What is Optical Lens Stabilization and how does it work?

What is optical lens stabilization and how does it work? The solution resides in clear knowledge of what picture stabilization of any type is and what it is not.

What is Image Stabilization?

When it comes to handheld exposures and shutter speeds, there is a rule of thumb that has been around for as long as I can recall when shooting with 35mm film SLR cameras. Simply said, the rule of thumb works best for the Full Frame 35mm format, although it may be scaled up or down depending on the format size and crop factor employed.

You may securely handhold at a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens, according to the rule of thumb. If we are shooting with a 50mm lens, such as the trusty Nifty Fifty, the slowest shutter speed that we may use is 1/50th of a second. A 200mm lens would have a bottom limit of 1/200th of a second, whereas a 24mm lens would have a bottom limit of 1/24th of a second.

On those earlier cameras, we normally used the shutter speed that was closest to the advertised speed: 1/60th for our 50mm lens, 1/250th for the 200mm lens, and 1/30th for the 24mm wide-angle lens. Auto exposure cameras were capable of adjusting to precise fractions of a second, but the viewfinder reading was still limited to conventional fractions of a second.

As photographers, we took great satisfaction in possessing camera handling methods and talents that allowed us to shoot at slower speeds than the rule (or guideline) required for the situation. “This was taken with my phone at 1/15th of a second!”

Technology to the Rescue!

Many major camera manufacturers launched optical lens stabilization at around the same time, which was a good deal of overlap. They developed telephoto and tele-zoom lenses with image stabilization to be used in conjunction with autofocus and auto-exposure cameras.

Nikon and Canon were neck-and-neck in 1994 and 1995, and by the early 2000s, a slew of lenses from a variety of manufacturers had this amazing new technology that reduced handheld camera shake or vibration to the point where a photographer could safely hand-hold an exposure that was about two stops lower than the rule of thirds (or two stops higher than the rule of thirds).

As a result, instead of being restricted to roughly 1/125th of a second with superb technique and a 135mm telephoto lens, we may now securely shoot at 1/30th of a second with the same equipment. That was a huge thing for many telephoto photographers and enthusiasts of low-light photography.

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