Superzoom camera group: Image stabilization

With focal lengths as long as 560mm (equivalent) some form of optical image stabilization is essential on a super zoom camera to avoid camera shake and blur ruining every shot (unless you're lucky enough to live somewhere with year-round bright sunshine). All seven cameras here offer either lens shift or CCD shift image stabilization to counter the effects of camera movement. Of course camera shake is only half the problem; blurring caused by subject movement can only be avoided by the use of a higher shutter speed, which in all but the brightest conditions will involve increasing the ISO setting.

The Panasonic FZ28 and Canon SX10 IS include intelligent automatic exposure systems that are supposed to be able to detect motion in the scene and raise the ISO (and thus the shutter speed) accordingly, whilst both Fujifilm models offer 'Dual' image stabilization (basically the auto ISO will go higher than normal in low light when IS mode is on).

Some models (those with lens IS) offer more than one stabilization option, usually 'continuous' and 'shoot only'. The former has the advantage of stabilizing the live preview (which makes framing a lot easier) but the latter is, theoretically, better (though in our experience the difference is minimal). The CCD shift cameras also stabilize the live preview (except for the Fujifilm S2000HD) when the shutter is half-pressed and the focus locked, though in our tests the two lens IS cameras here (the Canon and Panasonic) produced a far more stable preview image at the long end of the zoom than any of the CCD shift cameras.

The amount of (unwanted) blur you'll see in your shots is affected by several factors:

  • How still you can hold the camera (your own stability and the camera's design)
  • How effective the camera's stabilization system is
  • The focal length
  • The shutter speed, which is influenced by:
    - ISO setting
    - Maximum Aperture
    - Scene brightness

In the table below you can see how the various cameras in this group compare:

IS type
Max Focal Length
Max Shutter Speed
Max Aperture at full tele
Canon SX 10 IS Lens
• Motion detect auto ISO
• 3 mode IS (incl. Panning)
Fujifilm S2000HD CCD
Fujifilm S8100fd CCD
Nikon P80 CCD
1/2000 *
• Best Shot Selector mode
Olympus SP-565 CCD
Panasonic FZ28 Lens
• Subject motion detection
Sony H50 Lens
• 2 mode IS + auto

* 1/4000 in high speed shooting mode (reduced resolution and boosted ISO)

Whilst none of the systems we tested are foolproof, and none can perform miracles, all of them produce some improvement, and whilst the range from best to worst isn't huge, there are differences and clear winners and losers. The most impressive improvement (over shooting without IS) came from the three lens-shift cameras (Canon SX10 IS, Panasonic FZ28 and Sony H50). In this test the sensor-shift systems were less consistent and in general offered little advantage at slower shutter speeds. Of the four CCD-shift cameras here, the P80 and Fuji S8100fd produced a better overall improvement than the Fuji S2000HD and Olympus SP-565. However, as you'll see, the two Fujifilm cameras did marginally better than the Nikon or Olympus if we look at the proportion of perfectly sharp (rather than 'not totally blurred') shots you get at the long end of the zoom.

You can see how much of an improvement the IS system offers in the test below (and over the page), as well as get an idea of which cameras are more stable in the hand. Before that take a look at this rather interesting graphic, which shows the proportion of perfectly sharp results (no softness at all) we got shooting at the long end of each camera's lens with stabilization turned on. As you can see this drops off rapidly as the shutter speed falls. Note that this isn't the most scientific test in the world, but it does give you an idea of how much you can expect from the IS system (the answer being not a lot if you push them too hard):

Image Stabilization test

To get an idea of the effectiveness of each camera's stabilization system we performed a slightly modified version of the test we use in our SLR reviews.

At a range of shutter speeds (from 1/500 to 1/8 sec) we take a total of eight hand-held shots were taken of a static scene, four without stabilization, four with IS turned on. For these tests we used each camera's longest focal length setting and the test chart was approximately 6.0 m away from the camera. The camera was held in one hand and used in Live View Mode as this tends to produce more camera shake, and we're looking for how much improvement the two modes offer, not an absolute measurement of 'how low you can go' with the shutter speeds. Every effort was made to hold the camera still in all cases.

The resulting images were then inspected at a pixel level on-screen and given a blur score from zero to three where zero represented a very blurred image and three a sharp image with no noticeable blur (see crop examples below). Obviously the amount of blur which is acceptable will depend on your personal taste and the final image size (for instance a '2: Soft' will still look fine as a 4x6 print or in a web gallery).

0: Very blurred 1: Blurred
2: Soft 3: Sharp

Canon SX10 IS

The SX10 IS uses lens shift image stabilization that offers three modes (continuous, shoot only and panning). In our tests Canon's IS system proved its worth, giving an advantage of around 2.5 stops and allowing us to capture sharp or only slightly blurred shots at shutter speeds down to 1/60 sec. This is particularly impressive given that the SX10 IS has the longest focal length in the group.

Canon SX10 IS @ 560mm, IS OFF results Canon SX10 IS @ 560mm, IS ON results

Fujifilm S2000HD

The S2000HD's CCD-shift stabilization gives a slight improvement in the middle of our range (1/125 to 1/30 sec), but the results of this test aren't very impressive; at best you're getting a 1 stop advantage and, as the results below show, in some cases we actually got worse results when the IS was turned on. This isn't an indication that the IS makes things worse, simply that it doesn't do a very good job; if we took 100 shots rather than 4 I'm sure the overall trend would be more consistent.

Fuji S2000HD @ 414mm, IS OFF results Fuji S2000HD @ 414mm, IS ON results

Fujifilm S8100FD

The S8100HD's CCD-shift stabilization did a little better, though again it was hard to get completely sharp results consistently at anything slower than 1/500 second (around half the shots in the 1/250 to 1/60 region were soft). The stabilization offers no advantage at all at shutter speeds below 1/60 second (this seems to be where lens IS wins) - above this it's about 1, maybe 1.5 stops.

Fuji S8100FD @ 486mm, IS OFF results Fuji S8100FD @ 486mm, IS ON results