Image Stabilization on a Tripod Under Ideal Conditions

A great amount of digital ink has been spilled debating whether or not image stabilization mechanisms should be turned off while the camera is on a tripod.  There is good reason for skepticism of stabilization while the camera is stationary.  The sensors used to detect camera motion are not perfect;  they contain some level of noise.  In theory, this noise could be interpreted by the camera as movement, and it would try to compensate for motion that isn’t actually there, thus blurring an image.  The logic therefore is that its better to be safe than sorry, and just turn stabilization off.   On the other hand, the camera is still susceptible to movement while on a tripod, as no camera support is infinitely stiff.  In theory, stabilization can help compensate for any movement that arises.  The logic is then that its better to be safe than sorry, and leave stabilization on.

In this post, I want to address just one piece of this conundrum.  When using a camera on a tripod under absolutely ideal conditions, is it possible to see any reduction in sharpness when having stabilization on.  If there is a downside to leaving stabilization on when using a tripod, we should find it here.  I am going to use the most stable support in my arsenal, the Gitzo GT5533LS and Feisol CB-70D.  This is way overkill for the Fuji X series cameras I will be using for the test.  This leads us to a caveat.  Each camera manufacturer implements stabilization differently in terms of both hardware and algorithms.  The results here only truly apply to Fuji X cameras.

I am using the following procedure:  Manual focus, then stop down to f/4.  Take five raw images at each shutter speed of the MTFmapper test chart.  Use five different shutter speeds with two stops between each.  Load raw images directly into MTFmapper.  Average the edge resolution from each image, and report it.  Note that previously I ported the images through lightroom first, which applies default sharpening.  The raw file has no such sharpening, so cycles/pixel will appear lower here compared to previous posts.

First up is a test of the IBIS system on the Fuji X-H1 using the Rokinon 85mm 1.8.  Shutter is set to EFCS.  The sharpness with IBIS on/off is shown below:

There appear to be fewer green dots only because they have mostly been covered up by the red ones.  The MTF results are damn near identical with IBIS on/off.  There is no detectable downside here to leaving IBIS on.

Next up is the Fuji X-T2 (which lacks IBIS) with the 50-140mm OIS lens.  In this case I set the shutter to mechanical.  This is because the X-T2 does not have EFCS, only ES.  This might tell us if OIS helps with mechanical shutter shock as well.

Again, the results with OIS on/off are identical.  I don’t see any effects of shutter shock in this case, nor any degradation due to having OIS on.

This test shows no downside to keeping stabilization on while the camera is on a tripod.  It doesn’t show any upside either, though that isn’t surprising due to the tripod in question.  It is possible that Fuji is using a tripod detection algorithm and changing the stabilization behavior accordingly.  Either way though, leaving the stabilization setting ‘on’ appears to have no effect on the on tripod image sharpness.

The next step is clearly to find if there are any upsides to keeping stabilization on.  There almost certainly are, when the tripod isn’t stiff enough to compensate for wind or other external forces.  This also raises the question of what the highest frequency that stabilization will work is.  The stiffness of a tripod could potentially allow the camera to oscillate at a much higher frequency than a handheld camera would.  Always more questions …

8 thoughts on “Image Stabilization on a Tripod Under Ideal Conditions

  1. Are you going to try lowering the
    resonant frequency by attaching your
    test weight bar in addition to the

    1. I am. I’ve been experimenting around with this a little bit and should hopefully take some data soon. I currently have it set up to oscillate at 10hz, and the IBIS appears to be cancelling the vibration perfectly at that frequency.

  2. Thanks for doing this. The argument for turning ibis off made sense to me, but I worried that I would forget to
    turn it off. Now I won’t worry.

    Peace of mind is such a nice gift. Thanks!

  3. I’ve always turned OIS off on my Fuji lenses
    when on a tripod, it’s interesting to see that y
    our results show that you don’t necessarily n
    eed to. With my new Fuji 16-80 f/4, the manu
    al specifically states not to turn OIS off on a tr
    ipod as it can adjust itself. I’ve noticed though
    that for longer exposures (seems to be more
    than 1 second) leaving the OIS on with this l
    ens actually introduces blur when on a tripod.
    I’d be interested to see your testing for that l
    ens specifically.

    1. Yeah, I haven’t tested for longer exposure times longer than 1 second, but I probably should at some point. That is where leaving stabilization on will likely cause the biggest problems.

  4. David, thanks for putting this together. Sometimes difficult in a world of internet influencers to find some actual
    facts! I actually just shot from a small bridge in an area with a lot of heavy truck traffic last night and forgot to
    turn stabilization off on my X-H1 with 60 2.4 lens attached. My 3 second exposures looked better than I
    expected them to.

  5. Thank you a lot for this very informative site based on scientific findings, experiments and
    very good explanations!

    I appreciate this enormously because I am not searching for religious sites, but the more
    and more rare and objective ones like yours.

    I would like to know if one could transfer your findings about the OIS 1:1 on the real use of
    IBIS or OIS plus IBIS on tripods?

    Seems to be logic, but OIS is not the same as the even newer techniques of IBIS…

    One more question:
    Shooting on a tripod on a highly frequented bridge or besides a train line is difficult – maybe
    this could be easier using OIS/IBIS because this type of vibration is a mostly constant type
    of vibrations and its spectrum is relatively narrow ?


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