How does image stabilization work?
And what is image stabilization in the first place? Did you know...
Let's find out the answers to these questions and more...
But before we answer, "How does image stabilization work?", let's determine first what image stabilization is.
What is image stabilization, in the context of shooting and editing videos?
Image stabilization is the process of making the image captured by your video camera, as clear and as stable as possible. With or without camera movements.
One thing that really messes with the clarity and stability of our visuals—or, footage—is the unintended camera shake...
... It causes jitter.
And that's what image stabilization tries to correct. Or, at least, lessen.
You may have the impression that image stabilization refers to the "IS" on a camera lens. But it's just one of the ways of achieving image stabilization, as you'll soon discover. Because...
Image stabilization works in several ways.
In a broader perspective, we can see several means of image stabilization.
Here are 4 ways of stabilizing the images, or shots, recorded by video cameras...
This is "in-lens image stabilization", or image stabilization happening inside the camera lens, as you're shooting video.
I won't examine in detail the technicalities of how it happens. I'll just say that some parts of the lens already stabilize your image, before the camera records it. This is also known as, "lens-based" image stabilization.
If you heard of, "Vibration Reduction (VR)", and "Image Stabilizer (IS)", they are examples of, "lens-based" image stabilization.
Using this in-lens image stabilization is good for correcting, or smoothening, minimal camera motions—without using a camera stabilizer device yet.
And I'm talking about using this type of image stabilization, "while you're shooting". Not when you're done shooting, and then correcting your footage inside an editing app, or video stabilization software.
But what causes those minimal camera movements?
Well, those slight movements happen mostly—and naturally—when you're shooting handheld.
Sometimes, you may want to use slightly shaky shots in your video. Intentionally. Because they suit your video's story, mood, or style.
Other times, you want to correct the slight camera shake right away, as you're shooting.
So, why not use a camera stabilizer at once, to correct or smoothen those minimal camera shakes?
There are 2 reasons...
You may have seen a lens with a switch on its side—a stabilizer "on-off" switch. Like this one...
That's the switch that accesses the inside parts of a lens, which help stabilize your shots.
Turn it on, start shooting handheld, and that stabilizer compensates for minimal camera shakes, you may be making.
The "IS" you see on digital cameras—specifically, on some lenses—simply means...
... Image Stabilizer, or Image Stabilization.
Others call it "Optical Stabilizer"—OS, or "Vibration Reduction"—VR.
I'm not going to talk about too much technical stuff about it. Because we're video creators, not camera repair technicians. So, just note that...
In a way... "Yes".
Let me explain a little...
Camera and lens makers designed Image Stabilization, originally for shooting still images.
But video shooters discovered, that IS also enhances camera motion. Again, I'm reminding you that this feature, only helps correct very minor camera shakes.
So, image stabilization is necessary—if you shoot videos with your bare hands. And need to smoothen some minimal camera shakes.
There are times when you need to turn on the Image Stabilizer on the lens. And there are times, you may want to turn it off.
So, when do you turn it on?
You switch on the IS on the lens, when you're shooting handheld. You want the image stabilizer inside the lens, to compensate for minimal camera shakes you may be making.
Even when your DSLR, or mirrorless camera, is mounted on a monopod, turning on the stabilizer also enhances your shots. Especially, when you're using a telephoto lens—like a 70—200mm lens, or a 55—250mm lens.
Telephoto lenses—or, lenses with "long focal lengths"—tend to exaggerate, or magnify shakiness. But with IS turned on, you minimize the shake.
Note that the lens has to have this IS feature, because not all lenses have it.
When do you turn off this stabilizer feature of the lens?
Basically, you switch IS off, when a very secure camera stabilizer—like a well-designed tripod—already supports your camera. The IS won't help anyway.
Some video shooters suggest that, it's better to turn off IS, even when you're panning on a tripod.
Because the basic IS mechanism inside the lens, will just mess up your panning, and make your recorded video look somewhat odd. So, turn off the IS—unless the lens has a dedicated IS for panning, or horizontal movement.
What if your camera body and lens with IS feature, are attached to a steadicam, or a gimbal?
Well, opinions among video shooters are divided...
I have a wide angle lens without IS feature, "Vibration Reduction", or "Optical Stabilizer". My experience is that, using it together with my DSLR and a steadicam-style stabilizer, I have no problem stabilizing my shots.
If you have a lens with IS, a motorized gimbal, or a mechanical stabilizer, my advice to you is this...
...Test. See for yourself.
Not all camera bodies, and lenses with IS feature, are the same.
Yes, IS affects video quality—or the look of the shots. That's why a video shooter has to use it properly.
Again, you can use the IS feature of the lens, to compensate for minimal camera shakes. But, you cannot use it, to cure drastic camera disturbances.
You'll notice more the benefit of the lens' Image Stabilizer...
We've talked about using the Image Stabilizer—or IS—on lens.
But, there's another way of stabilizing your shots—that is, using the camera body's image stabilization feature. This is called, "in-camera-body" image stabilization.
This time, the camera body you use for filming, does the image stabilization. If you move your camera while recording, some mechanism inside the camera body, will compensate for that movement. This is also called, "In-Body Image Stabilization"—or IBIS.
Some mirrorless cameras have the IBIS feature. IBIS can also help you shoot, and record smooth handheld videos, just like lenses with IS.
Honestly, whichever you have, just use it. Some people say, the best tool is the one you already have. In this case, what they say rings true, as well.
What if you have both—(1) a camera body with IBIS, and (2) a lens with IS? Do you turn on the image stabilizers of both the camera body and the lens, when shooting videos? Or do you use one of them only?
My opinion is, I'll only use one of them. I don't want a scenario, where the camera's IBIS and the lens' IS, seem to fight each other. It's like letting 2 persons drive the same car, and hit the same brakes.
Other shooters also say, they avoid switching on the camera's IBIS and the lens' IS, at the same time. Because they don't get smooth results, if both are turned on, when shooting handheld and doing camera movements.
Now, here's some guidelines for you to consider...
1. If you're shooting handheld, using a wide angle or a telephoto lens with IS:
Just use one type of image stabilization. You either turn on your camera's IBIS and turn off your lens' IS, or vice-versa.
2. If you're shooting on a tripod, using a wide angle or a telephoto lens with IS, and doing panning or tilting:
Turn off both your camera's IBIS and your lens' IS. A well-built and robust tripod—particularly one with fluid head—is secure enough to stabilize your footage.
Turning on the camera's IBIS, or the lens' IS, can make the resulting video look weird. The frame looks unsteady, and there's some delay when the camera is being panned or tilted.
3. If you're shooting on a tripod, using a telephoto lens with IS, and you won't do panning and tilting:
Turn on both the camera's IBIS, and the lens' IS. This helps you achieve really static shots.
In a static—or, "locked-off"—shot, the frame is securely fixed or totally undisturbed. But it can contain movement, just inside the frame—such as moving people, animals, vehicles, and the like.
4. If you're shooting on a monopod, using a wide angle or a telephoto lens with IS:
Use only one type of image stabilization. You either turn on your camera's IBIS and turn off your lens' IS, or do the other way around.
So, we've talked about two ways of stabilizing images internally— "inside the lens", and  "inside the camera body".
Now, we're talking about stabilizing our shots, by stabilizing the camera externally.
This is what we call, "camera stabilization". Or, when we use one of the camera stabilizer devices to shoot videos with clarity, stability, and smoothness of motion.
To understand that, we start by knowing what camera stabilizer is...
A camera stabilizer is any video production tool, that can help you make your camera stable from the outside, while you're shooting.
And that's the key phrase, "from the outside". Impliedly, there's other means of stabilizing your shots, apart from doing it from "outside" the camera body.
I admit that, in the past, I thought that "camera stabilizer" refers only to any gear used to execute smooth tracking shots. But that is not the case...
"Camera stabilizer" doesn't refer only to a steadicam, a gimbal, or a dolly... which may come to mind at first. According to dictionary.com, to "stabilize" means...
If any device can do at least one of these functions for your video camera, you can consider that device a camera stabilizer.
Camera stabilization is both...
"Act"... Because, it is simply your effort to make your camera steady, while you're shooting videos.
"Technique"... Because, it is also one of the means of making your shots stable, as you record them with your video camera. Camera stabilization is actually under the umbrella of, "image stabilization", as we found out earlier.
There are 3 situations where you do camera stabilization...
There are many devices actually. Different camera stabilizing tools have been invented for video production and filmmaking industries, and even for enthusiasts and hobbyists. But to give you some ideas, here's a quick list...
And if I'm going to categorize them according to specific shooting situation, here they are...
"When you put your camera in a stationary position."
"When you move your camera to create tracking shots."
"When you want to make minor, or near-zero, camera movements."
Those devices I mentioned earlier, what can they do?
By now, it's pretty obvious...
Depending on the specific camera stabilizer that you have, it can do one of the following...
To make it easy and pleasurable for our viewers, to look at our shots, and see what those shots are conveying to them.
So, this is about giving our audience quality viewing experience... in the form of well-thought-out shots, well executed with camera stabilizers.
It depends on a specific camera stabilizer.
Remember what we learned earlier?...
So, let's agree, once and for all, that "camera stabilizer" is a general term. And, "How does camera stabilizer work?", is a general question.
And here's my general answer...
If you look closely at camera stabilizers you happen to use, you'll notice that their parts work together in holding and supporting your video camera. The parts can be mechanical, electronic, or both.
You can liken these parts, to the parts of your legs—muscles, tendons, joints, bones—that help each other,...
... so that when you stand, walk, or run, it's going to be a coordinated movement.
Camera stabilizers work like that.
The parts of a camera stabilizer work together, to help you avoid camera movements that look jerky, crazy, or hesitating. Which you don't intend to be recorded in your shots. Right?
Because shots that contain irregular camera motion, can make your audience feel dizzy or confused. And those camera disturbances take away from your audience's quality viewing experience.
So, that's how camera stabilizers work, in general.
Now, here's how some specific camera stabilizer devices work...
Earlier in this article, we already mentioned some camera stabilizer devices, like…
Now, for us to better understand these devices, there are different ways of categorizing them. And so, we have the types of camera stabilizers.
1. You don’t want your shot to move, only the subject in the frame (camera stabilizer for static shots).
For that, you use…
… a tripod.
2. You want your video camera to follow the action of your subject (camera stabilizer for tracking shots).
You can use either…
… a dolly,
… a steadicam,
… a gimbal, or
... a camera drone.
3. You want to allow some minor, but stabilized camera motion for your shot (camera stabilizer for minimal camera movements).
For that to happen, you can use…
… a shoulder mount, or
… a monopod.
1. Camera stabilizer powered by pure human strength. Especially the strength of your arms, back, and legs.
… handheld steadicam-style stabilizers,
… camera dolly (or DIY versions of it), and
… shoulder mount.
2. Camera stabilizer powered by battery and human strength.
… the electronic or motorized gimbal.
3. Camera stabilizer powered solely by batteries.
Example of it is…
… the drone.
1. By holding the device with your bare hands (handheld camera stabilizer).
You usually do this with lightweight cameras, and lightweight stabilizers. Like…
… a handheld gimbal,
… a small mechanical video stabilizer, such as the handheld steadicam, and
… a small dolly.
2. By wearing a vest that supports the camera (camera stabilizer with body harness).
You can see this form of device in big budget productions, like Hollywood feature film making.
Because high-end productions typically use large and expensive cameras, a cinematographer needs to use…
… a camera stabilizer with vest and arm--like the original Steadicam.
Camera stabilizers with body harness can support these heavy cinema and video cameras.
3. By using a remote control (remote-controlled camera stabilizer).
For example, you use a remote control when you operate and fly…
… a drone with integrated gimbal and camera.
The first 3 means of image stabilization happen, when you're shooting videos. Or during production phase.
But this one is about stabilizing your shots, when you edit your videos. This is the use of video stabilization software in post-production.
Sometimes, after a video shoot, we still end up with shots that are a bit shaky, and we want to correct them. We can do that, by using the image stabilization feature, available in some non-linear video editing programs.
However, I prefer to do "stabilization in editing" as my last resort. Meaning, I try to make the stabilization right—as much as possible—during video shoot, or coverage.
And, if I still have some shortcomings, that's the time I'll try to correct a shaky video in post.
This approach compels me to really think about a shot, before I execute it.
"How do you stabilize a shot in post?"
You use an image stabilization software--or, a video editing software that has some feature for stabilizing shaky footage.
Warp Stabilizer is a functionality in a video editing software, intended to cure small irregular camera movements, already recorded with the shot.
In other words, Warp Stabilizer is your camera stabilizer in post production.
However, please notice what I said... "small irregular camera movements"... So, if the camera shake is only...
... Warp Stabilizer can cure that.
However, extreme camera shakes caused by running, or moving abruptly, are a different story.
People who say, "Warp Stabilizer makes it worse", are probably expecting too much from it. Or, relying so much on post-production, to fix lousily executed shots—which a mindful shooter wouldn't do in the first place.
By the way, "Warp Stabilizer" is the image stabilization in Premiere Pro. But, this editing software isn't free, and Adobe only offers it by subscription.
If you like Adobe Premiere Pro, and you have concerns such as, "Where is Warp Stabilizer in Premiere Pro?" Or, "How do you use Warp Stabilizer?" Or, "How to stabilize video in Premiere Pro"...
But, if you're asking, "how to stabilize video for free" in post-production, check out this next discussion...
"Does DaVinci Resolve have Warp Stabilizer?" Or, "Is there stabilization in DaVinci Resolve?"
Yes, Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve, has its own version of the "Warp Stabilizer".
Resolve has a free version, that’s more than enough for the needs of someone, who’s just starting out in making videos. This free version is a very powerful, and very capable video editing software.
Yes, Resolve's free version has video stabilization feature.
So, "how do I stabilize video in DaVinci Resolve?
There are 2 places in Resolve, where you can stabilize your shots...
Think of a "page" as a mini software inside DaVinci Resolve.
The Cut Page is the easier-to-use video editor in Resolve. When you open DaVinci Resolve, it goes to the Cut Page by default.
On the other hand, the Edit Page is the more advanced video editor. You can go to this page, by clicking on the Edit Page icon.
You can edit either on the Cut Page, or on the Edit Page. In fact, you can switch between the 2, while working on the same project.
Also, you can stabilize your footage either on the Cut Page, or on the Edit Page.
Here's how you can stabilize your shots, in DaVinci Resolve's Cut page...
Here's how you can stabilize your shots, in DaVinci Resolve's Edit page...
Time may come when smooth camera movements, and super stable shots, are not what you want. And so, you'll prefer not to stabilize some of your shots.
Because you may find yourself wanting, or needing, the opposite—shots created with a shaky camera.
What is exactly a "shaky camera"? Why would you want some of your shots to be shaky? When are you going to need shaky camera shots? And is there a proper way of doing them?
Let's find out...
To understand what "shaky camera" is, let's look at it both from...
To your audience's eyes, a shaky camera is footage that not only looks unstable, but feels intrusive as well. That's the "shaky camera effect" on human viewers.
Now, that could be bad—or good. But, it really depends on why you want "shaky camera", and how you're going to use it.
To your point of view as video creator, shaky camera is a film technique at your disposal.
Yes, you may use it whenever and however you want. But, bear in mind—you're giving your viewers the look and feel, of unsteady handheld shot, on purpose.
The purpose shaky camera film technique is to suggest a thought—or, make an impression—in the minds of your audience. The "thought" or "impression" could be one of the following...
In other words, you want to communicate an idea inside people's minds, when you use the "shaky camera film technique".
There are times when you're more likely to use "shaky camera"...
- When you're shooting a news event, or a documentary.
Real life events are sometimes unpredictable, and moments worth capturing just happen.
When you really need to document them, sometimes you just can't fully avoid recording the video, without some camera shake. It's only natural. And it's better to capture an important life moment that way, than to miss it.
Also, camera shake gives a raw feel to your news, or documentary video.
- When you're making a fictional short film, that has some action scenes in the story.
It's when the story, or script, contains scenes that naturally call for the use of "shaky camera technique".
Examples include chase and fight scenes. Also, the subjective 1st person point of view of a character—especially when that person is experiencing some trouble.
- When you have no device dedicated to smoothening camera movements, and very limited time to shoot what you need.
Let's say you have those production limitations. However, your intent is—still—to produce a decent video.
You'll be compelled to shoot handheld, most of the time. Which, in turn, allows you to shoot faster and use the shaky camera technique.
It may be a raw shooting style, but it gets the job done.
Now, here's when you might consider, NOT to use the shaky camera film technique...
- When your only reason for using "shaky camera" is pure style. Even though, you have some camera stabilizers to use.
Why? Is it bad to use the shaky camera technique, purely for stylistic reasons?
Not at all—if your main reason for creating a video is to satisfy your own production taste. That is, if you'll make that video just for yourself.
But, if you're concerned with making a video that connects with your audience, you'll use style to serve the story. Because the story is what your viewers relate to.
The story—or, content—dictates the style—or, the way of shooting, like the "shaky camera film technique". In other words, the style follows the story.
There are, at least, 3 key things you need to keep in mind—if you want to execute the "shaky camera effect"...
So, how do you treat the shaky camera effect?
Treat it like a spice for the food, that you're cooking or preparing. You need just the right amount of spice.
People who'll watch your video need to feel, that your use of this effect is just enough. And the intensity of the effect has to feel natural.
Your use of "shaky camera" should enhance chosen story moments, like a spice that enhances the taste of food.
How does it translate to the actual use of the shaky camera effect?
Remember what I said earlier—"the shaky camera effect is all about the viewing experience of your human audience"? Your audience will complain, if there are so many shaky camera shots in your presentation. And if the shakiness is so intense and distracting.
To understand this, you simply need to be in their cinema seats, and review your video from their perspective. Then ask yourself, "How do I feel about all those lengthy shaky camera shots?" Be honest about your answer.
So, how do you execute the shaky camera effect?
I already hinted about this earlier...
"Your audience will complain, if there are so many shaky camera shots in your presentation. And if the shakiness is so intense and distracting."
And I also said...
"You simply need to be in their cinema seats, and review your video from their perspective..."
That's how you know if camera shake is too much. You imagine how audience would react and feel about, all the shaky camera shots in your video. And that's empathy.
Empathy seems like a rare human quality nowadays. But, it's simply a skill that video creators can practice, and develop—if they want to.
Do you wonder why someone would overuse an effect, like "shaky camera"? What do you think?
To me, if I'm overusing an effect—like "shaky camera"—it's because I became self-absorbed. I became obsessed with whether or not, I could use the effect in my video.
I should—instead—focus on the story or content, which is what viewers care about and relate to. If I see opportunities for "camera shake", to really add to or enhance the content, then I use the effect.
So, how does image stabilization work for videos? Here's some key takeaways...