Stabilization. A term that, before a handful of years ago meant “tripod,” or physical bracing technique, has grown to provide various hardware solutions within our camera system of choice. We as consumers have been lucky to have stabilization options within most all digital camera systems, and while image stabilization isn’t going to remedy all problems, it is certainly a nice feature to have.
I’m awaiting a new Panasonic GX8 to arrive within the next couple weeks which will boast a new, dual IS system incorporating both an on sensor IS and lens based IS solution, but before that time, I wanted to really see how the first full frame, 5 axis on sensor/in body image stabilization (IBIS) system from Sony compares to a very good lens based image stabilization (IS) system in the Canon EF lenses, and a better than often credited 2 axis IBIS system from Panasonic’s first foray into on sensor stabilization, in the GX7.
Come on in to see my three different comparisons between these three different offerings, and see if there is a clear winner.
Thanks for stopping by. This test is merely a personal exploration to see what kind of results I can get with the gear I have at my disposal, and the gear I’ve chosen to use for various jobs or situations. I’m not looking to build a comprehensive catalog to be the end all, be all for reference on image stabilization, but rather to share my experience with readers who may be looking for a little insight into how these systems perform. I’ve received emails that have asked why I haven’t compared the Olympus 5 axis IBIS, or super telephoto lenses. Simply put, it’s because I don’t own them. I don’t work for these companies, and I don’t make any money from them, so these are just my own findings because I’m curious. I feel it is also more accurate to see these systems run through a minimal amount of times as opposed to taking 20 pictures at each setting to see just how well I can get it to work. I don’t take 20 pictures of anything, and really just wanted to run through a controlled setup, as I would perhaps on the street, or shooting anything at a moment’s notice as it were. To clarify and as mentioned later in the article, I took a series of shots at one stop intervals, twice through on all setups (3 camera/lens combos for three different setups, twice through each) to see how these various combinations performed. The reason I did two, and not ten or however many, is because I wanted to keep my findings somewhat genuine to an average shooter. I did them all on a full stomach, didn’t take a coffee break half way through, and have worked on my technique to be consistent over the years. These are my findings, and if someone would like to fund me to do a far more comprehensive test, I’d love to talk, but with time limited, this has helped show me what I have in these systems, and hopefully is useful to you as well. Thanks again, and let me know if I can try to answer any questions specifically.
Cheers – Tyson
Firstly, let’s discuss what image stabilization can and can’t do. With stabilization, optical or on sensor, the aim is to account for movement at the physical point of capture, meaning, photographer/camera movement, handshake, vibration, et al. It does nothing for the movement of the subject. Getting a 3 or 4 stop “IS advantage” means nothing if the shutter speed you’re shooting at isn’t fast enough to freeze the movement of your subject, it only accounts for your (photographer) movement or vibration at the location of the camera.
A 5 axis system traditionally accounts for pitch (think nosedive), roll (spinning on the lens axis, like using your camera as a steering wheel), vertical axis, horizontal axis and pivotal movement (like a record spinning), while most 2 axis or optical based IS systems account for vertical and horizontal movement, with newer OIS/IS/VR or even some 3 and 4 axis IBIS systems adding various other axes, in cases.
Some IS systems provide a stabilized live view, or stabilize the image through the viewfinder by way of the optical stabilization. This is very handy when shooting at longer focal lengths to help keep the image from jumping all over the place enabling an easier task when composing a shot.
I’m going to do three different comparisons with three different systems/cameras here. The Sony a7II full frame camera, the Canon EOS 5DII full frame camera and the Panasonic GX7 micro 4/3 camera. The Sony is the first full frame camera to incorporate on sensor IBIS, the Canon system still relies on lens based IS, and the Panasonic GX7 is the first Panasonic m4/3 camera to incorporate IBIS, in a 2 axis system. The tests will be:
- First, on the Sony a7II using the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens with the Sony IBIS engaged, and the lens based IS, turned off, shooting at 200mm. I’ll shoot that same lens on the Canon 5DII with the IS on also shot at 200mm, and the GX7 using the EF 70-200 (shot at 100mm = 200mm E-FOV) with the 2 axis IBIS. I want to see 5 axis and 2 axis IBIS vs lens based IS here at the same effective focal length.
- Second, I will be turning off the Sony IBIS, using the lens IS on the Canon 70-200mm set to 85mm, I will test it against the same lens on the 5DII with the lens IS on, at the same focal length, and the GX7 with Pana-Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 OIS (optical image stabilization) which disables the IBIS on the GX7. This will be lens IS/OIS specific.
- Finally, I’m going to shoot at a standard focal length with the Sony a7II using the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 utilizing the 5 axis IBIS, the Canon 5DII using an adapted, and in no way stabilized FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC lens, and the GX7 using the Lumix/Leica 25mm (50mm E-FOV) f/1.4 lens and the 2 axis IBIS. This will be 5 axis IBIS vs 2 axis IBIS with the Canon 5DII and non stabilized 55mm lens as my comparison to see how close I can get with just handholding technique alone.
For all the tests below, I took two separate series at identical settings to hopefully eliminate singular irregularities. I took the best shot, at each setting, from each combination shown, but at most all shutter speeds, results were close to identical. While there are certainly going to be differences in an individual’s handholding technique, and subsequent results, this is me, trying to get the absolute best results that I can with the gear I have to truly see if I can see an advantage. I could have done a dozen series, but felt that would have gone against a true test (plus I don’t have that much time to donate unfortunately, kids, work, life and all). That said, I wanted at least a small sample size to see if results were consistent. In most all cases, they were, and in the few frames I was able to see a noticeable difference, I chalked that up to individual, momentary technique. I rarely have the time, nor does the moment afford me taking 10 or 20 shots of a single subject where IS or IBIS would be useful, so I want to see what I’m able to get while focusing on my shooting technique, and how these systems can benefit that by doing these runs in one fell swoop.
I’m looking at whether I get better results from IBIS, or lens based IS, and just how much better or worse different IBIS systems may be, even though one is brand new and stabilizing a full frame sensor, versus a 3 year old 2 axis system on a 4/3 sensor. All three cameras and lenses, for all three tests were shot at the same exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture and ISO). There were a couple situations, where to match the shutter speed (which is really what I’m looking at here) due to ISO 125 being the lowest ISO on the GX7, I needed to adjust the aperture in an equal number of 1/3 stops to achieve the same shutter speed. Exposure is identical, and again, most importantly here, shutter speed is identical. I’m not worried about resolution, or noise here, but just how steady a result I can get.
Ready? Let’s get into it.
Test 1 – IBIS vs Lens Based IS
For the first test, I’m looking at a telephoto focal length, utilizing an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM lens, adapted to the a7II and using the Sony’s in body “Steady Shot” image stabilization, as well as shot on the Canon 5DII while using the lens’ internal IS for a native base comparison. To compare this longer focal length on a 2 axis IBIS system, I’m shooting the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens on the Panasonic GX7 at the same exposure values, and at 100mm to equal the field of view of the 200mm focal length on the two full frame cameras.
The first shot shows the full file as captured at 1/200 sec, for reference, then resized 100% crops are provided below each. I resized them because we’re looking at relative sharpness when handheld, not resolution or s:n here, and to make it easier to see the same relative area in the frame. Click to see this chart at full size (you may need to adjust your browser window to see it at 100%).
To my eye, the Sony a7II, using the in body 5 axis IBIS does really well up to 4 stops, with one slight hiccup at the 3 stop increment where the Lens based IS on the 5DII seems to out stabilize it, but it does well to recover at a stop slower. Again, this was the best of each (of two series) of the shots. The 70-200mm lens’ IS is really good for 3 solid stops in my opinion, and starts to go south after that. The GX7’s 2 axis IBIS holds up well here also. Certainly not quite as well as the 5 axis, nor the EF lens based IS, but I’d still consider it to provide 3 decent stops of handheld compensation, and we may actually be seeing “sharpness” differences, to an extent due to the substantial difference in resolution between a 24mp full frame sensor (a7II), a 21mp full frame sensor (5DII) and the 16mp m4/3 sensor. I’d say that in this test, the 5 axis has a near stop advantage overall on either of the other two at 200mm.
Test 2 – Lens Based IS/OIS
For this second test, I wanted to look solely at lens based image stabilization. I turned off the Sony’s IBIS, and engaged the lens’ IS on the 70-200mm lens for both the a7II and 5DII, both shot at 85mm to equal the Panasonic-Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens’ field of view. I wanted to include the Metabones smart adapter’s ability to relay the IS from the lens to the Sony body here, along with seeing a pure lens based IS comparison versus a sensor based, IBIS variable.
Again, click on the chart to see full sized.
Oddly, at a shorter focal length, the 70-200’s IS seemed to suffer more than when stabilizing at 200mm on both the a7II and 5DII. The Panasonic’s OIS still provided 3 solid stops while we could say about the same for the EF lens’ IS, but not quite as effectively as the Panasonic’s.
Test 3 – 5 axis IBIS vs 2 axis IBIS vs Carbon based/No axis IBIS
Finally, I wanted to look at a native, standard lens shot on all three cameras with the Sony a7II using its 5 axis IBIS, the Canon 5DII using a non stabilized lens for comparison, and the Panasonic GX7 using its 2 axis IBIS. On the Sony, I shot with the stellar Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, on the Canon, a converted FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC lens and on the GX7, the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens (50mm E-FOV).
Same deal, click to see larger.
The Sony’s 5 axis clearly wins here in my eyes with about a 4 stop compensation, the Panasonic 2 axis pushing to about 3 stops, and my hand holding technique’s limits shown with the non stabilized combo on the 5DII.
I’m impressed by the Sony’s 5 axis IBIS, I’m impressed by the EF lens based IS and I’m impressed by the Panasonic 2 axis IBIS. My takeaway here is that I’d rate the Sony’s 5 axis, overall, the best with the EF lens based IS bettering it in certain circumstances, and the 2 axis Panasonic IBIS nearly matching it, or being within a stop under most circumstances. The final test shows just how much difference in body stabilization can make, regardless of the number of axes.
If you’d like to see more reviews, here are some articles I’ve written on the specific cameras and lenses used, or you can always find a list of gear and software reviews at the top of the page HERE.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, or your experience with any or all of these systems. Thank you for the read, and hit me up on the socials; Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram. If you prefer email notifications, please feel free to add your email address at the top right of the page here. You’ll get email alerts as new articles are released.