Has Image Stabilization Become a Necessity Today?

Has Image Stabilization Become a Necessity Today?

Every new camera incorporates some form of stabilization system. While much of photography doesn’t necessarily require image stabilization, on some occasions, it may have become a necessity, especially with today's high-resolution cameras.

Image stabilization is a handy tool that allows for relatively long shutter speeds without the need to increase the ISO setting or use a tripod. It can save the day. Of course, image stabilization has an important limit; it can't freeze the motion of the subject itself. Regardless of how many stops can be stabilized, if the subject is moving, image stabilization won’t solve the problem.

This is also the reason why I personally find image stabilization overrated. After all, even if a shutter speed of 1/15 seconds is possible without the fear of motion blur that originates from holding the camera, when the subject you’re photographing requires a shutter speed of at least 1/125 seconds, the system is useless for this purpose. I wrote an article about this topic some time ago.

Even though the shutter speed wasn't too slow for handheld photography, the motion of the subject prevented a sharp image. The panning wasn't a big help either.

Image Stabilization for Lenses With a Longer Focal Length

For longer focal lengths, image stabilization becomes a great option. In such cases, the system does what it’s designed for: compensating for the vibrations that occur from holding the camera. These vibrations may be unnoticeable with wide-angle lenses, but with longer focal lengths, the vibrations will get enlarged as well. That’s why longer focal lengths require faster shutter speeds.

Motion and vibrations are less visible with a wide angle lens. That's the reason why a slower shutter speed is possible with a hand-held camera.

The same motion or vibration becomes more visible with a longer focal length. A faster shutter speed is necessary.

In situations where no image stabilization systems are used, the rule of one divided by the focal length, corrected with the crop factor, comes into play. If you’re using a 600mm lens on a full-frame camera, the minimum shutter speed is 1/600 s. A 400mm lens on a micro four-thirds camera with a crop factor of two, results in a minimum shutter speed of 1/800 s. With a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera, you should be fine with only 1/24 s.

This is why image stabilization works perfectly for longer focal lengths. It allows you to use a shutter speed that is slower than advised by the rule one divided by the focal length, as long as it’s fast enough to freeze the motion of the subject.

If you're using a longer focal length, and you are using it handheld, the shutter speed needs to be fast enough in order to prevent motion blur. Thankfully, there is image stabilization.

Image stabilization is also extremely useful to compensate for any vibrations made by the photographer when using a medium telephoto lens. However, there might be another extremely useful application for image stabilization.

Image Stabilization for High-Resolution Sensors

The resolution of modern cameras is increasing. Canon and Nikon both have 45-megapixel cameras, some Sony cameras have more than 60 megapixels, and Fujifilm GFX cameras have 50 or even 100 megapixels. It may take some time, but even these large resolutions will increase eventually.

The number of megapixels these cameras have offers such a large resolution that small details become easy to distinguish. Even a small vibration that wasn’t visible with lower resolution sensors will result in motion blur as the number of megapixels increases. In other words, it becomes more difficult to hold the camera still.

The Fujifilm GFX 100 is an amazing camera, but the 100 megapixels is something to take into account when choosing a shutter speed.

The solution to this problem is an even faster shutter speed than dictated by the rule one divided by the focal length. That’s why some people advise that this rule needs correction. With sensors that have 30 megapixels or more, the shutter speed should be multiplied by two.

If you’re using the aforementioned 600mm lens with a high-resolution full-frame camera, the shutter speed should be 1/1,200 s instead of 1/600 s. This imposes a significant restriction on the usability of a longer focal length during dark situations. That’s when image stabilization offers a significant benefit. It compensates for the increased risk of motion blur due to the increased resolution.

Steady shot on the Sony a6700. There are different options available.

For longer focal lengths, the benefit of image stabilization is obvious. However, in this case, this also applies to shorter focal lengths. Image stabilization might even become a necessity for these high-resolution cameras. It’s the only solution to continue using the shutter speeds and ISO values the way we’re used to. If you don’t, the shutter speed for hand-held photography has to be much higher, or the use of a tripod becomes mandatory.

With the Sony FE 16-35mm lens, you're depending on the built-in image stabilization.

High-Resolution Cameras and Tripods

However, even with a tripod, it’s easier to get motion blur with high-resolution sensors. The slightest vibration from pressing the shutter release button can be enough to cause motion blur, especially when the image stabilization systems are turned off automatically because the system recognizes the use of a tripod. That’s why it becomes even more important to use the self-timer or a remote trigger system.

Although the Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 II doesn't have high resolution, the image stabilization is very helpful in a lot of situations.

Obviously, this occurs more easily with a longer focal length. But don’t be surprised when it also happens when you’re using lenses with a shorter focal length. The test I conducted with the super resolution on the Canon EOS R5 demonstrates this nicely. Even with a sturdy tripod and ball head, standing on a concrete floor, and the 10-second self-timer, it turned out to be difficult to capture a 400-megapixel high-resolution image without any motion blur.

Remember, the difficulty with the high-resolution option on the Canon EOS R5 is also due to the poor implementation. But it also shows how easy motion blur can occur if the resolution increases, even with a good tripod. Follow this link if you’re interested in the tests I conducted with the super resolution on the Canon EOS R5.

Do you use a high-resolution camera like the ones I mentioned? If so, do you take extra precautions to avoid motion blur? Please share your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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1 Comment

I have found the IBIS in my Z7 useful in an unusual way.

I take a lot of architectural pictures in old Italian monuments with shift lenses. When I can I use a tripod, everything is easy. IBIS can be turned off. But often tripods are not allowed. But my monopod with feet, seems to be acceptable, most of the time. It is also a way to lighten the load.

I set the camera up on the monopod with a bracket to keep the centre of gravity over the pole, level the camera and wait for vibrations to die down. IBIS and a cable release takes care of any micro vibrations and I get sharp results even with 30 second exposures. I can even do HDR sets.

I have done tests comparing this method with shots taken on a tripod. With care there is little or no difference with the results

Just take care to be ready to grab the camera if there is too much instability.