Camera shake is the bane of photographers everywhere. No photographer has perfectly steady hands. Once shutter speeds drop, camera shake begins to seriously affect image sharpness. Fortunately, there are solutions. Nothing will give you consistently sharper photos than a sturdy tripod and every photographer should have one. But there’s a high-tech solution, too: image stabilization. Read on to learn a little about this interesting technology and view a through-the-lens video demonstration of it in action.
Most of the major lens and camera manufacturers have some form of image stabilization, usually on their high-end equipment. Canon calls it IS for image stabilization. Nikon calls it VR for vibration reduction (I’ll call it VR for the remainder of this article for brevity). It works by connecting a movable element in the lens to electronics that cancel out small camera movements. This kind of optical stabilization actually alters the light path through the lens. It’s pretty ingenious.
Manufacturers claim that stabilization can give you the equivalent of up to 2 to 3 stops of exposure. In other words, if you normally have to shoot at 1/60s to get a sharp image, with VR you can shoot at 1/15s or 1/8s and get a sharp image. That’s not the whole story though. VR cancels camera movement but it doesn’t do anything to cancel subject movement. A moving subject at 1/15s is still going to be blurry whether you have VR or not. But it can give all of your photos a little boost of sharpness by cancelling camera shake. And in many situations, VR allows you to use slower shutter speeds or lower ISOs (for less noise) than you would normally be able to.
Check out this video to see VR in action. It’s a demo I put together this weekend that shows a through-the-lens view of optical image stabilization. The lens is the Nikkor 18-200mm VR zoomed all the way out to 200mm where camera shake is most evident. When VR is enabled, notice how the focusing points seem to stop shaking and begin to “float” over the scene. It’s an odd sensation when you’re actually looking through the viewfinder. To get the full effect from the video, get really close to the screen and close your left eye. ;-)