I wonder how many photographers—digital natives especially but not exclusively—actually run their own tests on their own equipment any more. In Ye Olden Daze it was sort of a given that you'd run tests as needed, or as time allowed...I actually kept a notebook with notes about various tests I'd run on my materials and equipment. It wasn't exhaustive and it wasn't exactly done for "fun" (although sometimes it could be engagingly interesting); it was just a way to keep on top of your technique and continue to understand your materials better. Sometimes, test would uncover problems, necessitating further tests, until you had "chased down" whatever the problem or discrepancy was.
Carl in particular is great about running tests with his own materials and methods; he has a number of standard tests that he's worked out over the years. He's by no means an ordinary photographer, though.
I just don't know if this is a "thing" any more. As in, a thing most people regularly do.
Anyway, I was bored tonight and realized I'd never actually tested the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) of the Olympus OM-D E-M1. So I designed a quick trial just so I could take a look for myself and see how it was doing its job, in my own hands.
Here's the setup—my office as I look to the right from my desk:
Note that I placed the knob of the right-hand drawer more or less in the center of the frame.
In every case I pre-focused, using 10X view to confirm.
First, I braced the camera solidly on the desk and took three shots:
All three crisp, as you might expect.
Also in all these cases, the shutter speed is set to 1/20th sec.
Next, I tried handholding, with IBIS turned on but with good handling technique:
Not quite as crisp, but good.
After that, the acid test. I held the camera with one hand, away from my face, and tried to "tremble," as if I suffered from a tremor, and took three shots:
The third one is a tad soft, but I was surprised at how well the Oly's IBIS performed.
Lastly, because I'm really only interested in how this compares to what I can do without it, I turned the IBIS off and tried my best to handhold three shots steadily:
I was pleased that I did almost as well with the IBIS off as with it on, at 1/focal length (I used the 20mm lens). (That third shot's a little iffy.) But I was really impressed with how well the camera coped with my unsteady hold and deliberate shaking—slightly better than the best I could do without it.
A bit too late I realized I'd shot the first set, the one with the camera braced on the desktop as a lazy man's tripod (the tripod's upstairs in the car)—with the IBIS on. So I ran one more quick test with the camera braced on the desk but with the IBIS turned off:
(I had the exposure set slightly differently which is why the color changed a tad...I could redo it, but see comments above about laziness). I can't tell much difference in the "tripod" shots between IBIS-on and IBIS-off, but maybe your eyes are better than mine. Seems like it's below the threshold of something I'd worry about.
One of the big advantages of running your own tests (or trials as I call 'em) is that it helps settle things in your own mind. You don't have to take things on faith, or on anyone else's word (although we all have reviewers we trust). I'm personally convinced that, for me, one of the real advantages of IS is that is relaxes me, and being relaxed lets me hold the camera steadier. That contention isn't in evidence here. The bottom line, however, is that I've come to trust the E-M1's IBIS, and I think I'm right to do so. Nothing in this trial that gave me cause for concern...or any reason for further trials, either.
UPDATE: Following the spirit of Gerry's methodology (see his comment below), I did two more series: three shots each at 1/20th, 1/10th, 1/4th, and 1/2 sec., with IBIS turned off, and the identical series with IBIS turned on.
With just me steadying the camera, two out of three of the 1/10th shots were dead sharp and the last was acceptably sharp. However none of the 1/4th or 1/2 sec. shots were acceptably sharp.
With IBIS turned on, all three of the 1/10th shots were dead sharp, all three of the 1/4th shots were dead sharp, and all three of the 1/2 shots were acceptably sharp.
Allowing for Kentucky windage, I would say that I can, with that lens on the E-M1, handhold a shutter speed of 1/10 sec. 50% of the time, and nothing below that; but with IBIS I can use 1/4 sec. with reasonable assurance and 1/2 sec. in a pinch. Good to know.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Peter: "You didn't use an 'approved' knob, so this test is not valid."
Mike replies: I knew there was a reason.
Gerry Winterbourne: "When Pentax put SR [shake reduction —Ed.] into its bodies, I tested a few generations. My method was slightly different from yours: without SR I adjusted shutter speed until about four out of five shots were unblurred; switched SR on and reduced shutter speed until the same happened. In other words, I found the best I could do both without and with SR. I did this for each lens I owned, at various focal lengths. I repeated the routine in reverse to eliminate the effect of fatigue. With the K10D I got two to three stops, increasing until the K-5 with about four, sometimes five. I don't think I'll bother with my K-3."
Colin Work: "IS effectiveness is a test I always perform with every new lens—I want in my head a 'safety speed' before I actually need to use it in anger.
"Just ran some tests with my new 40–150mm on the Oly EM-1. At 150mm, if I'm careful, I can get two out of three sharp shots at 1/15th, one out of three at 1/8th. This compares favourably to what I could achieve with Canon's in-lens IS...and a little surprising as conventional wisdom (and my gut feeling) is that in-lens IS is more effective at longer focal lengths than in-body IS."
Robert Roaldi: "When are we going to get predictive IBIS? You know, the camera learns how much you shake and in which direction and by how much depending on time of day, temperature, etc. Maybe there could be a dedicated 'coffee' button to tell it that you recently had a cup, so it could compensate. Just a matter of time, I figure."
Mike replies: You jest, but Cartier-Bresson claimed that he refrained from coffee (as well as got to bed early) to help him hold slow shutter speeds steadily. And his ability to do so was one of his many "secret weapons" as a shooter, allowing him to out-do some of his contemporaries.