Image Stabilization on Tripods - Digital Photography School
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Image Stabilization on Tripods

Image Stabilization (vibration reduction on Nikon lenses) is a wonderful feature that has been added to many DSLR lenses being released over the past year or so.

Image Stabilization (IS) allows photographers to flip a switch on their lens and handhold their cameras in lower light conditions – using longer shutter speeds without the problem of Camera Shake (with my Canon lenses I’d estimate it gives me an extra two stops).

Image Stabilization is a great feature and is in my opinion well worth paying the extra dollars for – especially if you shoot a lot of lower light shots.

Having said this there is one time when you should definitely switch IS off because it will do more harm than good to your photos – when you’re using a Tripod.

Image Stabilization (and vibration reduction) lenses look for vibrations in your camera in order to reduce it – however if they don’t find any (like when you are using a Tripod) they actually can cause it – and as a result actually cause camera shake.


Canon’s Chuck Westfall explains it well:

“The IS mechanism operates by correcting shake. When there is no shake, or when the level of shake is below the threshold of the system’s detection capability, use of the IS feature may actually *add* unwanted blur to the photograph, therefore you should shut it off in this situation. Remember that the IS lens group is normally locked into place. When the IS function is active, the IS lens group is unlocked so it can be moved by the electromagnetic coil surrounding the elements. When there’s not enough motion for the IS system to detect, the result can sometimes be a sort of electronic ‘feedback loop,’ somewhat analogous to the ringing noise of an audio feedback loop we’re all familiar with. As a result, the IS lens group might move while the lens is on a tripod, unless the IS function is switched off and the IS lens group is locked into place.”

This is pretty basic stuff really – if you read the manual that comes with your IS enabled lens it will give you this same tip – however I’ve seen quite a few tripod mounted DLSRs with IS switched on in my time and thought it might be time (and have forgotten to switch off IS myself on a couple of occasions) – so I thought I’d write this as a quick reminder (to us all).

The Rule – if you’re hand holding your camera in lower light situations switch on IS – if your camera is tripod mounted – switch IS off.

The Exception – Yes, there is always an exception to any rule and in the case of IS it is important to know that there are some DSLR lenses that can actually sense and account for when you’re using a tripod (Canon calls it tripod detection – a feature that was added in 2000). As a result you don’t need to switch image stabilization off at all.

As a result – a second ‘rule’ comes into play – ‘read your lens manual and you won’t go wrong’.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://www.netlobo.com/ lobo235

    This is good advice. It’s easy to forget to turn off the IS.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/30562801N00/ greer

    Would it make sense to leave IS on when using a tripod on a windy day and there is a bit of movement of the camera on the tripod? (Obviously this is not desirable, but we don’t all have rock solid tripods.)

  • http://Nil Nino Xerri

    I am in the process of purchasing the Sony Alpha 100, because of its “Super Steady Shot” built into its system. So if using a Tripod would you suggest that this is also turned off?

  • Niall Maxwell

    I bought my (canon) camera this year together with a IS lense. I used it on holiday and tried some shots of the illuminated swimming pool at night. On the tiny viewing screen on the camera they looked great but when I downloaded them on to my computer and viewed them there was quite a lot of blurring, so IS is not the total answer (for me) – Shame, it cost a lot!

  • http://trevin.spaces.live.com Trevin

    This is great advice. Despite Canon stating they have “tripod detection”, I found that on my Canon 28-135 IS lens, that it added a ton of noise to my tripod images. Thankfully I shoot digital so could see the immediate (poor) results on the screen so I could correct it by turning IS off.

  • http://www.paintedstork.com/digiblog/blog.html Arun

    “..leave IS on when using a tripod on a windy day..”

    Look through the viewfinder. If your eyes can detect any shake, it is a good idea to turn IS on.

  • Dr. Enrique Oquet

    Good article. It’s very basic in the operating mode of the VR or IS technology, but it explains clearly why on certain circumstances the reduction of vibration is really doing the opossite.
    I own a 80-400 nikkor VR, and this function works spectacularly in low light and long focal distances.

  • Ross

    Thank you for posting that. I’ve been leaving mine on and wondering why my photos are soft.

  • Joe Marfice

    Great article. Never would have occured to me.

  • jim

    Twice in this article you say “‘read your lens manual.” I recently bought two Nikkor lenses and neither came with a manual.

  • Zho

    Great article. I’m new to photography and just realize that IS caused blur on my photo when I mount the camera to tripod. At first, I thought my 3 month old lense just broke:)

  • Mike Kent

    I own a Sony Handycam DCR-SR45
    When video recording playback, If I move,,, the background moves with me ,,why?
    Is there an on or off switch for this? – I record when it is on a tripod

  • Erik

    I am considering taking a real crappy but also light weight tripod on my bike trip. My D 300 will be way too heavy for this thing. But in that case, leaving the stabiliser on would be a good idea?!?

  • Erik

    I am considering taking a real crappy but also light weight tripod (half a kilo!) on my bike trip. My D 300 will be way too heavy for this thing. But in that case, leaving the stabiliser on would be a good idea?!?

  • jim

    You are in an iffy situation. It’s not a good idea to leave image stabilization on unless you are sure the camera is moving. Someone above suggests you look through the viewfinder and if you see no movement turn it off. I’m not sure you can tell by eye.

    You could take each shot both ways – one on, one off.

    Assuming your tripod will support it, you can increase its stability by hanging a weight from the head. This would require you carry a piece of string and find something handy at each location (like a rock) to hang on the string. Here’s a poor illustration http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6246962/Graphic1.PNG

  • Angel g

    How bout when shooting with a monopod??? This this rule apply here as well?

  • Andrew

    Very useful and interesting article. Thank you for reminding me about my image stablisation ‘off switch’. But most of all for the critical bit of news for me…. it does not need to be switched off a cameras born after 2000.

    Must agree about Canon Gospel – Yes you are right – read the manual. I have even copied it (via downloaded PDF) to my smart phone and tablet. Seldom forget to take both when I am away from the well worn paper version.

  • Andrew

    Very useful and interesting article. Thank you for reminding me about my image stablisation ‘off switch’. But most of all for the critical bit of news for me…. it does not need to be switched off on cameras born after 2000.

    Must agree about Canon Gospel – Yes you are right – read the manual. I have even copied it (via downloaded PDF) to my smart phone and tablet. Seldom forget to take both when I am away from the well worn paper version.

  • James Greenall

    Great advice in both the article and comments. Although all my gear is pretty new I have noticed a certain softness on some of my tripod shots, particular at longer focal lengths. Will definitely try this?

    I strongly endorse Andrews tip about loading the PDFs of any manuals (not just camera but lenses and flash etc as well) onto your smartphone or tablet. It takes a lot less space than lots of printed ones and you are more likely to have it with you.

  • Craig

    I think you are referring to shooting “static” off a tripod, correct?
    What about when you are floating your camera on a ball head, constantly moving with your subject(i.e., deer, birds, etc.). What then?
    Should your IS be on of off in this case?

  • Dave A

    I have both the Nikon D5100 and D5200. Both have lost their “ability” to produce focus rectangles when the shutter is pressed halfway. The D5200 gradually lost it AF ability. Using 39 focus points became 11 and finally one. I was using the Tamron lens (described below) at this time. Subsequently no focus rectangles appeared. Consequently, I must now focus visually or the image usually is out-of-focus. I’m using both the VR Nikon Nikkor 18-200mm and a Tamron SP 70-300mm.
    My question: Could failure to turn off IS when using a tripod cause failure of the autofocus feature in these cameras? Or is there another cause …?

  • leuver68

    Does using a small tabletop tripod also work against a smartphone’s image stablization feature? Such as the iPhone 5s?

Some older comments

  • Craig

    May 19, 2013 03:30 am

    I think you are referring to shooting "static" off a tripod, correct?
    What about when you are floating your camera on a ball head, constantly moving with your subject(i.e., deer, birds, etc.). What then?
    Should your IS be on of off in this case?

  • James Greenall

    May 11, 2013 05:59 pm

    Great advice in both the article and comments. Although all my gear is pretty new I have noticed a certain softness on some of my tripod shots, particular at longer focal lengths. Will definitely try this?

    I strongly endorse Andrews tip about loading the PDFs of any manuals (not just camera but lenses and flash etc as well) onto your smartphone or tablet. It takes a lot less space than lots of printed ones and you are more likely to have it with you.

  • Andrew

    April 27, 2013 05:16 am

    Very useful and interesting article. Thank you for reminding me about my image stablisation 'off switch'. But most of all for the critical bit of news for me.... it does not need to be switched off on cameras born after 2000.

    Must agree about Canon Gospel - Yes you are right - read the manual. I have even copied it (via downloaded PDF) to my smart phone and tablet. Seldom forget to take both when I am away from the well worn paper version.

  • Andrew

    April 27, 2013 05:07 am

    Very useful and interesting article. Thank you for reminding me about my image stablisation 'off switch'. But most of all for the critical bit of news for me.... it does not need to be switched off a cameras born after 2000.

    Must agree about Canon Gospel - Yes you are right - read the manual. I have even copied it (via downloaded PDF) to my smart phone and tablet. Seldom forget to take both when I am away from the well worn paper version.

  • Angel g

    August 22, 2012 12:11 am

    How bout when shooting with a monopod??? This this rule apply here as well?

  • jim

    April 23, 2012 10:09 am

    You are in an iffy situation. It's not a good idea to leave image stabilization on unless you are sure the camera is moving. Someone above suggests you look through the viewfinder and if you see no movement turn it off. I'm not sure you can tell by eye.

    You could take each shot both ways - one on, one off.

    Assuming your tripod will support it, you can increase its stability by hanging a weight from the head. This would require you carry a piece of string and find something handy at each location (like a rock) to hang on the string. Here's a poor illustration http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6246962/Graphic1.PNG

  • Erik

    April 23, 2012 07:25 am

    I am considering taking a real crappy but also light weight tripod (half a kilo!) on my bike trip. My D 300 will be way too heavy for this thing. But in that case, leaving the stabiliser on would be a good idea?!?

  • Erik

    April 23, 2012 07:22 am

    I am considering taking a real crappy but also light weight tripod on my bike trip. My D 300 will be way too heavy for this thing. But in that case, leaving the stabiliser on would be a good idea?!?

  • Mike Kent

    February 25, 2012 05:09 am

    I own a Sony Handycam DCR-SR45
    When video recording playback, If I move,,, the background moves with me ,,why?
    Is there an on or off switch for this? - I record when it is on a tripod

  • Zho

    September 25, 2011 03:59 pm

    Great article. I'm new to photography and just realize that IS caused blur on my photo when I mount the camera to tripod. At first, I thought my 3 month old lense just broke:)

  • jim

    June 4, 2011 01:37 am

    Twice in this article you say "‘read your lens manual." I recently bought two Nikkor lenses and neither came with a manual.

  • Joe Marfice

    December 5, 2008 06:49 am

    Great article. Never would have occured to me.

  • Ross

    May 27, 2008 02:14 pm

    Thank you for posting that. I've been leaving mine on and wondering why my photos are soft.

  • Dr. Enrique Oquet

    February 14, 2007 03:44 am

    Good article. It's very basic in the operating mode of the VR or IS technology, but it explains clearly why on certain circumstances the reduction of vibration is really doing the opossite.
    I own a 80-400 nikkor VR, and this function works spectacularly in low light and long focal distances.

  • Arun

    December 26, 2006 12:53 pm

    "..leave IS on when using a tripod on a windy day.."

    Look through the viewfinder. If your eyes can detect any shake, it is a good idea to turn IS on.

  • Trevin

    December 3, 2006 05:00 pm

    This is great advice. Despite Canon stating they have "tripod detection", I found that on my Canon 28-135 IS lens, that it added a ton of noise to my tripod images. Thankfully I shoot digital so could see the immediate (poor) results on the screen so I could correct it by turning IS off.

  • Niall Maxwell

    November 24, 2006 07:30 pm

    I bought my (canon) camera this year together with a IS lense. I used it on holiday and tried some shots of the illuminated swimming pool at night. On the tiny viewing screen on the camera they looked great but when I downloaded them on to my computer and viewed them there was quite a lot of blurring, so IS is not the total answer (for me) - Shame, it cost a lot!

  • Nino Xerri

    November 24, 2006 06:49 pm

    I am in the process of purchasing the Sony Alpha 100, because of its "Super Steady Shot" built into its system. So if using a Tripod would you suggest that this is also turned off?

  • greer

    November 22, 2006 01:57 pm

    Would it make sense to leave IS on when using a tripod on a windy day and there is a bit of movement of the camera on the tripod? (Obviously this is not desirable, but we don't all have rock solid tripods.)

  • lobo235

    November 22, 2006 01:20 am

    This is good advice. It's easy to forget to turn off the IS.

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