How Does Your Camera Image Stabilizer Work?

A Camera Image Stabilizer is essential for shooting steady photos, unless you are using a tripod. It is very important to make sure that your shot will appear sharp and steady, especially when you are using a slow shutter speed or a wide aperture. These settings can easily cause unsteady images because, as opposed to fast shutter speed photos, the shutter stays open for long time, or the camera sensor receives a lot of light.

Many photographers hate to carry a tripod with themselves because of its weight, and it also prevents them from moving around easily during photography sessions. Therefore, it is important to consider buying your camera and lenses with an image stabilizer support.

Camera Image Stabilizer

A shot with camera image stabilizer support

Camera Image Stabilizer

A shot without camera image stabilizer support

Why Use a Camera Image Stabilizer?

The camera shake happens in a very small period of time, while you’re pushing the shutter button. When the shutter opens, the light goes through the camera prism and is received on the camera sensor. If your camera shakes while the shutter is open, the prism reflects a new light path to the sensor, which will cause a blurry shot.

In the figure below, camera position (a) indicates the camera’s position before pushing the shutter button, and the red point shows the light intersection with the camera sensor. The other camera position (b) indicates what happens if the camera position changes while the shutter is still open. Notice that the light path intersection with the camera sensor is changed to the blue point. This is the conflict between paths which causes blurry shots.

You have to know that the time and position differences are very small compared to the example in the figure.

Camera Image Stabilizer

The Process Behind Camera Image Stabilizer

The technology behind image stabilizers is very direct and simple. Each time the camera moves during the shooting time or during exposure, the camera’s prism moves in the opposite direction to make sure that the camera sensor receives the light from the same position. For example, if the camera moves up, the prism moves down to fix the shake that would otherwise appear due to this movement.

Each camera has two sensors, one for vertical movement and another one for horizontal movement. Once the light path is stabilized, your camera can expose the light to produce a sharp image.

The figure below shows how the camera prism moves in the opposite direction of the camera movement.

Camera Image Stabilizer

Image Stabilization in Different Cameras

Camera image stabilizers have different names based on the camera’s manufacturer. The first inventor of the image stabilization technology was Konica Minolta, and other companies started to apply the same technology in their lenses with different names, as follows:

  • Vibration Reduction (VR) in Nikon
  • Image Stabilization (IS) in Canon
  • MegaOIS in Panasonic and Leica
  • Super Steady Shot (SSS) in Sony
  • Optical Stabilization (OS) in Sigma
  • Vibration Compensation (VC) in Tamron

When to Use a Camera Image Stabilizer?

Actually, a camera image stabilizer is required in most photography situations, but in some cases, it is a must to create sharp and blur-free shots, such as the following:

  • Low light shots where you need to use a slow shutter speed or wide aperture. In this situation, you will either need a camera image stabilizer or a tripod, especially when the shutter speed is lower than 1/50.
  • Macro photography, where you need to take close-up shots, especially of moving objects.
  • Telephoto photography, where you need to zoom in on far moving objects.

To sum it up, making sure you are taking steady shots is essential for getting professional and blur-free images. Therefore, a camera image stabilizer is an important feature that you have to consider when you buy your camera lens. Although lenses with stabilizers are more expensive, taking high quality shots are definitely worth the price.

Next photography lessons:

Photography basics 1: Tips to Choose Your First DSLR Camera

Photography basics 2: Understanding Camera Exposure

Photography basics 3: Understanding Camera ISO

Photography basics 5: Understanding White Balance

Photography basics 6: How Your Digital Camera Sensor Works


About Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy is a worldwide author in the field of graphic design, photography, and web. He is Adobe community professional and manage for Adobe user group. He is one of the founders of Photographytuts.com. Rafiq is a public speaker and lecturer in the design and photography related topics. Get in touch with him through Facebook

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