Camera Image Stabilization Optical vs Digital

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Updated July 27, 2022

If you are shopping for a new digital camera, you may be wondering about camera image stabilization optical vs digital. The best digital cameras, after all, typically feature one or even both of these stabilization techniques. Keep reading to learn about the differences between the two.


  • Optical image stabilization uses mechanical parts, such as gyroscopes, to physically move the lens to stabilize the image.
  • Digital image stabilization uses software and algorithms to complete this task. Optical image stabilization is typically considered the more effective choice.
  • However, cameras equipped with true optical stabilization systems tend to cost more than those with an electronic image stabilization system.

What is Image Stabilization?

Image stabilization technology is a blanket term that refers to a variety of techniques that looks to limit blur and choppiness due to having unsteady hands as you take a photo. This is especially important if you are snapping photos without the use of a tripod or while in a moving vehicle. Most modern cameras include some type of image stabilization, even smartphone cameras, which can be important if you are comparing a cell phone camera vs a digital camera.

Insider Tip

Be sure to check the settings menu to access any image stabilization system.

Differences Between Optical and Digital Image Stabilization

The primary difference between these two techniques is how they stabilize images during use. Optical image stabilization uses dozens of mechanical gyroscopes that actually move the lens around to stabilize the image as you shoot. A stabilization method is considered optical if there is a mechanical element. This is occasionally referred to as lens-based stabilization, as the mechanical components are typically housed in the lens element. This is something you can try to find in a point-and-shoot digital camera, though this is likely to be found in digital SLR cameras and mirrorless cameras.

Digital image stabilization, on the other hand, uses algorithms and software to keep your shots steady and free from blur. It uses pixels from beyond the frame as a motion buffer of sorts. You won’t find this feature on point-and-shoots like the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS or the Nikon Coolpix A900 digital camera.


In most cases, optical image stabilization is the better choice, as it works quickly, efficiently, and without error. This is due to the mechanical nature of the design. Although, you can compare 6MM vs 8MM lenses on digital cameras, too. Of course, optical image stabilization is typically reserved for high-end DSLR cameras, so if you are comparing digital sensor size in DSLR cameras, you should also take a look at what kind of image stabilization is on offer.


Optical image stabilization is more expensive than digital image stabilization, as the former uses actual mechanical components and the latter uses just software. In other words, a camera with true optical stabilization will cost more than one without this feature. On that note, make sure your camera has actual optical stabilization, as many companies use proprietary names and brandings to obscure what kind of stabilization is at work underneath the hood. Do some research before buying some new digital cameras.


How do image stabilization systems work?

Different digital cameras include different stabilization systems, each with its own methods of operation.

When to turn image stabilization off?

When it comes to digital cameras, turn image stabilization off if you want a particular aesthetic or visual effect that will be rendered null by the stabilization system. You can also turn it off to conserve battery life or to avoid slow shutter speeds.

What is the best shutter speed when handholding?

When holding your camera by hand, set the shutter speed faster than one over your focal length. This is called the reciprocal rule and should be followed by most digital cameras, even if you are using telephoto lenses.

STAT: A rule of thumb to determine the slowest shutter speed possible for hand-holding without noticeable blur due to camera shake is to take the reciprocal of the 35 mm equivalent focal length of the lens, also known as the “1/mm rule (source)

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