Why Use Stabilized Lenses?
For the aging photographer, cameras and lenses seem to get a bit heavier to hold and harder to hold steady for critical focus. Of course, setting a higher ISO to enable faster shutter speeds when hand holding, or using a good tripod or monopod, can help get those crisp shots we all desire. But, when you want to set a lower ISO for less noise and better clarity, and you don’t have a tripod or monopod handy, stabilized lenses provide a solution for steadier shots.
The rule of thumb for hand holding a lens and achieving a reasonably sharp result is to set the camera’s stutter speed no slower than 1/focal length of the lens, in the 35mm format. For example, to handhold a 100 mm lens and achieve a reasonably sharp result, your shutter speed should be no slower than 1/100.
For digital cameras, the sensor size and its crop factor impacts this calculation. For example if your digital camera is APS-C format rather than Full Frame, it will have a crop factor that will affect the effective focal length of the lens.
For many Nikon cameras, the crop factor is 1.5. For many Canon cameras, the crop factor is 1.6. This means that the effective focal length of a 200 mm lens on a Nikon APS-C camera is actually a 35 mm equivalent of 300 mm, and it’s handholding minimum shutter speed would be 1/300 instead of 1/200.
Stabilized Lens Technology
Current lens technology provides another solution for making steadier shots. Most lens manufacturers offer stabilized lenses in a variety of focal lengths. These lenses reduce the effects of camera shake by moving a floating lens element to compensate for sensed vibrations. Their manufacturers claim anywhere between 2 – 4 “stops” of improvement, although 2 – 2 1/2 stops is typical. For a 200 mm stabilized lens on an APS-C body (1.5 crop factor, 300 mm equivalent) you should be able to make a reasonably steady shot no slower than 1/60 (a “stop” corresponds to a factor of two greater or lesser exposure: 2 1/2 stops = a factor of 5, and 300/5 = 60, giving 1/60 as the improvement in shutter speed).
Lens manufacturers have various designators for their image stabilization systems. For Nikon, it’s VR, for Vibration Reduction. For Canon, it’s IS, for image stabilization. For Sigma, it’s OS, for Optical Stabilization. For Tamron, it’s VC, for Vibration Compensation. These lenses often have multiple image stabilization modes to account for normal handheld use, use on a tripod when panning (for sports or wildlife photography), and use in moving vehicles, where the lens movements are more intense.
These lenses are a bit pricier than non-stabilized lenses, but worth every penny for better handheld shots for us aging photographers.
I love my Nikon 18-300mm VR stabilized zoom lens. I had been using their 18-200mm stabilized zoom lens, but upgraded for the extra reach. On my Nikon D7000, an APC-C format camera with a 1.5x crop factor, this lens is the 35mm equivalent of 27-450mm.
This wide range in effective focal length makes this my go to travel lens. With this lens, a super-wide zoom, and a macro lens, I can just about shoot anything.
The picture at the left was shot handheld with the 18-300mm VR, while leaning over in an awkward position, by this aging photographer with not so steady hands.
A Sample Of Stabilized Lenses
Click on the lens picture in the table below to go to Amazon.com for more information, reviews, lens accessories, and current prices.