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Monday, August 15, 2011

Photography for Dummies, By Dummies: Episode 06

Ever had a question about photography you wanted to ask, but felt it was too stupid? Now you can feel stupid in private instead!

Welcome back to another segment of my Photography for Dummies series. As you might already be aware, the Dummies series is targeted not for you professionals out there (not like I am able to give them any useful advice anyhow) but more for the enthusiast photographer who is eager to learn new things and to develop their already budding skills in photography.

In this particular segment, we’ll be discussing the various image stabilizer modes which are widely available in virtually all DSLRs. I’m came up with the idea for this topic because a friend was actually consulting me about a particular lens and whether the in-built “Image Stabilizer” function was useful and worth paying extra for. I realized that while I knew what it was about, I didn’t have sufficient information to actually give him any good advice. I excused myself and went ahead with more research on the subject.


OK, starting our discussion, what is image stabilizing about? Literally, it means stabilizing your photos when you shoot handheld. Many photographers when shooting in low-light conditions are often disappointed when their shots turn out blurry or fuzzy. As you all know, this is usually caused by shooting at lower shutter speeds. Low shutter speeds results in the camera not being able to capture the shot ‘in time’, hence blurriness and sometimes a trail of light behind the subject.

As discussed in earlier posts, there is a theory which I follow diligently regarding the minimum shutter speed to be used. The formula goes like this:

Focal Length (the actual ‘zoom’ of your lens) x Crop Factor of your camera
= Minimum shutter speed.

In practice, if you’re zooming to 50mm with a Canon 1000D (crop factor 1.6x), your minimum shutter speed should be 1/80 second or more. If you’re shooting at 50mm on a Nikon D90 (crop factor 1.5x), your minimum shutter speed should be 1/75 second or more. This theory is all good and fair until you find yourself in low-light conditions, whereby you may need to shoot at shutter speeds lower than the minimum required. Don’t ask me about tripods. If you could carry one everywhere you went, then you don’t have a problem. Unless you’re willing to carry that extra load, shooting handheld would benefit from the image stabilizer function, which mechanically compensates for a lack of stability.

The image stabilizer function is called different names, depending on the manufacturer of the cameras. Canon names their technology as “Image Stabilizer”, Nikon with “Vibration Reduction” and other brands such as Panasonic calls this “Mega OIS”, with Pentax cameras this is known as “Anti-Shake”, and Olympus, Kodak and Fuji are soon following this trend by equipping their cameras with stabilizers.

Let’s go further into this thing shall we? There are two different concepts of image stabilizing: the optical shift (lens based) and the sensor shift. Both of the two standards can be found on point-and-shoot digital cameras or DSLRs. Mind you, both these systems are installed in the respective cameras at the whims and designs of the manufacturer and they are in no way exclusive to a particular type of camera. For example, certain manufacturers employ the optical shift (lens based) system for one model of P&S and the sensor shift system for another model.

In regards to the DSLR systems, cameras manufacturers are split into two groups, namely applying a stabilizer to the body of the camera (sensor shift based) and the lens based (optical shift based). Brand incorporating the sensor-shift based stabilizers are Pentax, Sony, and Olympus. Nikon, Canon and Panasonic prefer implementing the lens-shift based stabilizer systems. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these systems. Stabilizers on the DSLR bodies allow the user to shoot using slow shutter speeds using any lens, meaning any lens mounted to the DSLR of this type can directly benefit from the stabilizer equipped system. The disadvantage of this, this type of system is less effective when using a telephoto lens. Also, the stabilizer effect cannot be viewed in the viewfinder. On the other hand, lens-shift stabilizer forces their users to choose lenses equipped with stabilizers when they want to benefit from then. Imagine if we need to have three different lenses; this means that we will need to cough up more cash than if we used a stabilizer-equipped DSLR body. Apart from the cost, the benefits of a stabilized lens are in its more optimal performance for both low light and telephoto images.

DO NOT leave the entire photo in the 'hands' of the image stabilizer. We have to understand that it is not a miracle worker which will magically transform a badly taken photo into a great one. The image stabilizer is merely a tool in which to help you take photos in difficult conditions. For the image stabilizer to work effectively, you need to pay attention to a few more details, such as:-
-           Stabilizers do not actually result in blur-free photos when taken at slow speeds. At the least, with the stabilizers activated, the risk of a blur occurring due to shaky hands is minimalized. Keep in mind that stabilizers cannot be used when shooting at extremely slow shutter speeds. If you are going to shoot at shutter speeds of ½ seconds or less, use a tripod.

-           Stabilizers minimizes blur due to shaky hands and not for moving object. Objects moving during photographing at low shutter speeds will still turn out blurry. An alternate solution would be to use high ISO sensitivity settings, or better yet, if possible ask the object to stay still for a second.

-           Even if you have activated the stabilizer feature when shooting, it is very important that you practice basic techniques like steadily positioning the camera, steadily positioning the body (don’t shoot while moving) and to breath out just before clicking the shutter button.

-           Taking photos in burst mode (a number of frames in quick succession) can increase the chances of resulting in a sharp photo. So to get a better result, take at least 3 photos once and then choose the best.

I hope this information helped you guys at lease slightly. I know I learned a thing or two about image stabilizers. Until next time!
For those of you who are interested in viewing the other photos and/or articles in the Photography for Dummies Series, please click on the links below!

Episode 1: You want to buy a DSLR?

Episode 2: Lighting the way

Episode 3: The Rule of the matter

Episode 4: To RAW or not to RAW

Episode 5: How to Shoot Weddings

For those of you who like statistics:
Vital Stats for August: 1 post 0 pics
Vital Stats So Far: 95 posts 3,701 pics

Disclaimer: The views published in the above photoblog are the author's and the author's alone. If readers are not agreeable with the above views, well, you can bugger-off. All rights are reserved for the photos and the article itself. This article may be reproduced with permission of the author for private or public usage, or other forms of general mayhem. Any unauthorized usage of the images or articles contained therein is expressly prohibited and violators will be prosecuted with the full force of Malaysian law applicable. Thank you for reading this disclaimer.

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