© Jim Zuckerman
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In my opinion, IS (or VR in Nikonese) is definitely worth the extra money because there are situations where it is invaluable. With two examples I will explain why I feel it’s an essential part of your photographic tool kit.
First, though, let me say that image stabilization is a feature that is built into some lenses, and it is designed to counteract the inherent movement in a lens when it is being hand held. Due to the weight of the camera and a heavy telephoto lens plus the significant magnification of the lens itself, any movement is magnified tremendously. Therefore even a fairly fast shutter speed may not be enough to render the subject sharp.
I normally don’t use image stabilization with a long telephoto lens because I use a tripod whenever possible. Hand holding a 500mm f/4, for example, is exhausting, and after a minute or so my arm isn’t very steady at all. My muscles are just too tired to hold the lens steady. I turn the IS feature off when using the lens on a tripod because it's not needed and the pictures won’t be sharp. The IS feature is designed to be used only when hand holding the lens.
What about the photo (above) of the Nile crocodile? I shot this from a boat where a tripod doesn't make sense. I was indeed hand holding the 500mm lens. Between the movement of the boat and the weight on my arms, it was doubtful whether the 1/500th of a second could produce a sharp picture. I used the IS feature to help mitigate all of the movement, and therefore I stood a better chance of making this picture as sharp as possible.
Jim Z is a top stock photographer who teaches many courses at BetterPhoto's digital photography school online. For example:
Jim Zuckerman contributed to two recent books co-authored by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager:
To learn more about photography, explore the photography classes offered here at BetterPhoto.