Sunday, December 15, 2013

The 5-Axis IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization)

5-Axis IBIS illustration. Image copyright by Olympus Corporation.
Olympus first introduced their 5-axis IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) with the E-M5, and further refined it with the E-M1 (their current flagship camera).

When I purchased the E-M1, the IBIS feature was not on my "must-have" list. I purchased the camera because of its other features (weather sealed body, 10fps shooting speed, great viewfinder etc.). My understanding was that image stabilization that is done on a lens (favored by Nikon & Canon) is always better than image stabilization done in the camera body (by moving the sensor, as shown in the illustration above). I was very skeptical that this type of stabilization would give good results.

I was completely wrong.

The following video illustrates what the 5-Axis IBIS actually does, and how it differs from traditional systems such as VR (Vibration Reduction), used by Nikon, or IS (Image Stabilization), used by Canon.

I had seen some examples posted by a popular Olympus blogger Robin Wong, showing 1-second hand-held exposures using the E-M1. Even with the best VR lenses, I have never got sharp results with my Nikon gear at such slow shutter speeds, so I was highly skeptical about the results posted by Robin.

Well, I have been using the E-M1 for more than 1 month now. If someone asks me what is the best feature in this camera, then the IBIS feature would beat all other features by a very big margin. In fact, I consider the entire investment in this camera to be worth it, just because of the IBIS feature.

The first time I experimented with the slow shutter (hand-held), I decided to recreate Robin's attempt at 1 second. I set the camera to shutter priority and selected 1 second. I was completely shocked by the results. It was indeed clean and sharp.

My very first attempt at 1-second hand-held exposure, with the E-M1.
A few more tests, and I was a convert of the Olympus IBIS system.

Another 1-Second hand-held exposure.
On a recent trip to Dubai, I decided to visit the observation deck of Burj Khalifa, the highest structure in the world, and the highest observation deck. I was carrying the E-M1. I did have my tripod with me, but decided not to take it on top of the observation deck, as I was sure it would be cumbersome to setup (if not prohibited).

As it turned out, tripods are not prohibited, but they are totally useless, unless you want to shoot through thick glass. The deck has a small opening about 5 feet high, so the only way you can shoot good pictures is by shoving the camera into the opening and shooting hand-held.

A perfect match for the IBIS!.

View from top of Burj Khalifa, Dubai.

Another view from Burj Khalifa, Dubai.
The IBIS has completely changed the way I look at night photography. No longer is a tripod a necessity to take steady shots.

I am a believer.

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