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I am looking to buy a decent telephoto lens for my Nikon D3100. A 55-200mm Nikon lens costs almost Rs. 9000 ($144.67) and a Tamron 70-300mm lens costs almost $130 . The problem is that these lenses are without optical image stabilization (OIS), but other options with OIS cost almost 3 times of those without it.

How important it is to have OIS in a lens and what are the possible issues if it is not present?

  • @EsaPaulasto Some of them do need more VR when using longer focal length lenses than the amount of VR that can be provided by in body VR. – Michael C Jan 8 '14 at 8:41
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    Since the vast majority of photographs taken over the history of photography until the last decade and a half or so had no VR, I would say it is far from mandatory. – Michael C Jan 8 '14 at 8:43
  • @MichaelClark - Question title changed, so I removed my comment :) Although the ending "...for any lens?" still makes me a bit uneasy. VR in camera does not cease to work after certain focal lengths, it just becomes less effective than optical version of VR. – Esa Paulasto Jan 8 '14 at 9:49
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It's very hard to say without knowing your photography style and common usage.

I think the simplest explanation of stabilisation is "it's like having a cheap, flimsy tripod on your camera at all times... without the hassle of a tripod". It can be incredibly beneficial, and it can be useless (and a battery drain).

Personally, I shoot a lot of (non-sporting) events with people moving reasonably slowly, and static scenes, and often indoors. So for me I would not buy a telephoto lens without stabilisation, because it would be useful in almost every single shot I will take with it. At 300mm (crop sensor) I can drop my shutter speed from 1/480 (required by 1/f rule) to about 1/60 (for a stationary person). That means a much less noisy ISO of say 400 instead of 3200.

If you're using the lens primarily to shoot sport, active wildlife, or kids/pets running around, then stabilisation won't do as much. You'll likely be shooting at 1/160 or faster anyway, which isn't very far from 1/480 for 300mm (1.5 stops) and you would get no benefit from stabilisation below about 100mm anyway, because, while shooting at 1/50 may result in a nice sharp background, the person running in the image is just going to be a big blur below about 1/160.

If that's too technical, then here are some over-simplified rules to when you would likely NEED, WANT or DON'T CARE about stabilisation:

  • Active Sports — DON'T CARE
  • Anything on a tripod — DON'T CARE
  • Daytime Landscapes — DON'T CARE
  • Night-time Landscapes — DON'T CARE (you'll need a tripod anyway)
  • Outdoor day-time photography — DON'T CARE (maybe WANT)
  • Portraits — WANT
  • Bird-watching — WANT
  • Indoor events — NEED (maybe WANT)
  • Evening photography without a tripod — NEED

The downside to not having stabilisation is either excessive image noise (because you've had use ISO 6400+ to get the shot) and/or blurry photos because there just isn't enough light to let you hand-hold the lens.

Photographers have managed for decades without VR/OS/IS/etc; all it really buys is the ability to get by without a tripod for a bit longer.

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    +1 Bird-watching: WANT for birds sitting still. DON'T CARE for birds in flight, since you'll be at 1/250 or higher anyway to freeze the bird, and the VR/OS can interfere with the panning required to follow the flight. – j-g-faustus Jan 8 '14 at 19:18
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    @j-g-faustus, 100% agree, though as I said it's intentionally very simplified: if there's a mix of stationary & in-flight then it's still a WANT – drfrogsplat Jan 9 '14 at 1:17
  • Indoor events (eg a podium talk with the lights low to support projector use) tend to involve active people - these and stabilisation don't tend to go well together. However, night landscapes are within handheld reach in some cases.... – rackandboneman Apr 6 at 20:54
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It really depends what kind of situation will you be using your telephoto zoom lens in. If your usage allow you to mount your lens on a tripod/monopod, generally you do not really need the VR/VC function. But if you are going handheld most of the time with those lens, then it will probably worth the extra cost.

VR/VC is generally more useful for lens with longer focal length to remove the motion caused by hand holding or other vibrations

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It depends on the amount of zoom you are using. At the 55mm end, it isn't going to matter a whole lot, even in relatively dark conditions. Image stabilization is designed to counteract camera shake and the amount of impact that camera shake has on your images is directly dependent on two things, the focal length and the shutter speed.

If you are shooting with fast shutter speeds, you are unlikely to have camera shake issues at anything but the longest focal lengths because it can capture the image so quickly. As shutter speeds become slower, the rate of change needed to cause a blur goes down considerably. When you are using a wide angle lens, it takes very large movements to cause a major change in the image since the image is so wide, however at focal lengths like 300mm (or 200mm on a crop sensor), any small motion is going to be a major change in the image due to the very small angle of view.

So, for any photo that has both a slowish shutter speed and a long focal length, you need some kind of stabilization to deal with camera shake. It can either be use of a monopod, tripod or some other form of stabilization or it can be optical image stabilization.

Monopods, and particularly tripods have the advantage that they not only address camera shake, but also other forms of motion, but they are also large and bulky and tripods are difficult to move when used properly.

Image stabilization on the other hand is much more limited in what it can deal with, but it is built in to the lens and can be with you all the time with no real impact on the usability or mobility of the camera. It's main limitation is that it can cause lag in movement because when you intend to move the camera, it will counteract it briefly. This can make it unsuitable for shooting anything moving quickly unless it has a special mode for that kind of situation.

It is really up to the preference of the photographer which they prefer. In cases where shutter speed is quick and/or focal length is not particularly long, there isn't much need for stabilization in general. When shooting from a stationary position where you can setup, a tripod is generally a better option. When photographing rapidly moving subjects, chances are good a tripod will be preferable. Other than that, it's a trade off of ease of use vs cost. There isn't a right answer, though personally I think it is worth adding up to 40% on the cost of the lens or $150, whichever is more, at least for general usefulness. Adjust that based on how often you expect to fit the use cases that image stabilization helps for.

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You don't need it at all. At wide angle settings you should be able to handhold at very low speeds, at longer focal lengths you can still hand hold with wider aperture settings in daylight or you can use flash indoors. Where low light prevents hand holding you can then use a monopod or tripod, each of which encourages good practice standards in photography whereas OS encourages laziness. Bear in mind OS only allows hand holding at maybe 2 stops less than otherwise would be possible whereas with a tripod you open the shutter for minutes if necessary. A tripod is the only absolute option where sharpness is concerned so if absolute quality is what you want, then use a tripod. Also, OS doesn't help where blur is caused by subject movement, it only helps prevent against camera shake.

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