Is optical image stabilisation essential to the success of a camera or lens in 2019? It ought not to be, but potential buyers now live very much in the world of feature box ticking. They might not particularly want or need a feature, but if it isn’t there then they are reluctant to buy and will look elsewhere. It’s as simple as that. It’s this attitude that leads to feature bloat, and it’s one of the primary reasons why I still cling to “simple” cameras such as the Leica M10-D or, even, the Q2. But manufacturers are now pressured into adding features simply to keep up with the competition.
Many buyers clearly do believe stabilisation is a must-have feature. In the long list of technological tricks which are now regarded as essential for any camera or lens, optical stabilisation is a vital component. We all know it isn’t necessary to have stabilisation to create good photographs. But it may be necessary to feature stabilisation in order to encourage the mainstream buyers to part with their cash.
Reduced image quality
Some would argue, with good reason, that even optical image stabilisation has the effect of reducing image quality. This is certainly the case with digital stabilisation options which you can often find hidden in the menus. Most photographers never use digital stabilisation, although they have fewer qualms when it comes to optical stabilisation.
Equally, though, others leave optical stabilisation switched on permanently and not just when necessary. Leica addresses this dilemma with the Q2 which has a stabilisation auto mode — it switches itself on only when the exposure is longer than 1/60s. We can infer that at higher speeds this 28mm-focal-length camera doesn’t really need stabilisation and that it might, in fact, detract from image quality. However, as my friend Jonathan Slack points out, you can switch off in-body stabilisation but you can’t make the sensor fixed.
DPReview has neatly summed up the dilemma facing both manufacturers and reviewers. Is the lack of optical stabilisation really such a negative factor? After sitting on the fence for years, DPReview and has come out firmly in favour of stabilisation being essential. The lack of stabilisation is now seen as a definite con, far from being a pro or, even, a neutral.
Stabilisation, either in-lens or in-body, is rapidly becoming a feature that is essential to the success of a camera system. Oddly, this comes at a time when high ISO performance is improving generation by generation. You could make a case for stabilisation
Body or lens
There is a difference of opinion among manufacturers as to whether stabilisation is better deployed in the lens or in the body, but major players offer both, with lens and body stabilisation cooperating to offer up to a six-stop advantage. This enhances the ability to use slower speeds in poor light, thus reducing reliance on other aids, such as higher ISO settings, which definitely do affect image quality. And, no dispute on this one, stabilisation is essential when using very long lenses.
While Leica has acknowledged the reality in the SL system by equipping the SL zooms with stabilisation, it has not yet adopted in-body stabilisation in any of its German-made system bodies. The fixed-lens Q2, which is not a system camera, is the exception and, perhaps, is the sign of things to come.
Lumix S1 example
The situation will almost certainly change when the SL2 arrives. I would be surprised if it didn’t offer a similar in-body system to that we have seen in the Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R. In fact, I think we will also see IBS in a future CL2, although that camera is probably a year or two away. After all, in-body stabilisation is there to assist those lenses, including M lenses, which do not have stabilisation. M lenses are in wide use by owners of the SL and CL and many would welcome stabilisation.
The APS-C lens range from Leica is unusual, offering a selection of excellent lenses but without stabilisation. Back in
He is perfectly right, of course. Optical stabilisation systems add both size and weight (can use more power, incidentally). But does the average buyer understand this? Or even care? They want to tick those boxes and, if stabilisation is missing, attention is now likely to wander in the direction of alternative systems. I suspect it is one reason why the CL has not been as successful as it deserves, for it is a lovely little camera.
Times they are a-changing
To some extent, the decision to go without stabilisation was logical back in 2012-2014 when the T lenses were designed. The T system would have been bigger overall if stabilisation had been added. And at the time stabilisation was not such a big issue in marketing terms. Generations of Leica M photographers had managed very well without stabilisation and there was apparently no great demand for it. At that time.
Times change. From now on, a lack of stabilisation will be seen as a negative factor, as DPReview has now made clear. For better or for worse, buyers will shy away from systems that do not offer these aids.
Leica could retrieve the situation by adopting in-body stabilisation in a future CL, thus giving the existing lens range a longer, but limited lease of life. Perhaps the slight increase in body size that would be necessary will be a good trade-off.
But at some stage, the bullet will have to be bitten and Leica’s APS-C zooms, like their full-frame SL zooms, will have to be redesigned to bring in stabilisation.