Today’s Question: I photograph hummingbirds, and try and keep my shutter speed at 4000 or above. I would like to know if the image stabilizer is doing any good at that speed? Normally I will just turn it off to save battery at that shutter speed, but I’m not sure if that is the right thing to do. If there is no need for the IS at that speed, what is the maximum speed the image stabilization is effective?
Tim’s Quick Answer: In general, image stabilization won’t provide much (if any) benefit with particularly fast shutter speeds, and it could potentially cause problems. As a basic rule of thumb I would say that at shutter speeds above around 1/1000th of a second it generally makes sense to turn off image stabilization.
More Detail: That said, some photographers still prefer to keep image stabilization turned on, even at fast shutter speeds. Put simply, they worry they’ll forget to turn image stabilization back on when they need it, which could potentially be a bigger problem than having the stabilization turned on when it isn’t really needed.
It is possible for stabilization to create problems with sharpness in an image when it is used in the wrong circumstances. Essentially, when image stabilization is used in the wrong circumstances, the compensation that is intended to reduce motion blur can instead create motion blur.
In some situations where you will be imparting significant movement to the camera, it is possible you would achieve a benefit from image stabilization even at very fast shutter speeds. But in general I would say that the fast shutter speed itself will provide the greatest benefit.
It is also worth remembering that image stabilization technology is generally focused on compensating for movement of the camera caused by the photographer, not movement in the frame caused by the subject moving. Assuming you are on a tripod photographing the hummingbirds, and especially considering the fast shutter speeds you’ll be using, my recommendation would be to keep image stabilization turned off for this type of photography.
As a brief aside, I’m reminded of the basic rule of thumb for minimum shutter speed required when hand-holding a lens based on focal length. When you combine that with the notion that image stabilization is probably not going to provide much (if any) benefit at those relatively fast shutter speeds, it seems reasonable to wonder how often we really need to employ image stabilization with long telephoto lenses. Perhaps it isn’t so important to spend the extra money on stabilization with a super telephoto lens. But I suppose it is nice to have in any event.