I’ve read on a photographic forum — maybe I should stop reading those things; they’re making a lot of work for me — that the a7II in-body image stabilization (IBIS, aka SteadyShot) improves image quality even with the camera on a tripod. Since the conventional wisdom is to turn off image stabilization when the camera is tripod-mounted, I thought I’d do some testing.
But first, I updated the camera firmware to the version that Sony made available the day before yesterday, which purports to improves IBIS performance.
I don’t know why Sony can’t do the updating like most everybody else.
- Download the firmware
- Copy it to a memory card
- Turn off the camera
- Put the card in the camera
- Turn on the camera
- Format the card in camera
- Take pictures
Instead, the Sony update process goes something like this:
- Download the version of the firmware that’s appropriate for your OS. Is yours 32-bit or 64-bit? Find out.
- Worry about Sony’s history of being hacked and wonder if there’s malware in the updater.
- Find a computer you don’t care much about
- Transfer the updater to it
- Disconnect it from your home network
- Set the camera to be a USB mass storage device
- Turn off the camera
- Take out the memory card.
- Launch the updater
- Find a USB cable. Sony says you have to use the cable that your camera shipped with.
- Look for that cable.
- Decide you couldn’t tell it from any other USB cable
- Grab the nearest USB cable.
- Connect the camera to the sacrificial computer. (Mine’s named Lamb)
- Turn the camera on.
- Click through the updater steps.
- Watch the progress bar as the updater downloads the new firmware.
- Go get coffee.
- Wait some more.
- Shut down the camera.
- Disconnect it.
- Put the USB cable where you can find it for the next update — you know this one works.
- Put the memory card in the camera.
- Turn it on
- Take pictures.
- Restore the sacrificial computer from a backup.
Sony is shooting themselves in the foot on this. They’ve got to test the updater on every supported OS. They’ve go to worry about USB cable and driver compatibility. If they’re smart, they have to do all their updater development on air-gapped computers.
It’s a pain for customers, and it has to be a pain for them.
I employed almost the same test protocol I used a few days ago.
- The camera: the Sony a7II.
- The lens: the Leica 180mm f/3.4 Apo-Telyt-R, with a Novaflex R to E adapter.
- RRS generic plate on camera base.
- The tripod: RRS heavy-duty carbon fiber.
- The head: Arca-Swiss C1.
- Landscape orientation.
- No filter.
- The lighting: a single Fotodiox LED-200WA-56 daylight balanced variable-output flood.
- ISO set to 100, f-stop set to f5.6.
- Focusing manually at f/3.4, using the magnifier. The focus point is a Siemens star on the target.
- Drive set to single
- EFCS on
- Manual exposure mode.
- Self-timer set to 2 seconds
- Steady shot set to off
- Lamp to full, shutter to 1/250 second, make 16 exposures with new focusing for each, turn the light down a stop, make 16 exposures… until you get to 1/30 of a second.
- SteadyShot to on.
- Repeat exposure sequence.
- Develop in Lightroom 5.7.1 with standard settings.
- Crop, export as TIFFs, analyze for horizontal edge and vertical edge MTF50 in Imatest.
- Export the results to Excel, crunch the stats, and graph.
The results, with vibration analysed in both the vertical and horizontal plane:
The bold lines are the average MTF50s. The red ones are with IBIS on, and the blue ones are with it off. The light lines are the mean plus and minus one standard deviation, and give an idea of the statistical spread of the data.
The first thing to notice is how close together all the MTF50 numbers are. The second thing is that, on average, the sharpness is very slightly worse with IBIS on.
OK, so IBIS is at best useless with the self-timer. Does it help any when the shutter is released by hand with no delay? Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to do this. But, if you do, can IBIS save your bacon?
No, it can’t.
So leave IBIS turned off when your camera’s on a tripod.
Jean Pierre says
Thanks Jim, I agree and conform the “same” result with the Olympus EM-5!!! Tripod and IBIS are as dog and cat 🙂
Thanks also for your clarification of your test, great!
Thanks for adding quantitative data to photographic lore (and summarizing it at the end for those of us whose engineering degrees have expired)
I wonder though about whether stabilization will help on a tripod for longer shutter lengths. I “feel” like I get sharped pictures when shooting at 1000mm (canon 500mm f/4 with 2x extender) even on a very sturdy carbon fiber tripod with large ballhead. You can see in live view(especially with 10x mag) that it is moving around. When you turn stabilization on, it moves less temporarily, then jumps, then stabilizes and jumps. So of course if you take your image while the stabilizer is adapting to the new “heading” it may be worse, but if you shoot while in between it may be better.
Would also be interesting to run the same tests on a camera mounted on a gimbal or a kenyon gyro,
C. Kent says
I’d like to ask:
1. is the discrepancy of about “20” in cycles/picture height a significant amount in the real world? I’ve looked at MTF charts and know they measure across diagonal and vertical measures from center to edge etc but I have little intuition about them off hand.
2. Do the graphs appear to look to cross out past the untested <1/30th range of speeds?
3. By what process does a stabilizing does a mechanism become less effective when held still? Pardon me, but I find it illogical. If you were to induce a vibration into the tripod, would the stabilizer then work?
20 cycles/picture height is not important in almost any circumstance except testing.
I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at here, but you can’t assume anything about behavior beyond the tested shutter speeds.
It’s kind of a conundrum. If the wind is shaking the tripod, then IBIS might help. But if there’s no wind, IBIS can cause the tripod to vibrate by causing the center of mass of the camera to move, and create motion that it can’t completely correct.
C. Kent says
Thanks, fantastic of you to take the time. Btw I was referred here via the Frank Miranda forum, where I went seeking opinions on p65 of the A7RII manual, where it states in classic broken translation: “When using a tripod, deactivate the SteadyShot function because there is a potential for malfunction of the SteadyShot function.” Both redundant and misleading/unclear, bravo Sony!
By “… graphs appear to look to cross” I was indeed making a hopeful observation, but hopefully not a serious assumption, hence the question form. Thank you for dismissing that as untenable.
I have seen the A7RII disassembled (on Youtube, not in hand) the sensor is hung on “rubber bands.” I’d talk sensor mass/camera tripod mass but I see this is not the place to make conjectures without measurements.
1. At some small specific frequency or of vibration (called ‘using a tripod’), the sensor stability-seeking dynamic is sympathetic with that vibration, and becomes multiplicative rather than cancelling, or creates a feedback cycle that cannot be solved by SteadyShot. (I am neither engineer nor scientist so excuse whatever sounds hokey.)
2. Test data should include camera stand vibration-state data, and utilize more than one type of camera stand. (I own a modern German-made Berlebach tripod that I recall had resonance related numbers in the spec sheet. It is wood and recommended for use on concrete floors. It also has great aesthetics and unique design (why I bought it.))
3. Might firmware be important to, or even a solution for getting SteadyShot to perform well on a tripod? The firmware used here is two years old.
Ok but you are using a $1200 tripod. One thing that I have found IBIS lets me do is get away with a $150 3.25 lb travel tripod or monopod. I can see shake when I am using telephoto lenses, so I think I want IBIS on. That all being said, I Have not proven it like you did. So I would love for testing with a 3 lb tripod.
Not apples to apples, but this might be useful:
Eric Valk says
I agree with your preferred solution to updating. Panasonic doe it that way, very effctive. Olympus doesn’t, some people have bricked thier camera when the internet connection goes down during an update.
However, regarding the sacrificial PC approach – perhaps a more efficent approach is to buy Parallels or Fusion, and set up up a virtual machine (VM) . VM’s can be configured to “own” HW ports, the virtualisation is typically good enough that the OS in the VM doesn’t realise it is on a VM. You can confiure a VM so that it shares all of the host’s file system, some of it or none at all.
For your case you would configure the VM with no access to the host filesystem, start it, do your business, and then eoither don’t save the VM state on exit, or save a copy of the VM which is only used for this purpose.
I run Parallels VMs for Win8, Win7, WinXP, and OSX 10.9 from my host system, which today has OSX10.14.6 I do this to support older software I don’t wish to update to the latest OS, or migrate to different OS, but it can easily be adapted to handle risky applications.
The VM idea is a good one. I’ve used virtualization to run obsolete software under obsolete OS’s. The drivers are often an issue, especially for SCSI, but I doubt they’d be with a USB port. I have a couple of sacrificial machines I keep around for risky things, so it’s easy for me to take that approach.