Is image stabilization really the stuff?

Started Mar 4, 2014 | Discussions thread
zackiedawg Forum Pro • Posts: 29,415
Yes, it is...

While I can agree that from your descriptions of your shooting needs, IS may not really be all that useful.  I can agree for landscape shooters working off a tripod, it doesn't serve much purpose.  I can agree that for birding and wildlife photography, in many situations you have the need for much faster shutter speeds that make IS irrelevant.

BUT...I also find plenty of situations where stabilization allows me to push beyond my own limits and the camera's limits, vis-a-vis ISO, shutter speed, and hand-holdability.  While the idea of shooting a low-light long exposure off a tripod is certainly the better way to do it, there are times when I've had my camera and spotted an opportunity for a lovely shot, but didn't have my tripod with me, or had a slower lens.  If I didn't have IS, I'd either get a blurry result, or just not take the shot - having IS gives me the ability to say "you know what?  I'm going to get that shot!"...even if it requires hand-holding at ISO6400 for 1 second...which I could not do without IS.  There are times I'm pushed to very high ISOs in very low light, and still cannot get a shutter speed any faster than 1/50, even with a wide-open F1.8 or F1.4 lens.  I could either push the ISO to the very noisy, almost unusable levels like ISO12800 on my cam, and accept the loss of detail, color fidelity, and all the noise...or I could shoot at a more reasonable ISO6400, even ISO3200, which gives much better results in color retention and good detail, and a much slower shutter speed of 1/20, with IS giving me the stability needed for those extra 2 stops.

It's all a matter of how you shoot.  If you have a standard range of settings you use, no matter what, and do not want any technology to expand that range of settings...or you are absolutely religious about not taking a shot in a given situation unless you can do it a certain way (ie: tripod for landscapes ALWAYS, or high ISO/fast shutter for birds ALWAYS), then IS doesn't really appeal.  But I use IS as an expansion tool, not a crutch for poor technique or bad choices.  I'll still use that tripod when taking a nice landscape or long exposure when I can, and I'll still use faster shutter speeds most of the time when doing bird or wildlife photography.  I'll use a faster lens whenever I can, and a higher ISO as I need to.  But IS for me serves as an additional tool to allow me to occasionally expand my shooting capabilities - to get a shot with a slower lens that wouldn't have been possible without, to get a shot at a maximum ISO that still is in conditions too dark to handhold without IS, to take that shot of a bird in very poor light, hiding deep within the branches and sitting, where ISO3200 and a 1/60 shutter can capture the bird at 500mm, but I would have a difficult time handholding that shutter speed and focal length without IS.

If one uses IS to substitute for getting better lenses, learning when to use faster shutter speeds, or to make up for a poor hold or shaky stance, that's one thing.  But when one uses IS to expand their capabilities and stretch their photography into situations that wouldn't be possible without, stacking IS on top of knowledge and skill and technique, then it can be very useful indeed.

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