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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’.

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Darren Rowse

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+.

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