There is a third method that some digital cameras utilize and advertise as image stabilization. This method to counteract movement involves increasing the ISO setting to allow a faster shutter speed setting. This is not real stabilization. Also, be aware that image quality will go down as ISO goes up. I would avoid this type of stabilization.
Lens stabilization is obtained by moving the lens elements inside the lens that is attached to the camera.
Sensor stabilization is obtained by moving the sensor that is in the camera body.
Canon and Nikon currently utilize lens stabilization. Canon is more or less getting raked over the coals for not offering sensor stabilization. Nikon not so much. Not sure why Canon and not Nikon.
In any case if the demand is sufficient, then Canon and Nikon will both someday offer sensor stabilization.
So, what’s the big deal? With lens stabilization you have to buy each lens with the stabilization capability built into the lens. This can be expensive.
However, for those that want it and have a digital single lens reflex (D-SLR) camera, you can see the affect of stabilization through the lens. For some that is a big advantage.
With sensor stabilization you have stabilization for all lenses. That’s a potential cost savings. However, you can’t see the affect through the lens. Is that a disadvantage for you? After all we call these things D-SLR cameras because you can see the result of all your photographic techniques through the lens.
This controversy will be worked out over time.
In any case, if you do not have interchangeable lenses, you want have to be concerned about this. Even if your stabilization is in the lens, it is still build into the camera, since the lens is built in also.
Another potential disadvantage of the sensor method is that currently it performs better with shorter focal length lenses and not as well with longer telephoto lenses. Maybe the break point is around 200mm?
But like the controversy talked about above this will be improved over time.
Let’s talk about what stabilization, either type, does for you.
Basically, it allows you to handhold the camera in many situations in which you could not without stabilization. This allows you to get fewer blurry photographs.
By moving the lens elements or the sensor, the light path or optical plane is changed so that the effect of camera movement or vibration is lessened.
So, if you’ve got shaky hands, you get a break that results in better photographs because they are sharper.
This technology is becoming available for nearly all digital cameras – not just the high end cameras and not just digital single lens reflex cameras.
Stabilization is a great benefit in many situations. It allows you to handhold the camera at lower shutter speeds – 2 to 4 stops slower depending on the stabilization technology built into your camera.
However, if you need to use a really slow shutter speed it will not help you to hold the camera steady enough to obtain sharp pictures. How slow? That is really somewhat photographer dependent. Your abilities to handhold a camera may be very good. Mine may not. Most photographers experience problems handholding a camera at lower shutter speeds and when using the longer focal lengths.
In general, however, if you need a shutter setting of somewhere around 1/3 of a second or slower, you will need to get your tripod out or maybe select a shorter focal length lens or zoom.
The other situation where stabilization will help is when using a telephoto lens. The longer lenses tend to magnify movement and make blurry photographs.
So, if you have shaky hands, or a need to use lower shutter speeds, then stabilization just might be the counteraction that you need to extend you photographic experience and the quality of your digital photographs.