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I'm thinking of getting a new lens for my Nikon D200. The question is whether or not to get one with VR (Vibration Reduction).

I'm looking for something for taking motor sport and wild life pictures.

Are there any situations where the VR features cause problems? I've heard that if you want to take action photos that involve panning, then VR can be a problem.

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VR won't help you with short-exposure-pics such as sports-pictures itself. But as you can switch it off, it won't do no real harm (variation of bokeh due to inner-lens-movements) either. Exception to the rule: if you use long focal lengths, VR WILL compensate your own movements, allowing you to take pictures with longer exposure-time then normal for the focal-length ... might come handy with slow wildlife in lowlight. –  Leonidas Nov 30 '10 at 18:29
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6 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are a variety of types of lenses with VR/IS capabilities. Many of the older, first generation versions have limited stabilization capabilities, and no way to restrict stabilization to a single plane of motion.

Modern lenses with VR/IS capabilities tend to be much more advanced. They usually offer anywhere from two to a whopping four stops of hand-holdability in average circumstances. Newer lenses also tend to include a mode switch that allows you to disable stabilization in the horizontal plane, allowing you to pan the camera to capture sports or wildlife motion without stabilization interfering, while still stabilizing in the vertical plane.

Vibration reduction can be a considerable bonus with telephoto lenses when you can't afford a wide aperture. A 300mm or longer f/2.8 lens can cost a considerable amount of money, anywhere from $2000 up to several thousand for something in the range of 500mm or greater. For contrast, a Canon EF 300mm f/4 lens with Image Stabilization costs about $1200, while the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 lens (which also has IS) costs $4500. Similarly, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 lens (with VR) costs about $5,900. Sadly, I don't believe Nikon has any non f/2.8 telephoto lenses with VR, all of their VR lenses seem to already be fast f/2.8 lenses (or f/4 once you pass 400mm, which is still a very wide aperture for 500-600mm lenses.)

Another interesting comparison can be made with telephoto zoom lenses. A comparable example would be Canon's 70-200mm lens line, of which there are four current models. Two f/4's and two f/2.8's. The prices break out as follows:

       | No IS |  IS
=======================
 f/4.0 | $626  | $1200
 f/2.8 | $1200 | $2300

The 70-200/4 IS costs about the same as the 70-200/2.8 w/o IS. The f/4 IS version brings to the table a whopping 3-4 stops of additional hand-holdability, which technically makes it a better low-light lens than the f/2.8 w/o IS...by nearly two stops. With good technique, you should be able to get shots with the f/4 IS lens that you could get with an f/1.4-f/1.8 Non-IS lens, which is pretty amazing. (A good hand-held technique would be required to get the full 4-stop benefit of this particular lenses IS, but with practice, I've heard many people state that they can easily get 4 stops lower shutter speed.) I believe Nikon has very similar offerings in the 70-200mm range with VR.

Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization can be problematic in some cases. Again, modern stabilization systems are a lot more advanced, and these problems are either non-existent, or very minor. Older lenses may have some issues when making large movements, or when mounted on a tripod. A common problem with stabilization is when it is used with a tripod-mounted lens and a cable release. It generally does not kick in until the shutter is at least partially depressed. When shooting hand-held, you should press the shutter button part way to enable stabilization, frame your shot, and fully depress the shutter button when you are ready to capture the shot. In this case, since VR/IS is already active, it doesn't change your framing when you fully depress the shutter button. With a tripod and cable release, you tend to fully depress the shutter button once everything is framed and ready to go. Stabilization will kick in at the last moment, and will usually change your framing or introduce vibration or funky blurring due to its untimely activation. In these cases, it is best to disable stabilization. Modern lenses often have tripod-sensing stabilization, which will automatically disable it when it senses that it is mounted on a tripod (which is done by matching the patterns of vibration, which differ significantly when hand-held.) Even with tripod-sensing stabilization, some circumstances, such as wind, can hamper any automatic features. Generally speaking, it is best to disable stabilization when you use a tripod.

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"With good technique, you should be able to get shots with the f/4 IS lens that you could get with an f/1.4-f/1.8 Non-IS lens, which is pretty amazing." I just wanted to clarify that no amount of VR/IS will remove motion blur caused by moving objects in low light. The only solution for this (ISO being constant) is to get a lens w/a larger max aperture (f1.8 f1.4 etc). IS/VR only helps you be more steady :) –  Shizam Dec 1 '10 at 19:32
    
Well, blur caused by object motion can't be stopped by anything except flash or an extremely high shutter speed. But IS/VR is generally about achieving the lowest possible shutter speed, not high shutter speed. IS combined with flash should get you some motion-stopping even with a slow shutter, up to a point. –  jrista Dec 2 '10 at 6:33
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There are also cameras with sensor-shift VR. You can buy cheaper non-VR lenses if your camera body does the VR job. For example Sony A37 does this. Though the question asked about lenses for Nikon D200, the title of question only asked "Is a VR lens worth getting?"

One answer in How VR works? has listed more camera makers with sensor-shift.

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Well if you're like me and don't like pushing towards higher ISO count but still want sharp photos in low light conditions, don't buy anything without VR/IS. Also depends on what you'll be shooting. If you mostly shoot landscapes and architectures you can use a tripod easily and in this case you don't need IS/VR (I turn IS off while shooting landscapes). But overall, IS/VR is something very nice to have and will save you lots of trouble in cases. Try if you can get a lens with IS/VR from a friend and shoot with and without IS/VR. Things will be clear to you.

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Others have done a decent job of addressing the good and bad points so I'll provide an example instead:

alt text

Strange food but an ordinary pic, isn't it? This was taken with a Nikon D80 with the 18-200mm VRII lens--it's handheld, 1/2 second exposure time.

(What happened is that with my glasses on my eyes are too far from the camera and thus I can't see the status info below the image in the viewfinder. Without my glasses I can see it but can't read it. If my eyes would ever settle down I would get a corrective eyepiece but since I have to get new glasses every 6-8 months I haven't done this yet. I knew the light wasn't good and I hoped the lens would save the shot, I didn't realize just how bad it was until I took it.)

I also have an only slightly blurred shot with the same equipment that was handheld but braced, a 4s exposure.

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welcome to photo.SE! –  Reid Dec 1 '10 at 20:31
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Stabilization only works to counter your involuntary movements, never your subjects. So if you are shooting things in motion, it won't help you except for extremely long focals.

If you are shooting a 200mm and you need at the very least 1/1000s to freeze motorized sports, then stabilization is not needed. You'll certainly be better of buying a lens with a wider aperture. For wildlife you could use stabilization to shoot them at rest, but those pictures may arguably be less interesting.

Having VR does not cause a problem because you can turn it off. It is recommended to do so when shooting from a tripod.

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For longer (more zoom) lenses is and if your planning to use it without tripod is worth it! For street zooms, with roughly a focal length roughly below 100mm you may get away with that, but for telephoto lenses is essential.

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