Lens Stabilization vs Camera Stabilization: What’s the Difference?

Rajib Mukherjee Avatar
Rajib Mukherjee
18 January, 2023 • Updated 1 year ago
Lens Stabilization vs. Camera Stabilization - Everything you Need to Know About Image Stabilization
Any creator who likes to shoot hand-held understands the struggle of keeping the camera perfectly steady. Failure to do so may result in blurry images.This is particularly important when shooting in low light conditions, when using slow shutter speeds, or when using long focal lengths for capturing subjects at far distances.

Image stabilization has advanced over the years, with many companies developing their own patented technologies. The stabilization occurs in panning and tilting movement.

Image stabilization comes in two forms, namely lens stabilization and camera stabilization. As the name suggests, lens stabilization deals with stabilization systems built into the lens and manually activated when required. Body-based image stabilization, on the other hand, refers to image stabilization mechanisms built into the camera body. This mechanism can be switched on or off depending on the scene’s requirement.

Read More: High Iso vs Low Iso

Lens-based Image Stabilization

camera lens with stabilization scale and other parametric options

Arguments In Favor оf Lens Stabilization

There are a bunch of arguments in favor of lens stabilization, as summarized here.

The Advantage When Using Super Telephoto Lenses

Super photo lens with camera on the ground

One of the biggest arguments for lens stabilization is that super telephoto lenses require a lot of sensor movement. This is very challenging to accomplish within the limitations of a small and tightly packed camera body. Therefore, for super telephoto lenses, it is better to have image stabilization on the lens rather than on the camera body.

Cost оf Incorporating Sensor-Based Image Stabilization

camera display in hand

Another reason lens-based image stabilization was thought to be the way to go was that incorporating camera body-based image stabilization was very difficult during the film days. Moving a sensor is much easier than moving 35mm film inside a camera. However, this disadvantage does not apply in modern times because it has become much easier to move a sensor, even a 35mm sensor, for image stabilization purposes.

The Advantage When Working In Low-Light Conditions

the camera lens in dark background

Another advantage of lens-based stabilization is that when you’re working in low-light situations, the autofocusing mechanism of the lens tends to work better when the image comes through the lens already stabilized. It should be noted here that a typical autofocusing mechanism on a DSLR camera does not have image stabilization built in. That means it’s entirely dependent on the image coming through the lens (after stabilization).

Body-based Image Stabilization

photographing using the camera with a manual tripod

There are many advantages to body image stabilization, and in this segment, we will talk about those advantages.

Translational Movement For Close-Up Photography

One of the critical advantages of having in-body image stabilization is translational movement, that is, movement when the camera is close to the subject; such movements are easier to correct when the image stabilization is in the body rather than on the lens.

DSLR camera on tripod

Every Lens Requires Its Image Stabilization System

If you decide on lens-based stabilization, you have to keep this in mind with every lens purchase. Every lens will need to be image stabilized, meaning you’ll have to buy lenses from higher price ranges. If your image stabilization is body-based, however, you only invest in stabilization once and all compatible lenses are automatically stabilized.

Image Stabilization аnd Its Various Acronyms

camera, top view, with all image adjustment functions

Different companies have walked different paths when it comes to incorporating image stabilization in their cameras and lenses. Nikon and Canon, for example, have always favored lens-based image stabilization systems. On the other hand, manufacturers like Sony, Olympus, and Pentax have always preferred body-based image stabilization systems.

Both Nikon and Canon have developed their APS-C and full-frame mirrorless camera systems. These systems, like the Nikon Z mount, have body-based image stabilization. Thus, any compatible lens will be automatically image stabilized when mounted on the said camera body.

Companies have used different acronyms to refer to their image stabilization systems, but they essentially do the same thing. Nikon calls their image stabilization system Vibration Reduction or VR. Canon uses the acronym IS or Image Stabilization. Sigma uses the acronym OS or Optical Stabilization. Sony uses the name OSS or Optical Steady Shot. Tamron uses the term VC or Vibration Compensation.

Image Stabilization аnd Stops Of Light

narrow, urban pedestrian lane in a dark foreshortening

Image stabilization is routinely measured in additional stops of light. This mainly refers to image stabilization adding to the lens’s ability to be handheld in low light conditions.

Let’s use an example to explain this. Let’s say a lens can be handheld using a shutter speed of 1/200 sec in low light conditions. One stop of image stabilization will allow the lens to be handheld at an exposure of 1/100 sec. An additional one-stop of image stabilization (that means two stops of image stabilization overall) will allow the lens to be handheld at a shutter speed of 1/50 sec in the same lighting conditions.

Image Stabilization аnd Panning Movement

the exact moment of spilling the coffee

Certain movements are intentional. For example, panning with an athlete or a subject moving fast across the frame. In such a situation, the camera tracks the subject and follows them until the image is captured. What happens to image stabilization systems when a camera pans with a subject?

The answer is many lenses that have image stabilization built-in allow for the panning movement. In such situations, the lens detects the panning movement, and any movement only vertical to the panning movement is stabilized. This technology is mainly incorporated into telephoto lenses. These are the lenses that wildlife shooters and sports photographers use.

Is Image Stabilization Worth the Money Spent?

black DSLR camera on the green surface

There is a common consensus that image stabilization as a technology is very important. Especially when you are hand-holding, shooting in low light conditions, and using a long lens. These are the primary situations where image stabilization finds its ultimate applicability.

However, for still photography, your tripod offers you the best kind of stabilization. As we have learned in this discussion, if you’re using a tripod, you don’t need to turn image stabilization on, and you can comfortably switch it off. You don’t need image stabilization if you’re a landscape or cityscape photographer and routinely use a tripod to compose your images.

Image stabilization is mainly required for handholding your camera. It is a must-have for photojournalists, street photographers, wedding photographers, and sports and wildlife photographers (those who don’t use a tripod or a monopod).

Alternatives to Using Image Stabilization

focal length scale

The main alternative to using image stabilization techniques is to use a shutter speed that is the inverse of the focal length in use. that means if you’re using a focal length of 35 mm, use a shorter rate that is at the minimum 1/35 of a second to ensure that you have a sharp image. This is also known as the reciprocal rule.

If you are mostly using a fast lens, such as a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or faster with an associated fast shutter speed, chances are that you never really require image stabilization.

Additionally, suppose you are a landscape photographer and use a tripod for most of your shooting pursuits. In that case, you do not require image stabilization in your camera or lens. If your camera or lens has image stabilization, you need to switch it off when using a tripod. Otherwise, the system will try to stabilize a non-existent movement. We’ll discuss why this is bad later.

Which is the best kind of image stabilization?

When considering cost and efficiency in the long run, body-based image stabilization is the better option. The arguments once raised against body-based image stabilization (moving a sensor is more costly) are no longer applicable and once you buy an image-stabilized body, all your lenses are automatically stabilized.

Dual IS has also been developed, which uses image stabilization on the lens in conjunction with image stabilization on the camera body. This may prove valuable to some, however, I am basing my conclusion on the overall cost of ownership.

Camera manufacturers have been concentrating on mirrorless camera systems of late, with even Nikon and Canon joining the bandwagon and coming up with their advanced and high-end mirrorless camera systems. All these cameras use sensor-shift type image stabilization that corrects movement across 5-axis. Despite the advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the line, I feel camera-based image stabilization is the way to go.

Rajib Mukherjee Avatar
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV!
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