Is Digital Camera Image Stabilization Important? :: Digital Photo Secrets

Is Digital Camera Image Stabilization Important?

by David Peterson 32 comments

If you own a digital point and shoot or SLR camera, you may have been sold on its the built-in image stabilization system. For some camera models, this is available through the lens. On others, it is in the camera. Either way, you probably want to know what it means for your photography and whether it is ultimately effective.

When is image stabilization most important?

First of all, why is image stabilization important? When is it the most useful? After all, if you are taking pictures at very high shutter speeds like 1/500th of a second, you will have no real use for image stabilization. That is because the fast shutter speed cancels out any accidental camera shaking you might do.

So really, image stabilization is the most important in situations where you don’t have enough light to get a fast shutter speed. It tends to come in handy at sunset, sunrise, and indoors. In most cases, image stabilization will give you the same image quality at 3 to 4 shutter speed stops slower than usual. This is especially handy if you don’t like carrying a tripod everywhere you go.

Use a higher aperture and get more depth of field

Using a higher aperture (higher F number) tends to increase sharpness and depth of field in your photos. Every time you increase your aperture, the actual hole the light goes through to get to your camera’s image sensor gets smaller. That means you will have to decrease the shutter speed to allow more light in. However, Image stabilization allows you to increase the aperture by a few extra F-stops. Because image stabilization allows you to use slower shutter speeds with the same results, you can use those slower shutter speeds to offset the loss of light caused by increasing your aperture.

Decrease telephoto blurring

There is one more area where image stabilization is useful, and that is with lenses in the telephoto range. Because a telephoto lens is longer and can see further away, every small shaking motion gets magnified. The difference between a telephoto lens and wide angle lens is similar to the difference between a short stick and a long stick. If you shake a short stick, the end doesn’t shake as much as it would if you were shaking a long stick. Small movements get magnified toward the end, and image stabilization helps to minimize those effects.

A comparison

Lets look at two different images taken with the same shutter speed and aperture settings. One of them uses image stabilization, and the other does not. The two following images were both taken with a Nikon D40x camera at aperture f8 with a shutter speed of 1/13 of a second. I chose a relatively slow shutter speed because the effects of image stabilization can only truly be seen at slow shutter speeds.

I am also using a Nikon 18mm to 55mm lens with vibration reduction (VR) technology. VR is Nikon’s brand of image stabilization, and it is built into the lens. Canon very creatively calls its technology IS for image stabilizer. Both systems are similar and comparable. The first image is taken with no image stabilization. I have blown up the letters on the sign so you can see the effect clearly.

As you can see, the image is slightly blurry but not all that bad. You can still read the text in the sign. Now let’s see how much of a difference image stabilization makes.

There is a big difference. You can very clearly read the letters on the sign, and there don’t appear to be nearly as many blurry sections. Image stabilization made it possible to take this image without a tripod.

Do you need image stabilization?

While image stabilization is great, at the end of the day nobody really “needs” it. It’s a nice feature to have when you don’t have that much light, and you don’t want to bring a tripod everywhere you go, but it shouldn’t be the dealbreaker that determines your next camera or camera lens purchase. Luckily, most low end zoom lenses and beginner digital SLR kits come with image stabilization these days, so it is kind of a moot point.

The best image stabilizer is your tripod. It is the safest bet when it comes to getting a blur free image at slower shutter speeds. Although there is a big difference between a shot taken with image stabilization and one without it, there is an even bigger difference when you use a tripod. The second image would have been completely blur free. If you want a sure bet, get yourself a good tripod.

Do you think that recent technological advances like image stabilization has significantly improved your photography? Let me know!

Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


  1. Lara says:

    Hi im trying to decide at the moment between getting the sony a7 or a7ii. I love macro and nature (sunsets etc.) photograph and am wondering how important image stabilization will be? The sony a7 has stabilisation in some of the lenses and is resonably cheaper and lighter (weight is important because i want to take it traveling) whereas the a7ii has image stabilisation in the body. Based on this which would u recommend?

  2. says:

    For consumer digital camcorders, digital image stabilization is usually less effective than optical stabilization.

  3. Craig says:

    I have heard or read somewhere that if using a tripod, to turn the IS feature off.
    Otherwise it has a tendency to fight itself for dominance over the tripod...
    Can you confirm or refute this claim???
    BTW: I'm having a grt time w/ my 50D OES w/ 28_135mm, 50mm f/1.8, and a new 10_18mm wide angle...
    So many things to shoot, having trouble choosing which subjects to capture first...
    Best regards from Sacramento, CA
    TNX for all the wonderful tips... Craig

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Craig,

      Thanks for your comment.

      It's no longer necessary to turn off IS when using a tripod. In the early days of IS, some models did have problems when the camera was already steady (like when on a tripod), but they solved that problem years ago.

      Go ahead and keep IS on always - even when using a tripod.


  4. Thephototoday says:

    The image stabilizer is a mechanical device that is responsible to compensate for camera shakes (possibly due to lack of stability in our hands) to try the photo does not blur.
    Currently there are many cameras that take you (both compact and SLR), always operating on the basis of motion sensors that control a micro motors. The modus operandi of these micro motors translates into two very different kinds:
    - Stabilizer motion sensor: the image sensor moves to compensate for camera shake. Its advantage is that it works Reflex for all targets matching, although it may not be too effective as them.
    - Optical Stabilizer (lens motion): A group of the objective lens moves for compensation. You can be more optimized for each type of lens, at the expense of raising the price of them all.
    Whatever the type of stabilizer, can expect 2 to 3 or even 4 steps to improve the speed. That is, if a particular photo to us without appearing pulse would "move" to 1/100 second speed, if we connect the stabilizer can expect slow down to 1/25, or even 1/6 (depending how stabilizer ) moved without display.
    Obviously for moving subjects (fast) the effect of down-at stabilizing allow both speed- may imply that image blur effect of the movement, then it is not the right solution and other measures are imposed.

  5. ronald says:

    as experiment i took photos 8000x zoom with and with out a tripod and the one with out is were cleaer with out but very shakey i want to photo the planets but when i do it zoom all the way to wide angle. slow speed works for video but self timer wont work with any other setting.

  6. Brian Swale says:

    In my opinion, the latest Olympus cameras have the best image stabilisation process of any camera make.
    For some it is 5-axis stabilisation, and of course works for manual Zuiko (Olympus ) lenses as well as Zuiko digital lenses.

  7. Jonney says:

    The general conception as far as IS is concerned is that if ur camera's minimum focal length is, say, 20mm, u should enable IS while capturing images at shutter speeds less than or equal to 1/20 sec.

    Otherwise, u may or may not want to switch IS on or off based on your preferences to battery usage etc. it's better to take sample images at a particular(or various, for that matter)shutter speed with IS feature on and off. You can then realize as to what works best for u.

  8. shashidhar says:

    Hello david
    i dnt use tripods n i was thinking of buying a 55-200 nikon vr lens bt at the same price we get a tamron 70-300 lens bt without vr, i almost do handheld shooting all the time so i am bit confused which one to buy, it would be of help if u suggest me with this buy.

    • David Peterson says:


      If you are photographing handheld most of the time, then I would recommend getting a lens with VR (vibration reduction). So go with the 55-200 Nikon. Note that Nikon also sells a 70-300 lens with VR.

      In my opinion it's worth spending more on lenses because you can keep those as you upgrade the body of your camera.

      I hope that helps.


  9. geo says:

    There is one other situation in which stabilization may be crucial. I have arthritis. I had gotten to the point where, when I travel, I couldn't take ANY of the pictures. Even in high light situations, my hands simply shake too much. UNTIL, that is, we got the Panasonic DMC-FZ20.

    An old DSLR by today's standards, but its stabilization is so good that I can take pictures with it in almost any situation, including close-up macro images! Unlike some cameras that I've seen, this one has two stabilization settings, one in which it only takes effect when taking the picture, and another in which the stabilization is always on. While it drains the battery more quickly, it's that second setting that allows me to once again take all the pictures I want!!!

  10. Bill Martinson says:

    VR / IS is a real bargain. I enjoy nature and animal photography.
    Animals are most active at dawn and dusk. Tripods are great
    and I have a few BUT I find sometimes I'm on the move and out of
    a blind. My 55-300 DX with VR on and high ISO gives me pictures that were impossible before digital, unless I spent many thousands of dollars
    For a fast 500mm lense.

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