Should You Turn Image Stabilization off When Using a Tripod?

If your camera is mounted on top of a tripod, should you turn your camera's image stabilization off? These findings might surprise you.

It might seem rather antiquated and quaint considering how far camera technology has evolved in recent times, but I used to pride myself on how still I could handhold a camera. One method I used was always inhaling slowly and deeply, then exhaling slowly and deeply, then pressing the shutter on the pause of breath after my exhale. I also had all sorts of positions I would put my knees and elbows into to ensure that I had multiple points touching a surface, be it the ground or a wall. But now with the development of image stabilization (in your camera or your lens), those techniques have become somewhat unnecessary. That said, if you're using a tripod, should you actually use image stabilization?

And that brings us to this great video by Robin Wong, in which he addresses that very issue. He points out that it has always been assumed that best practice was to turn off image stabilization when using a tripod, but now's he's not so sure. In order to find out, he takes you out into the night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and does some long exposure photography with image stabilization on and then repeats the process with the image stabilization off. I must be honest and say that I've sometimes forgotten to turn off image stabilization on my Canon EOS R5, but have never really noticed any discernible differences. What do you think the outcome will be with Robin Wong's tests? What have your experiences been? Let me know your thoughts below.

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Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I do a lot of birds in flight photography. I often use a heavy video tripod and head along with my Canon R5 with the RF 800mm F11 lens. I get much better results with the stabilization on. Even when locked down the results are better. With the length of the 800mm lens wind will cause vibration and the stabilizer does a good job of compensating. On windless days I can still see no difference in image quality with the stabilizer on or off.


My compliments to Mr. Wong on this well done video. But before making the general conclusion that you can or should leave the image stabilization enabled when using a tripod, note that his results are only applicable to his specific Olympus camera, and he's only testing the in-body image stabilization (IBIS, which he refers to as "5-axis" or "sensor" stabilization). The lens on his camera appears to be the Olympus 20mm f/1.4 Pro, which does not have lens-based optical image stabilization (OIS).

I have had contrary experiences using DSLRs without IBIS on sturdy tripods, using long lenses having lens-based OIS. When the OIS was enabled, the "wandering" of the lens elements was clearly visible through the optical viewfinder.

Mr. Wong's test method is very good, but the real take-away should be to do similar tests on your own gear to know how it performs.

For whether IS needs to be on or off, it depends on the lens firmware. For example, on some lenses, if the camera is on a tripod, the OIS element may drift slightly, and that gets visible on long exposure. It has happened with some older Tamron lens, though they ended up fixing many of those issues with firmware updates.

For modern cameras with IBIS, they have largely become capable of working well on tripods by avoiding drift.
PS one interesting thing is that on even many budget lenses, for example, the entry level AF-P lenses will actually avoid drifting while on a tripod, though multiple separate images during an exposure may end up with slightly different OIS element positions,
There is a chance that more modern cameras with IBIS may also have this issue where they are smart enough to avoid drift during an exposure, but will not use the same OIS or sensor position between exposures, thus causing alignment issues with bracketing, when remotely controlling the camera (I personally use the qDslrDashboard android app to control a camera over WiFi when doing bracketing, exposure stacking, as well as multi exposure interior shots where I will walk around the room with a flash and ultimately get a flash and ambient blend.

Umm, you used 2 different f-stops on the 5 second shot, yet claimed all settings were the same. Not saying this will provide totally different results, but all settings should have been the same

It really comes down to a time function, as we're only concerned with the movement. The only other option would be Auto ISO.

I tested the A7RII and if it's on a tripod with IBIS on, without introducing any movement to the tripod/camera, there are sometimes random movements of the sensor causing blurred images. So IBIS needs to be switched off for this specific camera if there is not going to be any movement.

My Sony A6400s do not have IBIS. It's only in the lenses, and not all my lenses have IS. Two remarks so far agree that you need to do your own tests with your own gear. I have, and conclude that with my system it pays to remember to turn off the IS when on a tripod for exposures greater than a few seconds. It doesn't matter for relatively short exposures (say down to a second) but the longer the exposure, at least with in-lens IS, there is a greater likelihood that the system will begin to hunt for motion that's not there. I was shooting fireworks once with my camera and a 200mm lens. It was well that I made a test shot early and checked it; it was visibly smeared. I turned off the IS, tested again, and all was well. Every system, camera, and lens is unique; best to test and if you need to turn off the IS, whether in lens or body or both, it's worth it. Remember, not so very long ago there was no such thing as image stabilization, yet we managed.

I tested this with my Sony A7RIV - results are here:

I don't think Robin's test is quite as "accurate" - he's using a small tripod that you can clearly see the camera shake as he's making the video. Of course the IS is going to help in this instance. The test (IMO) should be on a sturdy, non moving tripod as that was always the argument for turning IS off in the first place. If your tripod is being moved by the wind it's not much different than if you were hand holding (unless the shutter speed is REALLY long as when he does the 5 and 10 second shots). It's complicated and I agree that everyone needs to test it with their own gear.