Right, lets get into the topic, image stabilization.
When it comes to purchasing a new camera, some of the prioritized considerations include the image sensor performance, image quality output (resolution, high ISO, dynamic range, etc), autofocus performance, but not many people will tell you to take a good look at the image stabilization. Some photographers would boldly claim that image stabilization is not a crucial necessity, and for serious photography that requires absolutely steady camera setup, tripods are used instead. However, it has been a long while since image stablization was introduced to consumer photography market, and Olympus has come a long way since the introduction of 5-Axis Image Stabilization in the OM-D E-M5 in 2012. Much improvements have been made, some photographers who have experienced what the image stabibilization offers, never looked back.
Therefore, in this particular blog entry, I want to explore the necessity of a powerful image stabilization system, how relevant is it for non-professional, casual photographers (because, well, I am not a pro photographer myself, just a hobbyst like 95% of other photographers out there) and what you can do maximizing the potential of the image stabilization.
All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 IS PRO lens. All images were taken hand-held.
This image was taken hand-held, at 1.3 seconds to achieve the smooth water effect.
If you are a landscape photographer that uses an ND1000 filter to shoot a 60 seconds exposure of the sky, or a studio photographer that mounts the camera on the tripod at all times regardless of shooting situation, or a night sky chaser, shooting star trails or the milky way, then the tripod is your best friend, and image stabilization is almost useless for you. If you need a tripod to get your shots, then it is important to note that image stabilization is NOT a substitute for tripods and should not be seen as such.
Heck, even if you do not shoot landscape or studio most of eh time, it is still prudent to have a solid tripod around, you will never know when it will come in handy.
However, if you are like me, and many other photographers on the go, always moving and using the camera hand-held, then you will find that the image stabilization will make a world of difference for you. There are many ways that the image stabilization can improve your photography, and it is quite a versatile solution in some difficult shooting situations. The best thing about having a reliable image stabilization is the extra boost of confidence that you will nail the shot when you are using your camera.
DISCLAIMER: Also, since we are at the topic of me being a non-professional photographer, I would like to remind every one that my blog is written for mostly new comers to photography! If you are a pro photographer, I do not think I can add anything valuable to your knowledge.
1) You Can Use Lower ISO Settings
This is only true if your subject does not move, and or can stay very still. When there is subject movement, even just the slightest bit, you do need to make sure you have sufficiently fast shutter speed to freeze the movement, unless you want to capture the motion blur, which we shall be exploring later in this post.
Typical rule of thumb when it comes to determining the minimum shutter speed required for hand-held photography is 1 / focal length in 35mm format equivalent. Meaning, if I am using an Olympus 25mm F1.8 lens, which is 50mm in 35mm format, I need to have at least 1/50 second shutter speed to effectively mitigate blur due to camera shake. This is entirely subjective of course, some people may have steadier hands, others, like me, who are gravely addicted to coffee, may need faster shutter speed.
This is where image stabbilization comes in. Instead of using 1/50sec, you can slow down the shutter speed, and still get away with sharp, shake-free image. Depending on how effective the image stabilization is, you will get varying results. For example, Olympus claims 6 stops advantage, meaning, instead of having to use 1/50sec, you can get away with 2 seconds. (simple calculation 1/50 --> 1/25 --> 1/12 sec --> 1/5 --> 1/2 --> 1 --> 2)
While shooting at two seconds shutter speed hand-held sounds ridiculous and not very practical in many real life shooting conditions, it is not impossible to achieve, especially with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. When it comes to practicality, surely it will be foolish to do casual shooting with 2 seconds shutter speed. That is not the point entirely.
What you can benefit from this, instead of using 1/50 second shutter speed, say in an extremely dark lighting environment that with your widest aperture you still need ISO6400 or beyond (which will result in not so nice, noisy looking images) you can get away with maybe 1/10 second at ISO1000, which will in turn give you a much cleaner result.
At 100mm full zoom (12-100mm F4 PRO IS lens), the equivalent focal length is 200mm. I shot this at 1/10 second, hand-held. Which means, approximately more than 4 stops advantage (200 --> 100 --> 50 --> 25 --> 12).
Crop from previous image.
Taken at 1/2 second hand-held, at 100mm full zoom.
2) Confidence In Nailing Your Shot
When I am shooting, there are two biggest technical concerns which are largely dependent on camera capabilities: the autofocus and prevention of camera shake. It would be a great deal of grief when coming home after a long day of shoot, going through the images and finding the critical shots being not 100% sharp, due to camera shake. I can gladly declare that I have not had this issue since the use of OM-D E-M5, and newer released camera since then just got better and better in terms of image stabilization. That extra insurance, when shooting at dangerously slow shutter speed and you know you can still power through without worrying too much, is almost godsent. You have no idea how many situations when I thought to myself, what if I just stretched the shutter speed that bit longer.... and it worked!
Having one less thing to worry about is a huge burden off the shoulder. That means I can just take care of my autodocus, which was not a big problem since ALL modern cameras these days do have extremely high hit rate, and superbly fast focusing speed. Then I can fully focus my energy into getting the shot, improving maybe on lighting or composition if needed.
3) Image Stabilization Greatly Helps Telephoto and Macro Shooting
Camera shake is amplified further when longer focal length is being used. The longer the focal length the greater the shake will be.
Imagine, if you are using a 200mm lens, you will need at least 1/200 sec shutter speed (without image stabilization's help) to get rid of camera shake. If you are shooting a bird under a heady shade (giant tree), sometimes in order to get fast enough shutter speed, you need to bump up the ISO. This is the one of two reasons why bird photographers use those huge and heavy tripods, first and foremost to steady their shots and of course, those 600mm gigantic lenses are just too heavy to hand-hold comfortably.
Besides general telephoto shooting, macro photography is also an area that image stabilization helps significantly. When shooting so close to the subject, even a tiny movement is like shifting the entire frame around, and the closer you get in macro shooting the more sensitive the movement is. Imaging viewing the LCD screen, or shooting through the viewfinder with super shaky image all the time, while trying very hard to manual focus to achieve critical sharpness. The experience with shaky view can be quite annoying!
I have taken a short, straight to the point video to show the composition of using telephoto 100mm and also a close up macro shot, with and without image stabilization, and you can see the huge difference the image stabilization makes.
IMAGE STABILIZATION WITH TELEPHOTO & MACRO SHOOTING
4) Slow Shutter Speed Opens Up Whole New World Of Creative Possibilities
One of the sure and effective ways to accomplish interesting shots, is to use slow shutter speed. And having the confidence of using slower than usual shutter speed without worry, why not take the camera and really push it to see how far we can stretch the slow shutter speed possibilities? That was exactly what I did!
Think of all the cool things that can be done with super slow shutter speed. Light trail photography, capturing the motion of the smoke, or even create smooth flowing waterfall. Using slow shutter speed works so much better for these examples.
Typically all these shots require use of a tripod, since the slow shutter speed would be at the range of half a second to five seconds. Being able to just hand-hold these shots without a tripod was helpful, as I do not have to carry the tripod with me everywhere. After all, in my everyday carry around bag, I already have too many things to carry with me: either a laptop or a tablet to work with, chargers, powerbanks, notebooks, and several other junks that normal people would carry with them. We all know that the best photography opportunity happens at the most unexpected times, and not having a tripod should not hold you back from getting that shot.
Hand-held at 1/2 second, to capture the flowing water.
This was about 50mm, with 1 second shutter speed.
This was shot at 1/3 second, smoke is a lot more dramatic this way. Also, stopping down the aperture to F13 to have the startburst effect on the sun.
Zoomed into the joss sticks, also at 1/3 second shutter speed.
I wanted to do another night cityscape, buildings shot,as well as light trail overlooking the highway from a bridge. Unfortunately it rained cats and dogs in Kuala Lumpur recently, for the past few nights consecutively.
I guess, I will have to make do with recycled images.
Light Trail, at whooping 5 seconds shutter speed, hand-held.
Crop from previous shot
5 seconds hand-held. I had to sit down on the floor to get this. Image was first published in my E-M1 Mark II review.
Crop of the previous image. Sharp.
Another 5 seconds hand-held shot.
Crop from previous shot
5) True Freedom
Imagine, being able to do all the above shots, without tripod. Hey, actually there was no need for imagination, as these shots can be easily done by anyone now.
Some people have tested their newly acquired E-M1 Mark II and can shoot at incredibly long shutter speed times, some even reaching 15 seconds, which is insane. Like I said, I do not have the steadiest hand to begin with.
Nevertheless, image stabilization enables the camera to do so much more, inspires confidence when shooting. If you ask me, that is a freedom in photography that I have gained, and will never, ever give up.
If you have been using camera systems with powerful image stabilization, I am sure you will never look back.
2 seconds hand-held, in a tunnel, riding a train
So what are your thoughts about image stabilization? Do you think it is purely a gimmick, or have you encountered life saving situations that the image stabilization had performed miracles?
I want to hear your thoughts!
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