I had a number of discussions with other fellow photographers and our readers about Vibration Reduction (also known as Image Stabilization, Vibration Compensation and Optical Stabilization), its behavior and how to best use it. While I will provide detailed information on how to properly utilize Vibration Reduction on Nikon’s lenses in a separate article, for a while I wanted to prove that letting VR stabilize first yields sharper images. There are a number of folks out there, who seem to think that just firing the shutter button is sufficient and that VR will stabilize those images as good as if one were to half-press the shutter button, wait a few seconds and then take an image. From my experience, letting VR stabilize first for a few seconds always yielded better shots, but I just could never actually prove it. Until today.
I have been spending a lot of time in my lab during the last several days testing almost all Nikon’s super telephoto lenses including the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II, 200-400mm f/4G VR, 500mm f/4G VR, 600mm f/4G VR and the new 800mm f/5.6E VR with various teleconverters (using Imatest) and I came across three different scenarios to test how VR affects sharpness:
- Vibration Reduction Turned Off. Camera set to Self Timer (5 seconds), Exposure Delay (3 seconds). Remote cable release.
- Vibration Reduction Turned On. Camera set to Self Timer (5 seconds), Exposure Delay (3 seconds). Half-press the shutter button for a couple of seconds, full-press, but continue to hold the shutter button. VR stays continuously on throughout the sequence.
- Vibration Reduction Turned On. Camera set to Self Timer (5 seconds), Exposure Delay (3 seconds). Remote cable release. VR turns on at the beginning of the sequence, turns off before the timer ends and turns on again during the exposure.
Basically, the above three scenarios show what impact VR has on sharpness when it is completely turned off (1), when it is engaged for a few seconds by half-pressing the shutter button (2) and when it is engaged just by pressing the shutter button during the actual exposure (3). This was a very interesting study for me personally and I think you will be fascinated to see what the results show. Obviously, everything was mounted on a sturdy tripod, so none of the below results are hand-held (it would be very hard to get my Imatest chart to be perfectly aligned if I were to do this hand-held). Let’s take a look at each case scenario, as analyzed and processed by Imatest:
The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is a very sharp lens from the center to the extreme corners with VR turned off.
Interestingly, sharpness drops a bit with VR turned on and stabilized for a few seconds. Looks like VR does impact the sharpness of images when it is engaged.
Now this chart says it all – just firing the shutter without letting VR stabilize first is NOT a good idea! Notice how much the sharpness can potentially drop when you do that. Looks like the lens only got one shot at f/5.6 that matched the results of letting VR stabilize first – the rest of the time images came out blurry!
Here is a quick summary of the above findings:
- Do not turn Vibration Reduction (Image Stabilization) on unless working at shutter speeds lower than inverse of the focal length of the lens – it does hurt the sharpness a little. For example, if you are shooting at 300mm, VR should be turned on if you are shooting under 1/300 of a second (general guideline, might need faster shutter speed for APS-C and high-resolution full-frame cameras).
- If you decide to turn Vibration Reduction on, make sure to half-press the shutter button for a few seconds to let the camera/lens stabilize a little first.
- If you shoot right away without stabilizing, it will most likely negatively impact the sharpness of your images.
Please keep in mind that the above Imatest scores are preliminary. I am still in the process of lab testing, so the numbers might change a little for the first graph (to be updated in the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II Review). Also, the above tests were conducted indoors in a low-light situation at shutter speeds 1/250 and below.
P.S. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II has a “Tripod Mode” detection mechanism.