Optical And Digital Image Stabilization
When you’re a true gear-junkie, you spend a lot of time finding out about new technologies. Brands are always looking for new ways to make a product seem appealing, so you have to look past the buzzwords and find out about the tech underneath. That’s why we’ve tried to find out the truth between optical and digital image stabilization. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk in the smartphone industry about these two technologies, so we set out to find out which one is better.
Image stabilization is basically there to stop you from getting blurry photos. Whether you’ve got a perfectly still hand or not, even the smallest movements can affect how the light hits the lens. Without image stabilization, your photos will end up looking like you took them after ten beers on a disposable camera. The technology has been around for years and it’s recently been added to smartphones. So, we thought we’d find out which type of image stabilization is better.
Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS)
Optical Image Stabilisation is a hardware solution found in a lot of high-end smartphones. By hardware, we mean that it’s a physical component that is found in the smartphone’s camera and can’t be added to the smartphone using a software update. The reason it’s only really found on high-end smartphones is that it’s a lot more expensive to implement than Digital Image Stabilisation (more on that later).
Without getting into too much detail, there is a little motor inside the camera that moves one or more of the glass components to keep them still if you shake the camera. The lens basically sits on top of a gyroscope which measures the direction and amount of movement and then compensates by turning the lens in the opposite direction. This has the effect of keeping the lens still and avoiding blurry photos. It obviously can’t compensate for a huge amount of movement, because the lens itself is only tiny, but it can compensate for camera shake.
The technology has actually been around since the mid-1990s, with companies like Canon and Nixon being some of the first to implement it into their cameras. Back then, it was limited to high-end, professional cameras, but now that technology has been shrunken to fit inside smartphones, DSLR cameras, travel cameras, and mirrorless cameras. You’ll find that every company has a different name for image stabilization like ‘Optical SteadyShot’ and Anti-Shake’, but it’s basically all the same technology.
There are a few different types of Optical Image Stabilisation. Two-axis is one of the most common types. This means that the gyroscope will detect and compensate for movement when you move the camera up and down. It’s not the most advanced technology, but it will still prevent some blurry images. You can also get 3-axis and 5-axis OIS, which is obviously a lot more effective.
In general, it’s thought that Optical Image Stabilisation is better for taking static pictures. This is especially true if the image is being taken in an environment with artificial lighting or low-level lighting. Of course, it is still really effective for video, but we’d recommend Digital Image Stabilisation if shooting video is your main thing.
Digital Image Stabilisation (DIS)
Digital Image Stabilisation (DIS) is also known as Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS), so don’t get confused between the two (a problem with a lot of new technologies is that every company wants to give them their own name).
Digital Image Stabilisation is a software solution. That means you don’t need any physical equipment to do it, it’s added to the smartphone’s camera with a software update. This technology is found on almost every smartphone now, even budget-orientated smartphones. It’s a lot cheaper to implement than OIS to implement and it’s only really become popular in the last couple of years.
There are two main ways Digital Image Stabilisation can be achieved. The first way uses a sensor inside the camera to calculate the impact of your body movement on the camera. It will then use this data to work out which pixels are being used and use the pixels that are out of frame to smooth the transition from frame to frame. This method uses a gyroscope in a similar way to Optical Image Stabilisation.
The second way is effectively the same, except that it completes this process in post-production. It uses the same technology of cropping the image and using the pixels out of shot to smooth the transition. The only problem is that this often ends up in smaller cropped videos, which not everyone wants.
The bottom line is that your video will be cropped, and the extra pixels will be used to make the video smoother. Whether this is automatic or in post-production, it’s a relatively effective way of making video smoother. However, it’s not as good for static pictures.
This technology is absolutely essential when you’re shooting video that is naturally going to be shaky. If you’ve ever browsed YouTube looking at old GoPro videos of extreme sports, you’ll see that they’re barely watchable. Nowadays, Digital Image Stabilisation technology has been added to GoPros and GoPro alternatives. The results are amazing.
In the GoPro Hero 7 White, the technology is called ‘HyperSmooth’. If you look at the promotional videos on the internet, it looks like the videos have been shot with a gimbal, but that’s just how good the image stabilization technology is now.
Hybrid Image Stabilisation
These two separate types of image stabilication have also been mixed together to create a hybrid. This seems like the obvious progression for image stabilization technology. Hybrid Image Stabilization is where the camera has the physical hardware of Optical Image Stabilization and the photo is automatically stabilized as well. It can be seen in some high-end cameras and even smartphones like the Google Pixel 2 XL and the LG V30+.
What Else Can You Do to Stabilise the Image?
Now you know the difference between the two types of image stabilization. But what if you’re still getting shaky images? What else can you do to get super smooth shots?
The first thing you can do is work on your free-hand technique. That means you’re shooting without a tripod or monopod, which means your hands are in control of the camera’s movement. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to stop the camera from moving around so much.
Firstly, try to think about your camera, hands, wrists, and elbows as one solid object. Don’t move all of the parts separately. Pull your elbows back into your body and keep everything relaxed, but rigid. Keep a good grip on both the camera and the lens (unless you’re using a smartphone) and move your body, instead of your arms. This will give you much smoother motion, especially when you’re shooting videos.
Secondly, use your breath to control a static shot. This is an old sniper technique and it helps your body to stop from moving. Breathe deeply and take your picture towards the end of your breath out.
Of course, if you’re still struggling to get a still shot, you should invest in a tripod. This takes all of the human error out of taking a still photo. If you don’t know what one is, it’s basically a three-legged stand that you can place your camera on top of. It’s best to get one that has thick legs and is well-built because it needs to be able to take the weight of your camera and absorb any shock in the ground. Tripods are most commonly used for DSLR cameras and professional cameras, but you can also buy them for smartphones. They’re absolutely essential if you’re shooting a video for YouTube or other social media channels.
If a tripod seems like overkill for your photography needs, you should consider a monopod. It’s basically the same idea, but it has one leg instead of three. That means you can extend out the leg and rest it onto a surface to give your camera a stable platform to take the shot from. They’re great for wildlife photography because you can adjust and extend them really quick, and they’re more portable than tripods. Like all photography equipment, you can find really expensive ones. But there are also cheap options, which make a great gift for photography lovers.
If you really want to shoot a video that is perfectly stable, you’ll need a gimbal. This is the ultimate in image stabilization technology and it’s actually pretty similar to Optical Image Stabilisation. But instead of being built into the lens, it moves the camera on one or multiple axes, allowing it to remain completely stable even when it’s being moved around violently. If you’ve ever watched a car chase in a movie or horse racing on television, you’ll have seen this technology in action. Gimbals used to be reserved for professional filmmaking, but now you can buy them for less than $100. And you can even find gimbals that fit onto your smartphone.