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And which one is more effective?

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For related/similar questions, see also: photo.stackexchange.com/q/804/1480 –  Sean Sep 4 '11 at 18:14
    
And also this one is interesting too... What if both works: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1817 –  spinodal Sep 5 '11 at 11:12
    
Also see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/17483/… –  mattdm Nov 27 '11 at 23:41

9 Answers 9

up vote 33 down vote accepted

In lens stabilisation contains a servo activated rear element which acts to move the image projected by the lens in order to cancel out the camera shake.

In body stabilisation moves the sensor in order to counter camera shake.

No method is clearly better, and discussion tends to turn into a brand war as Canon and Nikon don't offer (and are not likely to offer) a body based solution, and therefore must adopt/reinforce the view than in-lens is better.

In lens stabilisation:

  • Can be tuned to the requirements of a specific lens. Telephoto lenses are likely to show a different pattern of blur (more linear, over a shorter time period) than wider angles, which have to stabilise the image for longer, where an oscillatory motion may be present.

  • The in-lens method stabilises what you see in the viewfinder for easier composition.

  • You can get hybrid systems that counter both angular and translational movement, which is important when the distance the subject is small. Currently the only exmaple is Canon's 100mm f/2.8L macro.

  • Works with all bodies, including film / older digital bodies, however most people have more lenses than bodies!

In body stabilisation

  • Provides stabilisation for every lens you mount, even old MF designs. Since stabilised lenses are almost always more expensive and stabilisation only exists on certain models this is a considerable plus.

  • No extra elements in the optical path to potentially flare or disperse light.

  • Can correct rotational movement and can automatically level the horizon.

  • Astronomical tracking mount like features are available on some models (such as the Pentax K-5, thanks John).

I've seen some tests that indicate the in lens stabilisation can perform better, however you do have to pay for it in every lens, see Image Stabilization Testing on SLRgear. It makes sense to me than in lens could perform slightly better as you're comparing a system designed for a specific focal length to a system that has to try and work in every situation. There's no reason in principle you couldn't have in-body stabilisation and then turn it off and use in-lens for some lenses for maximum performance.

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Now, I am scratching my head - how is it possible to correct roll movements in-lens? –  ysap Sep 4 '11 at 20:39
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Pentax K-5 with their new GPS module are able to keep the sensor attuned to earth rotation for up to 5 minutes because it's free floating and can be adjusted in three dimensions. They call it the astrotracer feature and it works very well. –  John Cavan Sep 4 '11 at 21:23
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@ysap All current designs use an extra element to shift the image. You're right that rotation correction is not possible - I've removed that! –  Matt Grum Sep 4 '11 at 22:11
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In my experience people who learn English generally have a superior grasp of spelling and grammar than native speakers! –  Matt Grum Sep 5 '11 at 21:31
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Nikon adds two more claims for lens-based stabilization: (1) The AF system sees a stabilized image. (2) The metering sensor too. –  Itai Sep 6 '11 at 20:45

Advantages of having stabilisation in the camera:

  • Works for all lenses
  • The lenses gets cheaper

Advantages of having stabilisation in the lens:

  • The camera gets cheaper and can be built smaller
  • The stabilisation can be specially made to fit the lens characteristics
  • Works also with older camera models
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Another advantage to add to Guffa's list is that when it is in the lens you can see the image stabilization in action through the viewfinder.

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+1. This is HUGE. It makes the experience of using the camera much more pleasant. –  Reid Jul 19 '10 at 1:57
    
EVF gets the stabilization anyway, in-body or in-lens. –  Esa Paulasto Mar 18 '13 at 5:59

Lenses are generally the most expensive part of photography equipment and likely to be kept longer than bodies. Assuming that mounts don't change it may be more cost effective to use cameras with in-body stabilization and take advantage of the certain technological improvements in the body which will occur every few years while keeping an investment in top quality lenses valid. Quality lenses are rarely improved upon quickly.

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You also need to weigh the quality and variety of the lenses themselves. The manufacturers with in-body stabilization don't offer near the breadth of lens selection that Canon & Nikon, which place the stabilization in the lens, do. –  Michael Clark Mar 19 '13 at 8:25

Today's Answer Will Change Tomorrow

This is an area of rapid development, and I'm pretty sure that we will be seeing more innovation and technological improvement in coming months and years.

Ultimately, since the answer is very technologically dependent, I suspect that it is impossible to give a definitive answer.

I'm sorry to be unhelpful. I guess the real answer is that although the argument could (and will) rage on, just make the most of whichever system you have.

...And get a sturdy tripod ;)

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In-lens stabilisation uses a floating element in the lens that moves to compensate for movement. In-camera stabilisation moves the sensor to compensate instead.

While there is little really noticeable difference in image quality between the two, in-camera stabilisation has the advantages of:

  • Being lens independent, so you don't need to buy several lenses with IS
  • Making lens less complex, therefore cheaper and lighter
  • Some in-camera systems can compensate for rotational movement, i.e. turning the camera, which can occur when you press the shutter button.
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And has the disadvantage of providing less stabilization with longer focal length lenses, where it is needed the most. –  Michael Clark Mar 19 '13 at 8:20

In my (admittedly limited) experience, in-lens stabilization (Nikon D90 + 18-200mm) works a lot better than in-body (Pentax K200D + 18-250mm).

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I don't doubt your experience, but can you quantify (or qualify) "works a lot better"? –  mattdm Nov 24 '11 at 5:55
    
It is probably directly related to focal length. The in-body IS systems can't compensate for as much movement at longer focal lengths as the in-lens systems can. You would need to move the sensor faster and further than current servo technology allows in a from factor that would fit in a typical DSLR body. –  Michael Clark Mar 19 '13 at 8:27

As innovations are made into image stabilisation, there is the possibility of including it in newer lenses, which can then be an advantage to pre-existing camera owners; rather than having to invest in a new camera body.

There are some corrections that will be virtually impossible to do with in-lens stabilisation, that could be achieved with in-camera stabilisation, such as correcting rotations.

Ultimately, Canon, Nikon & their fans are going to advocate in-lens stabilisation, where as Pentax et al are going to suggest in-camera stabilisation is far superior.

In practice it's better to try and avoid the movement in the first place than to manage movement once it's present.

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As innovations are made into image stabilisation, there is the possibility of including it in newer lenses, which can be frustrating to photographers, who not only have to get new camera bodies, but also upgrade lenses which would otherwise last for many years :-) –  che Jul 20 '10 at 12:10
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Agree, most photographers keep their great glass and upgrade bodies, which become outdated rather quickly. –  Eruditass Jul 27 '10 at 3:27

One significant difference that no one else has explicitly talked about is the degree of stabilization possible with each system. As we all learned with the 1/focal length rule for minimum handheld shutter speed (Tv), lenses with longer focal lengths are more prone to blur because it takes much less movement to induce the same amount of blur than when using a wide angle lens.

Lens based Image Stabilization allows the system to be optimized for the focal length of the lens, and many telephoto lenses with IS can compensate for up to four stops with focal lengths in the 200-800mm range. This is the focal length range where it is needed most.

Camera based Image stabilization is dependent upon the speed and distance the sensor can be moved and is most effective with wider angle lenses. The servos needed to move the sensor fast and far enough to compensate for up to four stops with a lens in the 300mm+ range do not exist in a form factor that would fit in a typical DSLR body.

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It should be no problem to buy a 600 mm lens with optical IS. The money saved in purchases of shorter focal length lenses without optical IS will make it easier to buy that one expensive long lens. Sensor shift IS takes care of the rest of lenses in your camera bag. –  Esa Paulasto Sep 4 '13 at 20:10
    
Or you could just buy no IS lenses for shorter focal lengths that don't really need them and not pay extra for in body IS when you don't need it half the time. I have seen some third party lenses that offer Stabilization for Nikon and Canon mounts but do not include Stabilization in the versions offered for those systems that use Sensor shift. There's usually not much, if any, difference in the price from one mount to the next. –  Michael Clark Sep 4 '13 at 22:08

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