Cameras

Image Stabilization Can Take the Shake Out of Your Shots

If you’ve ever watched grainy concert footage posted by a Facebook friend, you know something about the pitfalls of shooting video by hand. When the lights dim and your friend with the camera stretches his long, wavering arms out to record the scene, Bruce Springsteen ends up looking far less awesome.

The low-light environment in the arena invites distortion from every subtle shift in the camera’s position because of limits in exposure time, processing power, and image sensor size.

Pro photographers solve the problem by resting the camera on a monopod. The rest of us? We have to rely on the image stabilization (IS) technology built into our cameras. Here are the IS options:

Optical: In this case, the technology is housed inside the camera lens. Motion sensors in the assembly detect any trace of movement, and miniature motors shift the glass elements of the lens to offset the shake. Developed by Canon and Nikon in the mid-1990s, this approach has since been adopted by many smartphone manufacturers.

Mechanical: Also known as sensor-shift stabilization, this technology, pioneered by Konica Minolta in the early 2000s, compensates for movements by shifting the image sensor mounted inside the camera body. It’s not as effective as the optical image stabilization embedded in lenses, but you don’t need to pay for the tech each time you purchase a new lens for your camera.

Electronic: This is the technology you find in most action cams. Instead of hardware, it uses a software program to eliminate the effects of shake, generally at the expense of image resolution.

So given the choice, you’re better off using a camera with one of the first two IS options. Once you start shopping around, though, you’ll find cameras that employ more than one approach. The $550 Sony FDR-X3000R action cam, for example, provides optical and electronic IS. And Panasonic’s mirrorless Lumix GH5 offers a dual-IS system that allows select lenses to communicate with the camera body and make coordinated adjustments.

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