One impressive innovation in post-film photography is image stabilization. This technology is sometimes abbreviated "IS," "VR" for vibration reduction or "AS" for anti-shake. Through different methods, image-stabilized cameras can reduce the amount of shaky or blurry photos you take, reducing your reliance on things like camera flash or tripod mounts.
What Image Stabilization Is
Image stabilization is exactly what it sounds like. It's a camera function -- either in the camera's lens or the image sensor -- that counteracts the shaky or jittery movements of an operator's hands to create a sharp, focused image. While it's possible for image stabilization systems to counteract small movements, large, sweeping movements of the camera cannot be compensated for and will result in blurred pictures or video. Many Digital SLR lenses and even a few point-and-shoot cameras feature this new technology. Image stabilized lenses and cameras can take effective shots in darker situations or with longer exposure times without resorting to flashes or mounts.
The most common type of image stabilization occurs in the camera lens, whereby a series of sensors, motors and magnets move in the opposite direction of the pitch and yaw of the user's hands. This allows the lens to stay focused on the subject for a slightly extended amount of time -- just long enough to take the photo. If you're using a DSLR, you need to buy a lens with built-in image stabilization to take advantage of the feature. This usually results in a much more expensive lens.
Sensor stabilization moves the image sensor instead of the lens to compensate for the camera's motion. A few point-and-shoot cameras, as well as some Olympus and Sony DSLR models, use this technique. Many cheaper cameras use digital image stabilization, moving the digital pixels on the sensor outside the viewfinder's range to simulate a physical anti-vibration mechanism. This method is popular in digital video cameras where complicated physical parts are not used.
Image stabilization is most dramatic when used in low-light situations, such as interior or exterior night shots. The compensation reduces blurring and, in some situations, allows users to rely solely on available light. In action shooting, particularly in fast-moving sports, image stabilization allows for clearer shots of moving targets. This is particularly useful when using large telephoto lenses, as extreme zoom values can amplify the vibrations caused by the user's hands. If an image-stabilized camera or lens is available -- and economically viable -- it is always a good choice for those wishing to take better shots more often.
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