Stabilized Photography Lenses

by Peter Kotsinadelis

June 01, 2012

One of the more useful technologies for the photographer these days is optical image stabilization. This technology compensates for the camera shake, or movements, by moving a lens group inside the lens to reduce blurring. Small sensors inside the lens detect the amount of vertical or horizontal movement and instantly signal motors that shift the lens group vertical or horizontally.

The major benefit to optical stabilization technology is that lenses with long focal lengths can be handheld at slower shutter speeds than ever before. Prior to this technology, photographers used an old rule of thumb to avoid blur. This rule held that the reciprocal of the focal length is the slowest shutter speed one should use. Using a 200mm lens as an example, shutter speeds used with that focal length should be 1/200 or faster. However, with today’s stabilization technology the photographer now has the ability to handhold that same 200mm lens at shutter speeds 3 to 4 steps slower and avoid image blur caused by lens movement, something otherwise not possible unless the lens were stabilized by means of a tripod.

As with any technology, improvements provided the photographer a second stabilization mode for panning, the ability for the stabilization to recognize that the lens is mounted on a tripod, and faster stabilization that improves the handholding ability at even slower shutter speeds. Although some camera manufacturers have incorporated stabilization in their camera bodies, something that offers the advantage of stabilization with any lens, this design has two disadvantages. First, the stabilized image is not seen through optical viewfinders like those on SLRS.

Secondly, the stabilization is limited by the amount the sensor can actually move, as opposed to a greater freedom of movement in lens-based systems.

To help the photographer in selecting lenses with Optical Image Stabilization, the following is a roundup of lenses currently available from each of their respective manufacturers.

Canon was the first manufacturer to offer a lens with Image Stabilization (IS) in 1995, and now has 27 lenses with this technology. These include 20 fixed and zoom EF lenses designed for Canon’s full frame DSLRs, and 7 EF-S (the S stands for small) lenses specifically made for Canon DSLRs with APS-C size sensors.

More than half of Canon’s IS lenses are also designated as L (luxury) lenses. These L lenses are said to meet stringent performance standards and for that reason, Canon considers them to be professional.

An important point: Canon’s EF lenses can be mounted on either full or APS-C sensor-equipped EOS DSLRs. However, Canon EF-S lenses can only be physically mounted on the Canon EOS DSLRs with APS-C-sized sensors such as the EOS 7D or Digital Rebel series.

Nikon Vibration Reduction (VR and VR-II) is the name Nikon uses for its Optical Image Stablization technology, which it first introduced in 2000. Currently the company has 24 lenses that incorporate this technology, eight of which are DX lenses specifically designed for Nikon DSLRs with APS-C size sensors, also referred to as Nikon DX-sized sensors.

While Nikon DX lenses can be mounted on Nikon DSLRs with full-frame sensors, they will not provide full-frame coverage and will produce vignetting. Some Nikon full-frame DSLR models do offer a feature to select DX mode which uses only the central portion of the full-frame sensor to accommodate DX lenses.

Sigma was the first independent lens manufacturer to use Optical Image Stabilization in 2002. Its term for this technology is Optical Stabilization, or OS. Sigma currently has 15 OS-equipped lenses, 6 of which are designed for cameras with APS-C sensors.

Some lenses have a “DG” designation, which implies that the lens is designed for digital, while those with DC are also designed for Digital, but the “C” means the lens is specifically designed for cameras with smaller APS-C size sensors such as a Nikon D300s and Canon EOS 7D.

Sigma uses an EX logo on its lenses, for Excellence, to signify a lens with superior build, high optical quality and excellent overall performance.

Tamron began using Optical Image Stabilization in 2007. Its term for the technology is VC, or Vibration Control, and there are currently six Tamron lenses that include VC.

SP, for Superior Performance, is the abbreviation Tamron uses to identify its highest-quality lenses.They also uses the Di designation to point out that the lens is designed for Digital. Di are lenses designed for full-frame Digital SLRs, Di-II for Digital SLRs with APS-C size sensors, and Di-III for mirrorless cameras such as Sony’s NEX.   

Peter Kotsinadelis is a writer/photographer living in Pleasanton, CA. He may be reached at

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