You’ve likely heard the term ‘IBIS,’ or have heard about image stabilization with regard to cameras, especially these days as manufacturers continue to innovate, and even market with image stabilization as a selling point. But, what exactly are these things? Do you need ‘IBIS?’
What is IBIS?
IBIS stands for ‘In-Body Image Stabilization,’ and refers to a technology that essential moves or counter corrects the camera’s sensor to account for motion. Having the stabilization mechanism “in-camera” solves a number of problems as opposed to in each individual lens. But is it the holy grail of stabilization? We’ll get to that a bit later in this article.
In general, the idea of image stabilization helps photographers reduce their chances of getting a blurry image due to camera shake during low-light conditions. It allows us to get crisp photographs using far slower shutter speeds than would have previously been possible.
Pretty sweet, right? The idea is that the mechanism auto corrects for movements and instability while hand-holding one’s camera, thus in theory reducing the need or in some cases replacing the need for external stabilization such as a tripod.
The use of Image Stabilization has made it possible to get sharp pictures at shutter speeds three, four, or five times slower than previously possible. The stabilization mechanism can either be in the lens, the body, or both.
Modern digital camera bodies have begun featuring IBIS which is mainly found in high-end mirrorless bodies and was pioneered by brands like Sony & Olympus, however, just about all the major players have some sort of in-body stabilization in their newer models now. IBIS has been one of the prominent selling features of many of these camera bodies, like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, Canon EOS R5, Canon EOS R6, Nikon Z7, and Sony A7 III.
When it comes to photography, stabilization simply means keeping your camera from moving (or as still as possible). This can be as simple as hold your camera completely steady, bracing on a log or railing, or…drumroll please – using a tripod.
Many situations and scenes require absolutely perfect stabilization such as long exposures, low conditions, night sky photography, or any situation where longer shutter speeds are necessary. This is all well and good when a tripod is available and you have time on your side and your subject is stationary. But what about moving subjects? At Backcountry Journeys, tours featuring wildlife & bird photography come to mind first. But this could be any moving subject from sports to photographing subjects such as fast-moving grandchildren! Tripods and careful steadying likely aren’t going to cut it in these situations, and so this is where stabilization technology comes into play.
Slower shutter speeds allow your digital image to pick up more movement. An image stabilizer cuts down on the image blur and keeps the image quality high.
The old rule of thumb was that you didn’t want to handhold a camera at shutter speeds slower than your equivalent focal length. So when shooting with a 200mm lens your shutter speed shouldn’t drop below 1/200th of a second. When shooting with a 100mm lens your shutter speed shouldn’t drop below 1/100 second and when shooting with a 35mm lens your shutter speed shouldn’t drop below 1/35 second.
If you read that last paragraph again and really let that sink in, it should become clear that the longer the lens you are shooting with the faster shutter speed you need to compensate. Generally, longer telephoto lenses require more compensation simply because it’s hard to hold them still. When compared to shooting with a 35mm lens, you can often shoot hand-held as 1/35 of a second is ultimately a pretty slow shutter speed.
Keep in mind this “rule of thumb” is a generalization and is meant for perfect brightly lit photography conditions. There are all sorts of other factors at play such as when shooting in low or less than optimal lighting conditions. Image stabilization technology can help stabilize your shot when hand-holding longer lenses and in low-light conditions. Depending on the make and model of your camera or lens, image stabilization helps. It allows you to capture sharp images up to five times slower than possible.
Currently, there are two types of image stabilization on the market with in-lens stabilization being the older tried and true method, while in-camera stabilization is a relatively new player in the market. There are upsides to both and some modern mirrorless systems feature lenses and bodies that work in tandem to create the ultimate in hand-held stabilization!
In-Lens Image Stabilization
In the past, image stabilization technology was mostly found in lenses rather than in-body. The concept was similar in that these lenses contained a moving element that would counteract motion, thus stabilizing the images. In-lens stabilization came in many names including Vibration Reduction, Vibration Control, Optical Image Stabilization, etc.
In-Body Image Stabilization
In-Body Image Stabilization works in a similar manner to In-Lens stabilization in that it has a moving element to counteract any camera movement. The image sensor moves around to compensate rather than a lens element.
The main benefit of IBIS is that it works with all lenses, meaning that at least in theory all of your old lenses that are able to attach to your IBIS-equipped camera body now have stabilization.
One down-side to IBIS is that it tends to work better only at shorter focal lengths. On longer telephoto lenses, like a 500mm, the sensor shifting mechanism isn’t able to move enough to provide adequate shake compensation.
Luckily a lot of the newer mirrorless models that feature IBIS are also able to combine with some lens models so that their shake reduction system work in tandem. For example the Sony A7RIII, as well as the Canon R5.
Do I need ANY Image Stabilization Technology?
Like anything in photography…it depends.
If you are primarily a landscape photographer shooting in low-light conditions then this entire article may be of little use to you. In most cases, you are going to want perfectly still stabilization for longer exposures. Landscape photographers are more often than not shooting in extremely low-light conditions and exposures can be many seconds if not longer. In this case, a tripod is still your only option for real success.
Also, for those of you wondering, there aren’t benefits from using image stabilization technology and a tripod in concert. In fact, quite the opposite. When using IS combined with a tripod you are essentially creating a feedback loop where the camera detects its own vibrations as a movement. Because of this, when using a tripod you’ll want to be certain to turn off any image stabilization.
I’d encourage you to think about this topic more, and to apply it to your own photography. Really, no matter how good your gear is, if the camera isn’t stabilized properly you’ll never really get to see just how good it is. When a tripod isn’t available or convenient, the advancements made with image stabilization technology can be a game changer!
Russ Nordstrand is an award-winning Landscape & Wildlife Photographer based in Homer, Alaska. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in private collections throughout the world and he runs Photography Tours & Workshops in the most beautiful and inspirational locations in the Western United States and beyond.
Russ has been hiking, backpacking, photographing, and guiding people in the wilderness areas, deserts, canyons, and mountains of the world since 1997. He has logged thousands of miles on the trail and for many years in the past decade over half of his nights were spent in a tent in some far-flung outdoor destination.
His photography reflects an awe and admiration of the great, wide, and still wild world we live in. Often his subjects include towering canyon walls, mist-shrouded mountain lakes, or wildlife in their natural habitat. It also reflects a commitment to preserving these places for the health of our world and for those who come after.
It would be a lie to say he does it completely from an altruistic standpoint. Like any great outdoor photographer, he loves the thrill of wild, remote places and the accomplishment of nailing that shot after waking up three hours before dawn and hiking in the dark!