IS On or Off? And More On Image Stabilization « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

IS On or Off? And More On Image Stabilization

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This image of a Blue-footed Booby preening on the nest was created with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens (handheld at 90mm) with the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/250 sec. at f/2.8 in Av Mode.

Lens/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: 0.

I manually selected a lower left sensor that fell on the bird’s neck on what I judged to be on the same plane as the bird’s eye. Image Stabilization was on and set to IS Mode 2.

IS On or Off?

Despite the fact that the requested information is on Page 2 of The Art of Bird Photography II, I often receive e-mails that go something like this: “I heard on line that you should turn IS off when you are working on a tripod with a big lens. Is that true?”

Here, adapted from what I wrote on page 2 of ABP II, is what I have to say on the matter:

The current super-telephoto lenses lenses (the 300 & 400 f/2.8L IS and the 500 & 600 f/4L IS) feature a tripod-sensing IS system that eliminates the vibration
caused by both equipment shake and by mirror slap. Despite contradictory statements both on line and in many editions of the lens instructions, the IS switch on these lenses should be set at the “On” position at ll times, even when the lens is mounted on a tripod. (The same will be true when the Series II lenses are released.)

The next e-mail usually says, “OK. I believe you. I will keep IS on with my big lens on a tripod. Should I be in IS Mode 1 or IS Mode 2?”

To this I again reply with info adapted from Page 2 of ABP II.

With the four current super-telephotos it is best to set IS Mode 2 for all applications. Why? Because with these lenses IS Mode 2 performs exactly the same as IS Mode 1 when the lens is mounted on a tripod.

With all of the intermediate telephoto IS lenses (including but not limited to all of the 70-200mm IS lenses, the 300 f/4, and the 100-400mm) it is advised by the manufacturer (and just about everyone else) that IS be turned off when using lenses in this class on a tripod. When I do use these lenses on a tripod, I always leave IS on (set to Mode 2). Why do I disregard the manufacturer’s advise? In all the years I have been working with intermediate telephoto lenses with IS Mode 2 on, I have had only a single frame (film actually) that was affected by the IS system. The lens elements shifted during the exposure. The result was a very pleasingly blurred image. Having to remember to turn IS off and then on again while hand holding is far too great a price to pay for me. I believe that simpler is better.

More On Image Stabilization

Whether on a tripod or hand holding, Image Stabilization will help photographers using sloppy sharpness techniques to make sharper images but those photographers employing excellent sharpness techniques will be able to push the envelope much further than their sloppy, careless counterparts. (See Advanced Sharpness Techniques in Chapter VI of ABP II.

Item last. When working with the intermediate telephoto lenses and zoom lenses like those mentioned above it is recommended that IS Mode 1 should be set when photographing static subjects and that IS Mode 2 be set when panning with moving subjects. I sometimes remember to do this when hand holding but for the most part I simply set IS Mode2 and let it fly (as in the featured image here).

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the image in today’s post. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free educational information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

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Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Man, I am loving this lens on my shoulder with the 2X III teleconverter. I also use it a lot with the 1.4X III TC.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.

Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. These high capacity cards are fast and dependable. Clicking on the link below will bring you to the Delkin web site. There is lots of great stuff there. If you see a product that we do not carry let us know via e-mail; we will be glad to have it drop-shipped to you and save you a few bucks in the process.

I pack my 800 and tons of other gear in my ThinkTank Airport SecurityTM V2.0 rolling bag for all of my air travel and recommend the slightly smaller Airport InternationalTM V2.0 for most folks. These high capacity bags are well constructed and protect my gear when I have to gate check it on short-hops and puddle jumpers. Each will protect your gear just as well. By clicking on either link or the logo below, you will receive a free gift with each order over $50.

10 comments to IS On or Off? And More On Image Stabilization

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Those who would like to learn more about this topic are invited to check out my BPN post here.

  • Good reminder. Sometimes my IS is accidentally turned off (usually when sliding the lens on a Blubb (which also sometimes shifts my setting from Auto Focus to Manual). Because I’m leaving the IS on all the time, tripod mounted or not, I’m more quick to realize when things are just a little too quiet so I don’t shoot too many frames before I realize IS is off. I have found IS is invaluable, on any size lens.

    Also, you’re the first (only) pro who has been able to answer the question of what’s the difference between IS Mode 1 and IS Mode 2. Thanks.

  • Recently I was using my 400mm f5.6L on a pelagic trip and I noticed everyone else on board seemed to be using stabilised lenses. I have the impression stabilisation wouldn’t be all that much help in that situation because you need to keep shutter speeds high when both you and the subject are bouncing around. Do you agree?

  • Awesome post! Thanks for the info.
    I usually disable IS on tripod with my 70-200 II, but I will start leaving it on 🙂

  • Alan Lillich

    Interesting tip, leaving IS on and in mode 2 as the best overall compromise. Yes, I’m simplifying the mode 1 for hand held static subject case because I’ll often forget to make the switch. The facts of the results you get speak for themselves. I can hear the motorboats starting to roar: but, but, but, …

  • Tim Padden

    Thanks Artie. I have used the DO that way (forgetting to shut it off as the manual indicates on T pod that is the recommended setting) and it worked fine also. As you say the risk of leaving it off when not on the T Pod is greater than any risk having it on.

    I should have put this in the post: it is my belief that there is enough movement of the equipment with long lenses that leaving IS on while on a tripod is a benefit. artie

  • Great post – answered all my questions!

  • Granville

    Hi. The only time I have found it necessary to turn the IS off when the camera is on a tripod is when I have been shooting products in my studio. If I leave the IS on what happens is that the image I have framed carefully shifts slightly as I release the shutter, sometimes enough to affect the composition adversely. Otherwise I leave IS on for all situations.

    I can live with that. artie

  • Tim Padden

    How about the Canon 400mm DO lens on a tripod—IS on or off? Thanks

    I am not sure what is recommended but I left IS Mode 2 on all the time and always had good results. artie

  • Just checked the lens and found it set on IS Mode 1. ; (