What Is In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) on a Camera?

Two images of a pair of sunglasses on a table, one blurry and one clear.Harry guinness

Built-in Image Stabilization (IBIS) is one of the main features of mirrorless cameras, like the Canon EOS R5, Canon EOS R6, Nikon Z7 and Sony A7 III. But what is it, how is it different from other types of image stabilization, and does it really matter? Let’s find out!

What is image stabilization?

Image stabilization (IS) is also sometimes referred to as vibration reduction (VR). This is a mechanical feature of some lenses and cameras that limits the amount of blur caused by camera shake.

Usually the slowest shutter speed you can use without IS and still get images without blur is 1 / XX, where “XX” is the 35mm equivalent focal length of the lens. This is called the reciprocal rule.

For example, if you are using a 100mm lens, you can safely use a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second. With a 50mm lens, you can go a little slower at 1/50 of a second and images of acceptable sharpness.

Four images of a pair of sunglasses on a table, two where the SI was used and two when it wasn't. These images were taken seconds apart with a 200mm equivalent telephoto lens at a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second. IS was used for the much sharper image on the right. Harry guinness

The SI, whether a function of the lens or the camera, allows you to use a slower shutter speed. Depending on its advancement and the stability of your hands, you will probably be able to go somewhere between two and four stops Slow down. (Some manufacturers, like Canon, claim that some camera and lens combos can have up to eight stops).

With a 100mm lens, that means a shutter speed of between 1/25 and 1/10 of a second. In low light, this is enough to make a big difference.

IBIS vs stabilization in the lens

The big distinction between IBIS and in-lens stabilization is the location of the stabilization mechanism. With IBIS, the camera sensor moves slightly to counteract any camera shake. With stabilization in the lens, an additional lens element moves and provides stable image protection on the sensor.

Neither system is superior to the other – they both have their advantages.

IBIS works best at shorter focal lengths. On long focal length lenses, such as a 300mm telephoto lens, the sensor cannot move enough to overcome sharply magnified camera shake. However, because stabilization is done in the camera, all lenses can be stabilized, even those that were not originally designed.

Stabilization in the lens is less practical and more expensive than IBIS. While longer lenses with IS have systems designed to accommodate many tremors, you pay a premium on each lens. It’s also another fragile thing that can break if you accidentally drop a lens.

How important is that?

Historically, Canon and Nikon have relied on lens stabilization for their lenses. It was only with the release of their latest mirrorless cameras that they started using IBIS. This is largely because Sony made a big deal out of the IBIS in its line of mirrorless cameras.

IBIS is definitely a nice feature to have, and it can allow you to take photos that you would have otherwise missed. However, like any type of image stabilization, it comes with the following important caveats:

This only reduces blur due to camera shake: If you’re using a slow shutter speed, like 1 / 10th of a second, you can expect to get motion blur of anything moving in the frame, even without any camera shake.
It’s more useful on longer lenses, but works better at shorter focal lengths: This is not a magic solution for wildlife or sports photographers.
You will get better results by increase your ISO or your aperture: In most situations, this approach is more reliable than image stabilization.

Also, it’s worth noting that many of the new telephoto lenses from Canon and Nikon still have IS technology built in, which works in concert with IBIS to stabilize images. This means that you are essentially paying twice for stabilization.

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