I have a Canon SX210 IS. With CHDK, I usually take photos of more than 10 minutes at night (using tripod of course). I read somewhere it is recommended to turn off the mechanical image stabilization system on point and shoot cameras.

I don't see the point of doing that (because the cameras is still), but I guess there must be something related to unwanted actuations of the IS system.

Do you know something about this? Thanks!


Thanks for the responses. I noticed that if I turn off the LCD using the shortcut button, and then I move the camera (so the sensors detect movement), the screen backlight goes back on. I think that shake (not small) could be the minimal motion to activate the IS system. I can also be wrong, but if that is true, there is no need to turn it off.

7 Answers 7


There is no point in IS if your camera is mounted on tripod anyway, unless your tripod is placed on moving/vibrating surface. Some cameras even automatically disable IS if they detect being mounted on tripod - as you correctly stated this is to avoid false activations of the system.

  • How do they detect that? A movement reduction or a switch in the end of the tripod hole? If the first, I think the IS system can still be activated by a vibration.
    – tomm89
    Jan 29, 2011 at 16:25
  • They disable it by watching a motion sensor to see if there is enough vibration to trigger the IS counter-movement. If nothing happens after a set interval the code would have a pretty good idea the camera was not being hand-held. It is impossible for a human to not move; Even when we hold as still as possible our heart beat still causes minor movements. That's part of the challenge of shooting long-lenses without a tripod, and why they developed IS.
    – Greg
    Jan 29, 2011 at 19:27

On older IS lenses, the recommendation was to turn it off. On newer IS lenses, the IS can detect it's on a tripod and resolve the shake problem that can happen when the IS gyros feed back on themselves, but it takes some time for this recognition to happen, so I still prefer to just turn it off. But according to Canon, it's not strictly necessary any more. But probably a good idea...

(reference: http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/education/technical/image_stabilization_lenses.do)

  • But if you are using IS + tripod, you must remember that you are using IS. Even if you are using manual focus and manual exposure, you can't just quickly press the shutter button at the right moment. You must first half-press the button; then you must wait a bit (one second? two?) until the IS does its tricks and finally detects that you are on a tripod; and only after that you can take the picture. If you shoot with IS + tripod but think that you are shooting without IS, you may fairly easily ruin your pictures if you are too quick. Jan 29, 2011 at 11:06
  • > (one second? two?) About one-half second, usually. On Canon, at least.
    – Staale S
    Jan 31, 2011 at 1:08

On a SLR with an IS lens mounted on a tripod, the IS reportedly will hunt, leading to blur.

I never saw the point in leaving the IS on when I had my gear on the tripod, since the tripod itself was going to do all the stabilization I needed. Having the motor run at all seemed like needless wear and tear.

A Canon SX210 is a much smaller, and lighter, camera in comparison, so if you have a reasonably decent tripod I doubt you'll gain anything from the IS being on. IS in the non-SLR lenses doesn't work the same way so wear and tear probably isn't much concern, but the potential for any added vibration from hunting would make me turn it off.

The simple answer is to try it with IS, and without, pull the images into your computer, zoom into some area with a lot of detail, and see if there is a noticeable difference. A good detail target is to tape a sheet of newspaper to the wall, and shoot it from five or ten feet away. Set up the conditions to force a multi-second exposure on your tripod and see what you get.

  • 1
    AFAIK, Canon's optical IS works just the same for P&S as for SLR's. Most, if not all of Canon's P&S "IS" models are optical.
    – ysap
    Jan 29, 2011 at 12:55
  • @ysap I don't know the others, but the one in the SX210 is optical.
    – tomm89
    Jan 29, 2011 at 16:22
  • Good answer, I'll try that later.
    – tomm89
    Jan 29, 2011 at 16:23
  • My comment was referring more to the physical size difference between IS mechanisms in a SLR lens and a P&S, especially something like a 70-200f2.8L IS. The pro lenses are more complicated due to the larger size and greater mass of the elements, have bigger motors and are more noticeable when they actuate. You can physically feel the lens adjust when it spins up, then feel the lens counter the movement. All the way around it's beefier.
    – Greg
    Jan 29, 2011 at 19:35

In simple terms,

  • For long exposures, you need a tripod.

  • It doesn't make sense to use IS on a tripod.

Why is it best to turn if off?

Well, for image stabilisation to work it needs to detect, at high speed, fine rotational movements. However no such detection is ever 100% accurate - there's always an error margin which translates to very fine, low level movements. This never matters in normal situations where you'd use it, because in reality holding the camera by hand at 1/250th or slower will always generate far, far more movement than any inaccuracy of the image stabilisation system. So it's a net gain.

When the camera is locked down completely with a tripod, however, then there should be no movement of the camera. So not only is IS not needed, but you wouldn't want the inaccuracy of its rotational detection system to generate tiny movements at all. Even though any motion will be less than hand-holding at a normal shutter speed, if you had the ability to have less chance of blur, you'd take it wouldn't you?

Some cameras are smart enough to detect they're likely on a tripod and won't move the IS system, just like some cameras will automatically turn off IS for shutter speeds of 1/500 and faster. But it's kind of hard to find out this information about any particular lens or body.

  • It's likely that my camera doesn't even care about deactivating the IS system if it is on. Just think, that camera is so not pro that if the LCD backlight turns off (after a selected time), settings like manual zoom just reset!
    – tomm89
    Feb 1, 2011 at 19:52

I know it's an old thread, but I like to add visually here. So I tested this with my Canon SX110 IS (I'm not really a professional photographer, I only have a compact camera ;). Shutter speed is 64 seconds (CHDK). First image is with IS, the second is without IS. Both are cropped to show a detail.

A car with IS, 64 seconds A car without IS, 64 seconds

Considering the sharpness of the second picture I believe I can attribute the blur to IS, although it was also a bit windy.


My feeling is that IS work very good but it's never 100% effective. So having IS turned on the image still blur a bit, much much less than if you turn it off but still it's not perfectly still. So if you mount the camera on a tripod, that is supposed to be perfectly still, having IS on could potentially slightly blur the image.

Said that, I tried on purpose and the differences very almost invisible with a Nikon 70-300 VR


Turn of all Optical or Digital stabilization for any long exposure work. True, some systems are sensitive enough to turn off automatically when mounted to a tripod i.e. most canon DSLRs, but if you're going to be shooting long exposures, you're still better to turn it off so it doesn't have to go through the detection step. you're images will be sharper and your battery alive longer with it off.

  • How "most Canon DSLRs"? AFAIK, the IS is in the lens and not in the body, and the majority of the stabilized lenses have IS of the older type that is not tripod-aware.
    – ysap
    Jan 31, 2011 at 0:10
  • I'm already using it with the IS deactivated. The battery lasts much longer. And I don't know what that has to do with this, but the camera also processes long exposure images way faster.
    – tomm89
    Jan 31, 2011 at 0:50
  • ysap - yeah, it does depend more on the lens paired with it, but these days most sense the tripod. though, some of the new ones supposedly sense it and stay on in an less active mode. still, if you need IS turn it on, if you don't, turn it off.
    – Zeb
    Feb 5, 2011 at 23:52

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