Image De-Stabilization

Some time ago, I spent a day at Kruger National Park in South Africa. I was fortunate to have three lion sightings in a day.

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The King at Rest : Prints Available

Male lion resting on the ground

I was in a truck and hand-holding the camera. I set my Canon 70-200 lens (with a 2x extender) to “image stabilization” (IS). This turned out to be a big mistake.

The conventional wisdom is to turn IS off when using a tripod because your pictures may come out blurry. This is because the IS doesn’t like a very still camera and tries to account for camera shake. However, prior to the trip I read an article on a website which (in theory) should have been the definitive source on the subject. This article stated that this doesn’t really happen with the newer lenses and that you can pretty much leave IS on all the time. Well, from my experience on that trip and from the experience of others, this simply is not true.

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Young Gazelles : Prints Available

Two gazelles at Kruger

When I was shooting, I used a reasonably fast shutter speed and rested my left arm on the edge of the truck and then my right arm and camera on top of my left arm. My technique effectively created a tripod and the result was a number of blurred pictures due to IS being on, including some hyena pictures that would have been quite cool otherwise. Unless, of course, you like your hyenas blurry.

My suggestion is to not believe everything you read (except for this post) and to leave IS off unless you are shooting still subjects hand-held and shutter speed is a concern. If you are forgetful like me, you might also want to leave a note for yourself to turn IS back off when you are done shooting, too.

4 thoughts on “Image De-Stabilization

  1. Hi Ken, you’re blog is looking nice! Great info so far.

    I have found that I actually prefer cameras/lenses that do NOT have stabilization at all! Since I almost always shoot important photos from a tripod, the IS can only serve to screw up my photos. In fact, that has happened before after a shooting a stunning landscape sunset scene in Norway when I later discovered to my dismay that I accidentally had the IS turned on. The photos turned out quite fuzzy, though fortunately I was able to sharpen them enough for use in smaller print sizes.

    One question I’ve never figured out is whether or not IS is helpful for handheld shots when you are using a fast enough shutter speed that IS shouldn’t be necessary anyways. In that situation, does IS still lead to sharper photos? Or would it have the same blurring effect as when shooting from a tripod?

    1. Hi, Jack – Thank you very much for the comments.

      I’m with you on not using IS. I just don’t even touch that button anymore. I shoot almost everything from a tripod and, if I am shooting handheld, the subject is usually moving. Back in the day, I’ve forgotten to turn IS off a number of times, resulting in fuzzy photos, though.

      On your question, I don’t really know the answer. One would HOPE that IS wouldn’t lead to blurring with the faster shutter speeds, although one would also hope that IS combined with a tripod wouldn’t make your pictures blurry! 🙂

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