In the Nikon universe, it is referred to as vibration reduction. In Canon parlance, it is called image stabilization. In other worlds, it is referred to as vibration compensation. However you say it, the ability of modern lenses and cameras to compensate for the inherent shakiness of hand-holding your camera to make a photograph has been a significant and positive development in the art form of digital imaging.
To take a closer look at and better understand vibration compensation technology, I decided to set up a test. I used my Nikon D610 camera and a Tamron 70-200 Di VC USD zoom lens to make a series of photographs. The photographs ranged in exposure length from 1/25-second to 1/4000-second. I made at least two exposures at each length, one with the Tamron lens’s vibration compensation engaged and active, and the other with vibration compensation disengaged. For exposures between 1/100-second and 1/2000-second, I made two sets of exposures with VC engaged and disengaged.
I chose a yard sign as the photo subject. The sign features bold lettering against an off-white plastic surface. I set up the sign in my garage in the shade so it would be illuminated by a soft, even and constant light level. I then set up a folding camp chair in the driveway about six feet from the sign. With the Tamron lens set to 200mm, I began making exposures.
I used the camera’s auto ISO setting to make the exposures from 1/100-second to 1/2000-second, first. With the D610 in aperture priority, I would set the minimum shutter speed at the desired exposure length. Then, I would adjust aperture until the camera would select an ISO that would produce an exposure of the desired length. The D610 will not make an exposure shorter than 1/2000-second in auto ISO so, I put the camera in manual mode to make the exposures at 1/4000-second. Here, are the settings used to make each shot:
- 1/25-second: Two exposures, one with VC on and the other with VC off. Both at ISO 100, f/25
- 1/40-second: Two exposures, one with VC on and the other with VC off. Both at ISO 110, f/20
- 1/100-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 125, f/11. Two at ISO 100, f/11
- 1/200-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 125, f/8. One at ISO 200, f/11. One at ISO 220, f/11
- 1/400-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 250, f/8. One at ISO 160, f8. One at ISO 100, f/8
- 1/800-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 250, f/5.6. One at ISO 140, f/5.6. One at ISO 110, f/5.6
- 1/1000-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 320, f/5.6. One at ISO 160, f/5.6. One at ISO 120, f/5.6
- 1/1250-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 400, f/5.6. Two at ISO 200, f/5.6.
- 1/1600-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 500, f/5.6. One at ISO 220, f/5.6. One at ISO 250, f/5.6
- 1/2000-second: Four exposures, two with VC on and two with VC off. Two at ISO 640, f/5.6. One at ISO 280, f/5.6. One at ISO 320, f/5.6
- 1/4000-second: Two exposures, one with VC on and the other with VC off. One at ISO 640, f/5.6. One at ISO 500, f/5.6
I performed the test for several reasons. One, was to see for myself the extent to which vibration compensation delivers sharper, more detailed images than those made with without VC. Also, I wanted to test a couple of assertions made by photographers who don’t use vibration compensation when shooting at fast exposure rates – 1/1000 to 1/1600 or faster. The usual thinking is that VC offers no benefits at such fast exposures. Some even claim that VC introduces blur when engaged at fast exposure rates.
The results of the above test do not support either claim, not in the least. At all exposures, the images made with vibration compensation turned on appeared sharper and more detailed than those made with VC disabled. Even the VC-engaged image made at 1/4000-second was noticeably sharper than the strictly handheld image made at the same rate. Below, are 100% crops of several exposures. They are JPEG conversions from unprocessed RAW files:
Based on the results from this test, I am persuaded to keep vibration compensation engaged whenever shooting handheld and regardless of the length of the exposure. Doing so will not introduce blur or distortion and will probably result in a sharper, more detailed photograph.
But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Get out and shoot.
Bill Ferris | October 2014