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Daily FTU hints and tips: Image Stabilisation

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Posted 6th October 2009 at 04:00 PM by Ian

No.9: Stabilise your photography

An important innovation in recent years is image stabilisation. First developed for video cameras, image stabilisation is now a common feature in all kinds of still cameras. Image stabilisation is designed to minimise the problem of motion blur in an image caused by the movement of the camera. In other words, the system uses gyro sensors to detect movement of the camera and compensates for that movement to prevent blurring of the subject being photographed.

Both Olympus and Panasonic offer image stabilisation solutions for Four Thirds photographers, though they are fundamentally different.

Panasonic Mega OIS

Panasonic bases its Mega OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) system on similar solutions developed over a long period for camcorders. A key lens element inside the lens barrel is manipulated in real time to move the projected image around the sensor area in response to camera movement. In effect, while the camera and sensor may be moving, the image should remain stationary in relation to the sensor.

Panasonic use three operational modes:
  • Mode 1: Image stabilisation is constantly on.
  • Mode 2: Image stabilisation only kicks in when you press the shutter release. The potential advantage is that the correction lens starts from the optically optimal centre. In Mode 1 there is a higher chance that the correcting lens will be in an extreme position when called upon, potentially compromising optical quality, and minimising the range of compensation available.
  • Mode 3: For use when panning, the correcting lens only travels vertically, to compensate for vertical motion only.
If you attach a Panasonic/Leica lens equipped with Mega OIS to an Olympus Four Thirds camera body, it will work, but only in Mode 1, because there is no way to switch modes using an Olympus body. If your Olympus body has its own image stabilisation (IS), the Panasonic system defers to the Olympus system if it is switched on. Alternatively, you can switch the Olympus IS system off and use Mega OIS in Mode 1.

Olympus Image Stabilisation

Olympus introduced its own image stabilisation solution with the E-510 in 2007. Following Pentax, Konica Minolta, and Ricoh, Olympus' IS system dynamically moves the sensor to compensate for camera movement. Unlike the others, Olympus used its patented Super Sonic Wave technology to drive the sensor movement. This technology was already used for sensor anti-dust measures and would eventually be used to drive autofocus in Olympus SWD lenses.

Compared to in-lens IS solutions, like that of Panasonic, moving sensor, or sensor-shift, solutions don't compromise the optics of the lens. On the other hand, in an extreme situation the sensor could be relocated far enough for one corner to exhibit greater issues associated with the corners of a frame, like corner shading and loss of sharpness. Another potential advantage of in-lens IS is that the phase detect autofocus sensors in the camera also benefit, while they would not in a moving sensor IS camera. In lens IS also provides a stabilised view through the viewfinder, while moving sensor IS doesn't.

Just when you thought that in-lens IS was stacking up the advantages, moving sensor IS hits back with the fact that it is able to stabilise any lens attached to the camera, even old legacy lenses, whereas camera bodies without in-built IS are dependent on lenses fitted with IS.

My personal opinion is that both systems work well, providing a realistic 2 stops of effective compensation, and perhaps 3 stops if you can already shoot very steadily in low light conditions.

Olympus also offers three operational modes, but they are different to Panasonic's:
  • Mode 1: IS is operational in two dimensions.
  • Mode 2: IS is operational vertically only for horizontal panning.
  • Mode 3: As for Mode 2, but for use when the camera is vertically panned.
To enable optimal image stabilisation for a lens not designed for use with Four Thirds, perhaps used via an adapter, you need to input the lens' focal length via a special menu in the camera.

Finally, when using a tripod or if you are resting the camera on a solid surface when taking a picture, switch IS off. This is because there is a small chance that vibration within the camera could trigger the IS compensation when none is needed, so you end up with a blurred image caused by the IS itself!
Next: A look at Four Thirds LiveMOS sensor technology.
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