Digital SLRs - Image Stabilisation

Why Do You Need Image Stabilisation?

Image Stabilisation helps to give you pin sharp photographs.

When you take a picture while holding onto your camera you are unlikely to be able to hold the camera perfectly still while you are taking the photograph. These tiny movements of the camera, no matter how slight, can take the edge off the sharpness of your photo leaving it with a softer look.

Image Stabilisation helps to negate those movements. The result is a sharper, more pleasing looking photo.

How Does Image Stabilisation Work?

Image stabilisation can be built in to either a camera lens or into the body of the camera itself. It works by adding a number of tiny gyroscopes into the lens or camera body. These detect and absorb movement to ensure the key components are kept still when a picture is being taken.

digital slrs

The Significance of Shutter Speed

One of the most important considerations when taking a photo is the shutter speed you use. Even if you have placed the camera in fully automatic mode the shutter speed selected by the camera is very significant.

In bright sunlight the shutter only needs to be open for a split second while a photo is being taken. In that short amount of time the camera is able to pull in enough light to produce a well lit photo. When the light is not so bright the shutter needs to be open for longer to pull in the light required to ensure your photos are bright enough. Although this may only be for an extra fraction of a second those tiny hand movements are far more likely to occur and reduce the sharpness of your photo.

Therefore by absorbing a lot of those tiny movements Image Stabilisation helps you to produce sharper pictures while using slower shutter speeds.

Why Not Just Use Flash?

You may already know that in lowlight taking pictures using flash can give you a sharper image. This is because the extra light means the shutter does not need to be open for very long. Therefore there is less time for camera movement to affect the result.

The disadvantage of using flash is that the light it produces is much harsher than natural light. The harshness and intensity of the light can wash out natural colours from your photos. If your lens or camera is equipped with Image Stabilisation you will be able to work without flash more often.

Therefore not only does this feature help you to produce sharper photos it can also help you to produce photos with more natural looking colours.

Digital SLR Guide Pages

Digital SLR Basics
Digital SLRs and Digital Cameras Key Differences
Digital SLR or Compact System Cameras
Digital SLR Handling
Help for Beginners

Lenses and Accessories
Buying a Camera Lens
Memory Cards
Digital SLR Accessories

Learn More About Features
Resolution and Sensor Size
Sensor Cleaning
Manual Exposure Modes
ISO Range
White Balance
Auto Focus
Drive Modes
Scene Modes
Help With Tricky Lighting
Metering Modes
RAW Mode
Live View and Articulated Screens
Flash Options
Movie Modes
Depth of Field Preview Button
Image Stabilisation
Mirror Lockup

Current and Recommended Models
Summary of Current Models
Recommended Digital SLRs

Digital SLR Guide Author
This guide was written by Ian Younger

When is Stabilisation Most Important?

There are three instances where Image Stabilisation becomes more important.

These are:

  1. When you are taking pictures in lowlight
  2. When you are using a long lenses
  3. When you are making large prints

As mentioned above, when you take a picture in lowlight the shutter needs to be open for longer in order to capture enough light to expose your photograph correctly. The longer the shutter is open for the harder it is to keep the camera perfectly still while the picture is being taken. Hence, blur creeping into your shots.

The problems caused by using longer lenses are similar to those when you are photographing in lowlight. Longer lenses tend to have smaller maximum apertures. Therefore the shutter needs to be open for a fraction of a second longer to let in the required light. In addition longer lenses are heavier. This makes them that much harder to keep perfectly still.

The issue with larger prints is different. Like any other problem with a picture any flaws become more obvious when print size is increased. So while you may find picture quality acceptable with smaller prints you may find sharpness loses its edge when larger prints are viewed.

Camera Body or Lens Based?

Historically Image Stabilisation was built into lenses. As technology has advanced and new brands has entered the market that has changed.

Some manufacturers now build this feature into the camera body. The advantage to you is that lenses with image stabilisation tend to be more expensive, so buying a Digital SLR already equipped with the feature theoretically saves you paying a premium every time you buy a lens.

Canon and Nikon still build image stabilisation into their lenses. Others, such as Sony and Pentax, build it into the camera.

Which Method Works Best?

Both systems seem to be just as effective, although some users believe that in-lens systems are more effective on longer focal length lenses while an in-body system is better for use with shorter focal lengths. The differences between the two systems tend to be minimal. Therefore unless you are a perfectionist, whichever way you look at it there is very little difference in quality.

Lenses without Image Stabilisation

There are still plenty of lenses made by Canon and Nikon without this feature built in. These are mainly at the cheaper end of the market or are lenses with short focal lengths and large apertures. If you are unable to afford lenses with Image Stabilisation there are options you can consider to help minimise unwanted blur. These include using flash, setting a higher ISO and using a tripod.