Hand Held Cameras, Part 8
Image Stabilization

Lens with image stabilization are a huge help when hand holding cameras.


This article continues my thoughts about hand-holding cameras for increased shooting flexibility and creativity that have been the subjects of the seven previous articles. Go to the first part of the hand-holding series.

A lot of lenses have built in image stabilizers. If you plan on handholding your camera, as opposed to using a tripod, image stabilization is a huge plus.

The new Tamron 18x270 lens that I bought for my Canon Rebel has image stabilization. Tamron calls it Vibration Control but it's the same thing.

Since the whole purpose of buying the Rebel and Tamron lens was to have a very light camera that I could handhold, the Vibration Control feature was essential.

The vibration control on the Tamron lens gives me the ability to hand-hold the Rebel-Tamron combination at speeds two or three or even four stops lower than I would normally be able to. When using an un-stabilized lens, I normally don't shoot any slower than 1/125 or maybe 1/60.

Vine and Wall, Placitas, NMWith the stabilized lens, I find myself shooting at speeds of 1/30 or 1/25, 1/20, or even 1/15. I don't always get sharp images at these very slow speeds, but more often than not I do. In the old days, using un-stabilized lenses, I would never of dreamed of being able to shoot at these speeds.

The ability to shoot at slow speeds makes handholding cameras much more attractive. Since I can shoot at slower speeds, I can use smaller f-stops and this enables me to get a much better depth of field. Often I don't have to resort to increasing ISO speed to get smaller f-stops, I just rely on the image stabilizer and shoot more slowly.

The picture at the right was shot at 1/30 of a second. By shooting this slowly I was able to use the fairly small f-stop of
f-16 which was was more than enough to give me plenty of depth of field that would keep all parts of the picture quite sharp.

I shot the vine picture at the 200mm position on the zoom lens. The longer the lens, the harder it is to hold it still. With this long a lens and this slow a speed, I could never have gotten this shot without image stabilization.

The fact that the vine picture was sharp is pretty phenomenal considering that I shot the picture with the 200 mm zoom positon. As I said, image stabilizers work better on short, wide angle lenses than they do on long, telephoto lenses. It is very hard to handhold using exposure speeds like 1/20 or 1/15 unless you shoot at at focal lengths below 150 mm or so.

Long lenses are harder to handhold than shorter ones because long lenses wobble around more since there is so much weight sticking out so far in front of the camera. It is very difficult to hold them steady. So, if you want to shoot at really slow speeds, try to keep your zoom position as close to the wide angle part of the lens as you can.

Just how slow can you shoot long lenses? In the old days the rule of thumb always was "shoot at the speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length." In other words, shoot a 500 mm lens no slower than 1/500 of a second. With an image stabilized lens you can now handhold this 500 mm lens at 1/125. You definitely wouldn't be able to shoot it at 1/20 though.

Another thing that can help you get sharp images with handheld cameras is very simple, find something to brace yourself against. When I am handholding at slow speeds I will often brace myself against a tree, or an old stump or a fence post or a rock or very often lie on the ground with my elbows braced on the ground. It also works well to sit and brace my elbows on my knees. Being close to the ground works well, since I am often using wildflowers or rocks or grasses as foreground and I need to be low anyway.

One final note. Don't use stabilized lenses when shooting on a tripod. In some cases this can result in less sharp images. When your camera is on a tripod, turn off the stabilizer. The switch is usually right on the barrel of the lens.