This may seem like a somewhat stupid question, but I’ve heard people give a definitive ‘Yes’ and a definitive ‘No’ to this question, so I realized I had to figure it out myself.
What is image stabilization?
Most of today’s DSLR and mirrorless lenses comes with image stabilizing (referred to IS from here on). The different brands labels their IS technology differently (Nikon VR, Tamron VC, Canon IS, Sigma OS, Fuji & Panasonic OIS), but it’s mostly the same. What it does is stabilize the lens elements, and it eliminates the vibrations from your hand, breathing etc. When you shoot photos hand-held this gives you a sharper image and allows you to shoot on slower shutter speeds.
Now, most agree that IS is generally a good thing. The debate is should you use the IS when shooting video with your DSLR or not. Some say it’s not a problem while others claim the IS in DSLR lenses are not designed to handle video, and therefore shouldn’t be used.
On a traditional video camera it’s simple. You should always turn the IS on when shooting hand-held. The same general rule goes for stills photography. Unless your camera is sitting on a tripod always use the IS. It’s almost always better and gives you sharper images, eliminates motion blur and let’s you shoot at slower shutter speeds.
When it comes to video a lot of people claim the same rule to be true, however others claim that the problem with DSLR lenses are that the IS is not designed for video. Typically the IS in a DSLR lens will hold the image stable for a short period of time and then reset the IS. This cause a little “jump” or “jerk” in the image often followed by a click sound as the IS resets. If you’ve shot with a long lens with IS you have probably seen this. On a traditional video camera this isn’t a problem because the IS is designed to be working constantly.
I grabbed my D800 and a Sigma 70-200mm 1:2.8 OS lens. This isn’t as high-class as Canon’s L series or Nikon’s 70-200mm, so this is a good test to see how a cheaper IS handles video. Check out the video below to see how the IS performs on video!
As you see from the video the IS is making a big difference! It makes the image much more smooth, but it’s not without problems. It’s not as smooth as the IS on a video camera and it still acts a little nervous and produced some “ticks”. However, we don’t see any of the big jumps in the picture as I expected.
There’s a pretty good reason you don’t get the jumps when shooting video. When the camera is shooting stills it actually turns the IS off and on. As you press the button to focus the camera turns the IS on. After you let go of the button it turns the IS off after a while and locks it in the neutral position. You get the “jump” in the image as the IS is turned on and off. So, why don’t you get it when shooting video? Well, because the camera leaves the IS on as long as you’re recording. At least that’s the case on my camera.
So, does this mean you should use IS or not? Well as you can see from the video the IS can be a big advantage. It give you a smoother image, however it’s not 100% smooth, and in my case the IS is giving some unflattering “ticks”. Another problem is panning and moving. The test video was shot while trying to hold the image still. This is what still image IS is made for. Once you start moving the IS will act differently and may have a less flattering effect.
The effect of the IS, and how it performs and looks, will vary from lens to lens as well. My lens was a cheaper and older lens. A newer and/or a more high-end lens will have better IS which may act differently. Newer lenses are also made with video in mind, and their IS will be designed to handle video better.
In general I would say “Yes”. You should use IS when shooting video on your DSLR. However, in my case it will depend on the situation, the project and the equipment. My best tip is to get to know your equipment. Test this yourself and see how the IS on your lenses performs and decide if the advantages of using IS outweighs the issues it raises.