Understanding Optical and Digital Image Stabilization

When camcorder shopping, it's important to know the difference.

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Many camcorders include some form of image stabilization technology. Image stabilization reduces the blur in your video that results from shaky hands or body movement.

Image stabilization is important for all camcorders, but its particularly crucial in camcorders that have long optical zoom lenses. When a lens is zoomed out to its maximum magnification, it becomes extremely sensitive to even the slightest motion.

There are two major forms of image stabilization: optical and digital.

Optical Image Stabilization

Optical image stabilization is the most effective form of image stabilization. Camcorders with optical image stabilization typically feature tiny gyro-sensors inside the lens that quickly shift pieces of the lens glass to off-set your motion. An image stabilization technology is considered "optical" if it features a moving element inside the camcorder lens.

Some camcorder manufacturers let you turn optical image stabilization on and off, or include several modes to compensate for different kinds of camera movement (either vertical or horizontal).

Digital Image Stabilization

Unlike optical systems, digital image stabilization uses software technology to reduce the impact of shaky hands on your video. Depending on the model, this can be accomplished in several ways. Some camcorders will calculate the impact of your body movement and use that data to adjust which pixels on the camcorder's image sensor are being used.

For consumer digital camcorders, digital image stabilization is usually less effective than optical stabilization. Given that, it pays to look closely when a camcorder claims to have "image stabilization." It may only be of the digital variety.

Common Names

Some manufacturers put a brand name on their image stabilization technology.

Sony dubs it "Super SteadyShot" while Panasonic calls theirs Mega O.I.S. Each have their nuances but they perform the same function. In any case, you should always peer behind the marketing jargon and take a look at the specifications. It should indicate whether a given camcorder has optical or digital stabilization (they can also have both).