Friday, June 22, 2007

The importance of lens stabilization in new digital cameras


I've always found David Pogue's technology articles interesting and have now had the pleasure of meeting him when I attended two of his workshops. At the photography workshop I attended he mentioned that image stabilization systems come in two flavors, in-camera, and in-lens, but he had no particular opinion about the value of one over the other except that in-lens systems increase the cost of removable lenses on DSLRs. However, in this article he points out what the digital camera producers say about each type:

"Canon and Nikon, which takes the same approach [in-lens stabilizers], argue, however, that in-body stabilizers are far less effective, because they can’t be tailored for the focal length of each individual lens. For example, you need more stabilization at long focal lengths (zoomed in) than short ones. Canon and Nikon say that with an in-lens stabilizer, you can make the aperture four stops smaller without changing the shutter speed, versus about two stops on an in-camera system. Furthermore, only lens-based systems show the stabilized image through the viewfinder."

I recently bought a new camera but opted for a Panasonic FZ-8, a so-called "point-and-shoot" model with a 12X optical zoom lens. I prefer to consider my lens-changing days in my film camera past. I'm more interested in concentrating on composition and the more creative aspects of digital photography than manhandling a lot of "gear". My photography needs are also a bit distinct as well. I am building an image archive of art, history, and science images for faculty to use in the classroom so I photograph thousands of museum exhibits in an environment where I am prohibited from using flash or tripod. For this reason, I use a Fujifilm F30 camera for low-light conditions because it produces excellent images in those conditions with minimal grain (even at ISO 3200) that can usually be practically excised using Photoshop's noise reduction and median functions.

The Panasonic gives me a versatile camera for outdoor detail work with its 12X zoom Also it gives me an Intelligent ISO mode for less than optimum lighting conditions With its excellent image stabilization, I can capture some indoor subjects (such as decently lit lighter-colored statues or reliefs) with more detail than the Fuji. I can almost hand-hold a shot at 1/15 shutterspeed with the Panasonic while I must set my minimum shutter speed on the Fuji to 1/60 because of its lack of image stabilization. The Panasonic, too, can be set up to an ISO of 3200 but I have found that anything above 400 with the Panasonic is too grainy for my taste.

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