Once again, my affection for IS (image stabilization, as a generic term) is proving controversial to some. Also once again, I need to explain that when I say I like something, I'm not necessarily saying it's good for everybody. I'm just saying it works for me.
Although I comment on many types of photography and many types of tools, I'm still me. That is, I'm still just one photographer. And over the years, my visual interests and tastes have led me into doing certain kinds of photography—the kinds that happen to appeal to me and make sense given my aims and abilities and interests.
Of course, we're all different in that regard. We all have different interests and aims. Stephen Scharf, who commented somewhat critically on my IS fixation in the "Camera News" thread, is a motorsports photographer who obviously does gorgeous work with very long telephotos. He doesn't care for IS. That's fine. But then, I don't care for telephotos. I can't figure out what to do with 'em. Personally, the longest telephoto I've owned in many years is the 75mm reach of my current zoom, which on an APS-C sensor is the equivalent of a 112mm lens on a 35mm camera. Long, huh? Stands to reason that it wouldn't serve Stephen very well (although he comments further on this issue in the thread).
Similarly, I don't do macro work. Don't own a macro lens. Many people love closeup pictures and would be lost without their macro lens. And those people might also care about lens bokeh—the way the lens renders out-of-focus areas. Why? Well, because you get a lot of that when you're doing closeups. But some landscape photographers never see out of focus areas in their pictures. Everything's always middle-distant or farther, the camera's always on a tripod stopped well down. Everything's always sharp, everywhere. Why should they care about bokeh? I can't see why they would.
Recently, a lot has been made of the fast exposure rates and deep buffer depths of some of the new cameras. Michael Reichmann writes of the Canon 40D, "The big news for many will be the high speed shooting capability of the 40D; 6.5 FPS with a claimed 75 frame JPG buffer, and a 17 frame buffer for raw files...This is exceptional performance, and sports and wildlife photographers will likely flock to this camera because of its high speed capabilities." But that might not have interested Walker Evans, who could shoot for a whole day and come home with six sheets of exposed film...on a good day. Indeed, it doesn't interest me either. I never put the camera on "continuous" and hold the shutter button down. That's not to say sports and wildlife photographers don't. They don't need to feel the same way I do, right? I don't need to feel the same way they do, either.
It all depends on what we shoot.
So when I say I love IS, that's not code. I'm not saying IS is all-important. I'm not saying everyone should care about it. I'm not saying it's something you ought to have. (Only you can decide that.) I'm not saying everyone would even find it useful—I'm sure photographers exist who would never find it useful. When I say I love IS, all I'm really saying is that I love IS. That is, just me, just one photographer, because of what I happen to use cameras for.
I don't show many of my pictures on this website, but many of the pictures I do show—a quarter, maybe?—illustrate perfectly well the situations in which I shoot. Take a look back to this, the other day, or this (the picture all the way at the bottom). I think both shots benefited from IS.
Now take a look at this picture, taken at dusk in murky light:
Or these two (above and below), both 1/30th @ ƒ/2 (sorry about the color, I'm just grabbin' these off the hard drive)...
None of the above pictures were taken with any sort of IS. They all go way back to my second digital camera, a Sony F-707. (At 400% they have really freaky image noise that I totally dig.) Now here's one that goes back to my first little digicam—the EXIF says 1/30th @ ƒ/2.3:
(Depth-of-field is wow-wee for such a wide aperture, which is why I was once so enthusiastic about tiny sensors.)
And this next one goes back even further, to film. It was taken with a Nikon N8008 and AF-Nikkor 35mm ƒ/2, on Kodak P3200 at E.I. 1000 (with, I'll admit, a little puff of bounce flash off the ceiling):
So what does this all prove? Why show a bunch of snaps that have nothing to do with IS?
The point is just that this has always been the type of thing I shoot, with IS or without it. All through the years I've been a photographer, I've pushed against low light—always worrying about slow shutter speeds, always finding the borderline aperture that just barely holds sharpness (you can't tell from this little JPEG, but my brother Scott, in the plaid shirt at the left in the picture above, is soft—out of the d.o.f.—in the print), always finding something or other to brace the camera against. It's just where I live, is all.
That's why IS helps me. Since I'm often right at the raggedy edge anyway, an extra stop or two feels like a real boon.
It also increases my confidence. I try things with IS backing me up that I might not have tried without it.
Below are the two pictures I usually use to illustrate the benefits of IS (to me). (You might recognize these shots from the old website—I've used them as examples before.) The first one was taken at 1/30th with the lens wide open. Now, I think IS helped here, but I might have been all right without it. One-thirtieth of a second isn't that hard to hand-hold successfully. And I could have gone from ISO 400 to ISO 800, that is if I had thought about it.
This second picture isn't sharp, but it's certainly sharp enough (see inset, enlarged from the RAW file with no post-processing). It was taken, literally, by the light of two candles. The lens was wide open, and the shutter speed was 1/3rd of a second. I had my elbows braced on the table. Now, it's true that in the first picture I might have gotten away with handholding a 30th without any help. But I've been at this a lot of years now, and I know myself, and I can tell you for certain that there's no way I could shoot at a third of a second, even with my elbows braced, without help from IS.
So that's why I like it.
But that's me. It's not for you, or others, until you, or they, decide it is. I'm cool with that.