Why do you need image stabilization in smartphones and cameras? To get a clear picture, both the subject and the camera must be firmly fixed. And if there are no problems with the object (of course, if it is not a child or an active animal to whom you cannot explain the shooting rules), then it is more difficult with the gadget itself.
If you shoot in good weather from a short distance, the shutter speed on the device will be quite short.
When you hold a smartphone or camera in your hand, at a focal length of 50 mm and a shutter speed slower than 1/60 s, “blur”, that is, the image will be blurry, may occur. With an increase in focal length, the shutter speed requirements also increase: for example, it is better to shoot at 100 mm from your hand at 1/100 s or shorter.
And if there is no way to use a short shutter speed? For example, you are shooting on a cloudy day and there is not much light. It’s good when there is a tripod or at least a fixed element where you can put the gadget (for example, a granite parapet). But if you still have to shoot with your hands, the stabilization system comes to the rescue. Its task is to compensate for the shaking of your hand.
Optical and digital zoom: how do they differ?
Stabilization: external and built-in
Stabilization is divided into active and passive. The first includes all kinds of suspensions, steadicams and other devices that stabilize the camera in space. Such accessories are now used not only by professionals, but by everyone in a row – there are enough stabilizers from many brands on sale, designed for a wide variety of wallets. Another thing is that you need to be able to use all this, and passive stabilization does not require any special knowledge.
Passive stabilization is already built into the camera itself and works either on the principle of optical image stabilization (Optical Image Stabilizer, OIS), or on the principle of digital image stabilization (Electronic Image Stabilizer or Digital Image Stabilizer, EIS or DIS). Both solutions are used in modern smartphones, but how do they differ and which one is better?
Optical stabilization: pure mechanics
The general task of stabilizers is to make the final image clear, but systems achieve this in different ways. OIS, which appeared earlier, is a whole complex: a stabilizing element of the lens, capable of moving vertically and horizontally, with the help of electric drives “manoeuvres” according to commands from gyroscopic sensors in order to fully compensate for camera movements in the projection of the image on film or matrix of digital cameras.
Later, a system appeared in which movements were compensated already with the help of a movable matrix inside the camera body – this allowed the use of interchangeable lenses, albeit at the cost of slightly less efficiency. But you can notice this only in very difficult shooting conditions.
Optical stabilization systems eventually appeared in smartphones. Not so long ago, we tested the vivo X60 Pro, which uses just such a system. You can watch the video to see how it works.
Digital stabilization: software solution
Digital stabilization also combats fuzzy images, but does so without mechanical “assistance”. With EIS, some of the pixels of the camera’s matrix do not form an image, but work as a reserve – when moving, the processor understands that the image will be blurry and uses these “spare” pixels to compensate for the losses. As a result, the frames are clear, but often of lower quality than the same image taken using an optical stabilization device. At the same time, the implementation of such a solution requires less cost, and therefore digital stabilization is often found in budget devices.
Flagship smartphones usually have a combination stabilization system in which OIS is complemented by EIS. This allows you to achieve the highest quality image, although, for example, Google uses only digital stabilization in its Pixel line – the company’s software is of high quality, and it makes it possible to take very good shots. Another thing is budget devices, the creators of which save on components, and as a result it turns out that the camera components themselves are not the best, besides, weak hardware does not allow implementing the highest quality EIS algorithms, so the output is photos that are tear-free can only be viewed on the screen of the same smartphone.
Optical or digital stabilization: which is better?
So in the end, which one is better? Definitely optical. But it is not so easy to implement it – especially in compact smartphone lenses. Therefore, such systems are used mainly in expensive gadgets. For example, in most models from our selection of the best camera phones of 2021.
Digital stabilization is an “economy option”. Better than none, but not as effective as optical. These are usually found in mid-range smartphones.