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Image Stabilization with Manual Focus or Adapted Lens

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Will Image Stabilization work with manual focus or rangefinder lenses?

Manual focus or rangefinder lenses do not have image stabilization. It is not only the case with Voigtländer lenses, but for every other brand that’s out there in the market selling similar type of lenses. Manual focus or rangefinder lenses are completely devoid of electro-mechanical components inside them.

Shot with Nokton 40mm F1.2. Photo by Mehrdad Samak-Abedi

Here's some context on image stabilization.

The image stabilization feature in modern digital camera systems is integrated to the bodies of both the lens and the camera. This feature can only be turned on one at a time, i.e. either on the lens or on the camera and in some cases simultaneously too in cameras like a Lumix MFT camera.

First, image stabilization is used for avoiding the blurring or ghosting of images when trying to shoot handheld at very low shutter speeds, typically a scenario when you are shooting in low light. However, if the subject in that low light is also moving, image stabilization will still not be able to avoid blurring or ghosting of images.

Second, if the shutter speed is equal to, or more than the focal length of the lens used, then image stabilization has no impact on the sharpness of the subject. So if you are using a lens of focal length 40mm, the image stabilization for shutter speeds >,= 1/40 sec will be ineffective.

Image stabilization was first applied to the lens body and then it later transcended into camera bodies. Camera manufacturers introduced image stabilization largely for the following three reasons -

1. to compensate for an engineering limitation of digital camera sensors that do not have great low light sensitivity. If you look at many entry level or previous generation digital cameras, photographers complain of unusable images (noisy) when shot at ISO1200 or 1600 especially during low light conditions. The photographer has no option but to shoot at very low shutter speeds so as to bring the ISO down to a usable range of ISO400 or 800 but, at the same time, it does not guarantee the image will be blur or ghost-free. That means the photographers then have to keep themselves as still as possible while the shutter remains open to get a crisp shot.

2. to help customers use a manual focus or a rangefinder lens, new or old, that do not have image stabilization built into the body of the lens.

3. provide a cheaper, yet not a great alternative to an expensive fast lens. However, with new advancements made in sensor technology today, the low light sensitivity range for modern digital cameras have gone up drastically. People can now easily shoot at ISO1600 or 3200 & yet don’t complain of noise in their pictures. Sony's A7S camera have even surpassed all records of going up to an ISO409600, meaning you can literally take a clean picture with it in pitch dark conditions!

The summary is that image stabilization in today's context is a "nice to have" feature in cameras. And even if you don’t have image stabilization on your rangefinder / manual lens, or the in-camera stabilization requires you to manually set the focal length every-time using an adapted lens, it still does not make any difference to the quality of the picture you can get without this feature turned-on because with the high sensitivity range of these advanced image sensors, you neither have to go too low on the shutter speed that can make the picture blurry or too high on the ISO that can make the picture noisy. Moreover, if your camera is limited by design / image sensor size and struggles to give a clean shot under low light conditions, you still always have an option to use a very fast lens to overcome the situation of getting blurry images in the absence of image stabilization. Thankfully, Voigtländer has a wide range of very fast lenses that are affordable and un-matched in image quality whether you shoot RAW or JPEG straight out of the camera.

Shot handheld with Voigtländer Nokton classic 40mm f1.4 MC lens at F2, ISO 200 & shutter speed at 1/10 sec on a 1st generation Sony A7 camera (with no Image stabilization)

The above was a handheld street shot and no-post processing was applied! There are several others too in our gallery that were taken from expensive cameras like a Leica M9 which also has no-image stabilization either.

P.S - when you are using a tripod, make sure that you always turn your image stabilization feature off, both on the lens (if you are using an auto-focus lens with stabilization built-in) & the camera, as tripods are known for triggering the stabilization system to go under an endless correction loop thereby giving an unsharp / blurry image - to one's utter surprise!


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