Ever wonder if you really need vibration reduction? We’re here to explain it all!

Whether you are a Nikon or Canon photographer you are likely familiar with the terms “Vibration Reduction”  (VR) or “Image Stabilization” (IS). You have likely seen when searching for lenses to add to your ever growing wish list. The major difference can often be price, with lenses having this feature often being much more expensive. We’re here to explain what exactly vibration reduction is and if you actually need it!

What is Vibration Reduction?

Vibration Reduction (Nikon) and Image Stabilization (Canon) is the name of a technology that helps stabilize the lens movement associated from hand shake. These stabilizers help eliminate blurry photos resulting from hand shake or if you’re shutter speed is too slow. It counter-balances motion, just like noise cancelling headsets counters noise.

Does Vibration Reduction Work?

Yes.  It works and it works great, when it is needed.  Typically you will only find vibration reduction or image stabilization as an available option on zoom or macro lenses.  The reason why is simply most fixed focal length prime lenses have a wide enough aperture (1.8, 1.4, 1.2), that vibration reduction wouldn’t be needed. At those wide apertures, you can often get more than enough light through the lens and have a fast enough shutter speed that prevents blurry photos.   According to Nikon, vibration reduction can provide a 4 stops slower shutter speed than a lens without vibration reduction and still yield a tack sharp image.  In most cases, Nikon is correct.  I can attest that vibration reduction works and works well, allowing me to take extremely slow shutter speed shots hand held that are still tack sharp.

When do I use Vibration Reduction?

Vibration reduction and image stabilization really comes to life and “saves you” when you are photographing any stationary object / subject that requires an extremely slow shutter speed that without vibration reduction would certainly require use of a tripod.

Real world common examples for me include landscape photography when I want a lot of depth of field and use a narrow aperture. This lets in less light and also nighttime landscape work, especially when just “on the go” and not carrying a tripod along.  Most of our work is wedding photography, and vibration reduction is an absolute must when doing ring shots with our macro lens and also during any indoor church ceremony using the big and heavy Nikon 70-200 f/2.8.  It is not uncommon at all for me to shoot as low as 1/30th or 1/15th of a second with either of these lenses and still get sharp images.  Without vibration reduction, even the most stable of hand held shooting would still warrant at least a 1/100th or even 1/200th shutter speed.

What is vibration reduction

The photo above was taken in Paris, France with my Nikon 16-35 at only 1/2 of a second shutter speed handheld without a tripod!  Without VR this wouldn’t have been possible.

What is Vibration Reduction_0002

The Nikon 105 f/2.8 Macro was used for this ring shot at 1/50th of a second, handheld. 

Which lenses do I use that benefit the most from Vibration Reduction?

The three lenses that vibration reduction really helps to have for our wedding photography work is the Nikon 105 f/2.8 Macro, Nikon 16-35 f/4 and the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8.  What and when do we use these lenses for during the wedding day?

Nikon 105 f/2.8 Macro 

Rings and other detail shots.  For the ring shots, we are often shooting anywhere from f/8 to f/16 where without the vibration reduction we wouldn’t have a chance of a shot without a tripod.  For my review of the 105 macro click here.

Nikon 16-35 f/4

I like to add variety to the wedding day with this lens by incorporating more “scene” type shots during the evening/nighttime showcasing the venue and reception.

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8

We pretty much only use this lens during the ceremony as we prefer our prime lenses for portraits.  We use this when the ceremony is in a dark church or if we are using during reception for speeches with dim lighting. In these situations, having vibration reduction is a lifesaver for this lens.

What is Vibration Reduction_0001

The 70-200 f/2.8 VRII lens was used to capture this quick moment.  I was zoomed all the way to 200mm and only able to get 1/40th of a second in this dark church at ISO 2500.  Another instance where without VR you will be left with nothing but blurry photos.

When will Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization NOT work?

The biggest key to remember about any image stabilization technology is that it works great when you need to prevent blurry photos related to slow shutter speeds and hand shake.  However, it doesn’t help you in any way from blurry photos related to motion blur, or subjects that are moving.  In other words, I may be able to get a sharp photo during a church ceremony with the 70-200 at 200mm and 1/40th of a second when the bride and groom are standing at the altar. However, as soon as they are walking back down the aisle at me, there is no way 1/40th will be fast enough (without using flash) to prevent a blurry photo.

Note that vibration reduction and image stabilization will actually cause blur if using a tripod while having image stabilization set to “on.” Make sure to double check before every session!

Cole’s Conclusion

Vibration reduction is one of those things that when you need it you really need it.  Whether you ever truly have a need for it is largely dependent upon what type of photography you shoot most and love to do.  With wedding photography, we are often in dimly lit indoor rooms. In these cases having too slow of a shutter speed can be the difference between capturing an awesome moment and not and for that reason alone. If you use any type of telephoto zoom in your wedding work, I highly recommend using a lens that has vibration reduction or image stabilization.