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Image Stabilization

With many new DSLR lenses reporting themselves as featuring "image stabilization" (or stabilisation, depending on your locality) here at the Photography Website we thought we would help decipher some of the more obscure aspects of image stabilization and explain exactly how it does what it does. It is also called something different by many companies, we have Image Stabilization (Canon), Vibration Reduction (Nikon), Optical Stabilization (Sigma), Shake Reduction (Pentax), Super Steady Shot (Sony), MegaOIS (Leica and Panasonic) and Shake Reduction (Pentax). Obviously the name is completely self explanatory and the exact purpose of image stabilization is to stabilise an image and prevent it from shaking in an effort to reduce blurred images. Of course it is not only used in DSLR photography; it has many applications including in telescopes, video cameras, binoculars, and just about anything else with some form of lens assembly.

Obviously as a DSLR photography you will generally be aiming to use the lowest shutter speed possible in order to attain the sharpest picture, image stabilization will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you would when taking the same picture without an IS lens resulting in a much sharper picture. Obviously there are things that the image stabilization systems on the market today cannot contend with, they will not make any difference with regards to motion blur if either the subject or camera is moving quickly when the picture is snapped. Image stabilization is generally designed with minute vibrations in the camera and lens assembly that occur when shooting without a tripod in mind, but as long as you understand the limitations of the system and do not expect miracles it can work wonders with the quality of your final images and at the very least will save you time spent in Photoshop sharpening your images at the end of a days shooting.

Mechanical image stabilisation is a form of blur reduction that does not feature the lens but rather the camera body itself, as a result it can allow for the purchase of cheaper lenses if you are on a budget. This method utilises a small gyroscope that reports the movement of the camera itself and correlates this information with various setting such as the focal length of the lens that is currently being used to take the picture. This allows the sensor to actually be moved a small amount in either direction in order to keep the image that is projected onto it fixed in place. This technique of image stabilization is favoured by Konica Minolta and also Pentax in a number of their lines. Olympus have also utilised this method of image stabilization with their E-510 and various other companies also utilise mechanical image stabilization on various cameras and it is favoured on cameras that feature an electronic viewfinder as it ensures that the image seen on the viewfinder is also stabilised as well as the image being projected onto the sensor.

By far the most common method of image stabilization takes place not in the camera body but rather in the lens, and whilst it does result in expensive, slightly heavier lenses it is the favoured method by many of reducing blur on images. Different companies have different methods of achieving this from of image stabilization; some utilise a lens that is actually suspended and "floating" using electromagnets allowing it to be moved by a small amount along the axis of the lens based on feedback from gyroscopic sensors detecting movement in two dimensions. Since only two sensors are used this form of image stabilization will not correct any rotational vibration; many cameras that use this technique also often feature a method of reducing rotational blur via the software built into the camera.

There are no DSLR cameras currently on the market that utilise purely digital image stabilization in order to reduce blur, when DSLR cameras were in their infancy this method was fairly common but has thankfully been discontinued for still photography even though some video cameras still feature similar systems. As with all digital image manipulation it often results in artifacts in the finished produced and in extreme cases can often result in a very sharp but grainy image. For high level professional work it is also possible to utilise gyroscopes attached directly to the camera in order to stabilize camera, lens, tripod, and anything else attached to the camera body. This method of image stabilization is expensive and bulky and is often only used for professional photography on sets and where shots can be planned in advance, or when extreme image stabilization is needed such as when photographing from vehicles or filming on film sets. There are also third party kits that feature a steadicam style weighted shoulder or waist support for your DSLR, but this method of image stabilization is only used in very niche areas of photography.