology, Anti-shake Function and Image Stabilization Mode may simply mean that a camera increases the ISO to help prevent blurred images.
Dual Image Stabilization
Dual Image Stabilization simply combines Optical Image Stabilization and an increase to ISO. If you’re buying a digital camera that has Dual Image Stabilization, look for one that provides the option to manually control ISO.
Triple Image Stabilization
Fujifilm introduced Triple Image Stabilization in some of their digital camera. According to Fujifilm, Triple Image Stabilization “combines a mechanically stabilized CMOS sensor with high ISO sensitivities and advanced multi-frame digital stabilization for total anti-blur protection.” The company says that these combined technologies will reduce the blurring effect of both camera shake and subject movement to provide sharp images even at the longest zoom settings or in challenging lighting conditions.
Intelligent Image Stabilization
Intelligent Image Stabilization analyzes camera movement and automatically selects from several different modes to help assure the steadiest possible, blur-free photo. Cameras with Intelligent IS work when shooting still shots and video. It also automatically detects when the camera is mounted on a tripod and turns IS off because it is not needed.
DSLR Image Stabilization
As mentioned, there are two Image Stabilization systems found in digital single lens reflex cameras: IS built into the camera or IS built into interchangeable lenses. The debate goes on among photographers about which type of DSLR Image Stabilization is best and most cost effective.
There is little debate, however, about the overall benefits of Image Stabilization.