Widening your horizons: all about 8-stops of Image Stabilization

An aerial photo of still turquoise waters flanked by tree-covered hillsides.
The Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 are the first Canon cameras to offer 5-axis in-body Image Stabilization (IBIS), and you can get up to 8-stops of IS when using the cameras with compatible lenses. The combined IS helps to make images impressively crisp and clear. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/320 sec, f/9 and ISO400. © Ulla Lohmann

Every so often a technology comes along that not only helps photographers and filmmakers to take shots that were not previously possible, but actually improves the quality of the end result. The Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 are the first Canon cameras with 5-axis in-body Image Stabilization (IBIS), and can deliver an industry-leading 8-stops of IS* when the cameras are paired with certain lenses.

This unparalleled level of performance means image makers can disregard the existing rules on handheld shooting, free themselves of the tripod, shoot in previously inaccessible locations and capture incredible shake-free shots and steady video.

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What can you do with 8-stops of IS?

This groundbreaking level of image stabilization eradicates the worry caused by setting a slower shutter speed and makes it possible to introduce creative blur while shooting fast-moving subjects, for example, without camera shake taking the edge off the sharpness. Photographers who are used to shooting interiors that tend to require long exposures and narrow apertures for extended depth of field can now consider shooting handheld with exposures lasting one to four seconds (depending on the focal length) and setting a lower ISO to preserve maximum levels of detail.

When shooting video, you can achieve much steadier footage when you yourself are in motion relative to the subject, as is often the case on dynamic shoots when filmmakers are increasingly in amongst the action, moving from place to place.

You can now handhold exposures for much longer than the "reciprocal rule" for minimising camera shake allows (the rule being to set a shutter speed no slower than 1 over your selected focal length – so at 50mm, shoot at 1/50 sec or faster; at 100mm, shoot at 1/100 sec, and so on). If you engage the IS on either your camera or your lens, you are effectively lengthening your allowable handheld shutter speed by the number of stops the stabilization states it will compensate. For example, 2-stops of IS means you can shoot at shutter speeds that are two stops or more slower.

A waterfall tumbles into a pool in the rocks, shot with a long exposure to blur the falling water.
Adventure photographer Ulla Lohmann used a long exposure to blur the water in this waterfall, yet the foreground detail is kept still and sharp. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 46mm, 0.3 secs, f/18 and ISO100. © Ulla Lohmann
A dancer captured in a doorway of an ornately decorated room, arms blurred by motion.
Fashion photographer Wanda Martin used a four-second exposure to capture this impression of a dancer in motion. Even though she shot handheld with such a long exposure, the background is still sharp. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 4 secs, f/14 and ISO100. © Wanda Martin

The technology has already been making waves with users. Adventure photographer Ulla Lohmann took the Canon EOS R5 to the German Alps to capture rock climbers abseiling into a waterfall. "It's very adventurous terrain, and you can't take a tripod with you," she says. "You also cannot put the camera on the rocks, because they are wet. I wanted to use a longer exposure to take images with a blurry waterfall behind, while the foreground was still in focus. It worked really well and I was able to shoot exposures of one second or more handheld and still get sharp images."

Fashion photographer Wanda Martin took the Canon EOS R6 on a low-light shoot following a ballet dancer through the ornate buildings of Palermo in Sicily, and was able to shoot much longer exposures without a tripod and still portray the dancer's movements. "I managed to shoot handheld for four seconds and the background was still sharp. I couldn't believe it," she says.

So how does this technology work?

A man's hand relaxed by his side holds a Canon EOS R6 with Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

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Lens-based IS and in-body IS (IBIS)

Pairing the 5-axis IBIS-equipped Canon EOS R5 or Canon EOS R6 with an IS-equipped lens can deliver 8-stops of combined IS*. It’s not the case that one IS technology is better than another. Rather, there are types of shake that lens-based IS can correct optimally and there are areas that the in-body IS is best equipped to deal with, so the combination of the two results in the best overall performance.

Lens-based optical IS was pioneered by Canon during the film era in the 1990s on its range of EF lenses. A gyroscope detects the camera movement, while certain elements within the lens can move in response to compensate for the movement, resulting in a steadier image. Optical IS is especially effective at telephoto focal lengths, which is why it continues to serve well today.

To enable photographers to set even lower shutter speeds, camera makers have developed digital methods of stabilization. Combination IS, which was first seen in Canon's EOS M mirrorless cameras and is also built into the Canon EOS R, uses the motion vector detected by the image sensor to improve the effectiveness of the optical stabilization system. The use of in-body sensor-based systems is most effective at correcting shake that occurs at wider focal lengths.

Now, bringing sensor and optical IS systems together to work cooperatively has delivered a marked improvement at all focal lengths.

A diagram showing how the optical lens IS system and in-body IS system work together.
Both the lens and camera body have sensors that constantly monitor any movement; then high-speed communication between the body and lens means the two systems work together for steady images and movies.
A diagram showing the effectiveness of a combination of sensor-shift and optical IS.
A combination of sensor-shift and optical image stabilization gives the most effective image stabilization at wide and telephoto focal lengths, as well as for small and larger amounts of shake.

Communication between lens and camera

So this image stabilization system has two distinct inputs – one from the camera sensor and one from the IS-equipped lens.

The gyro sensor inside the lens measures the angle and speed of any lens shake, while an acceleration sensor measures the acceleration of the movement. This information is monitored by the lens's own processor.

Inside the camera, there is another pair of gyro and acceleration sensors, plus an additional motion vector sensor on the imaging sensor itself. This data is managed by the camera's powerful DIGIC X processor.

This information is shared in real-time between the lens and sensor, so that the perfect amount of compensation can be coordinated and applied to remove any shakes. Within the lens, the stabilized optics move to counteract pitch and yaw movement, as well as movement on the X-Y axis (side-to-side movement and up-and-down movement) in the case of Hybrid IS lenses when used for still photos.

In the camera body, the sensor itself is moved via a highly precise magnetic system to counteract roll, X-Y and pitch and yaw. The latter is done by real-time collaboration through the high-speed RF mount communication system, which gives the Canon EOS R System its distinct advantage.

A diagram of the Canon EOS R5 illustrating 5-axis Image Stabilization.
The 5-axis in-body Image Stabilization (IBIS) in the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 is power-efficient and has no appreciable impact on battery life.
A diagram showing how the large diameter of the RF Mount gives the sensor scope for movement.
Thanks to the large diameter of the RF lens mount, the sensor can be moved around more to provide unprecedented levels of image stabilization.

The role of the RF mount

Key to the new system is not only the electronics inside the cameras, but also the innovative RF lens mount, which enables much faster communication between camera and lens. In order for the IS to work accurately, the lens and the camera need to share a lot of information, and the RF mount is designed to communicate large amounts of information in real-time.

The other crucial element is the mechanical and optical design of the RF mount: at 54mm in diameter, it gives the sensor more room to move, enabling a greater degree of motion correction.

For the engineers at Canon, their greatest challenges lay in designing the cooperative control between optical IS and in-body IS, and utilising the high-speed camera and lens communication to achieve this. The system requires extremely accurate data, so the engineers added an inertia sensor and motion vector information.

The RF mount's wide diameter and short flange back has also enabled Canon to produce lenses with a large image circle. A larger image circle gives the sensor more room to move without risk of the image getting cut off, which can sometimes occur with a narrower lens mount. The large image circle therefore allows the camera's in-body image stabilization to deliver up to 8 stops of IS when using lenses such as the RF 28-70mm F2L USM and RF 85mm F1.2L USM, which do not feature built-in optical stabilization.

Because Canon EOS R System cameras are also compatible with EF lenses (via any of the range of EF-EOS R Mount Adapters), another engineering feat lay in designing for optimal image stabilization regardless of whether the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 are paired with an RF lens, EF lens, IS-equipped lens or non-IS lens. The table below summarises how the system works in unison to provide 5-axis correction when paired with these different lenses.

A table showing how the IS system in the EOS R5 and EOS R6 works with different RF and EF lenses.
How the IS system in the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 works with different lenses, with and without optical IS. Does not include Cinema series lenses. **As at July 2020. Except RF 600mm F11 IS STM and RF 800mm F11 IS STM

As you can see, photographers and filmmakers using existing EF lenses and RF lenses without IS can still benefit from the IBIS in the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6, while RF lenses with optical or hybrid IS benefit from both systems (although effectiveness does vary on a lens by lens basis).

Of course, the best advantage is realised when the lens and the camera work together. This way, their strengths are combined to reduce all the different types of camera shake that can occur over different focal lengths and in different scenarios, helping you to reimagine handheld shooting and more.

Scris de Adam Duckworth

*8-stops of IS based on the CIPA standard with the RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at a focal length of 105mm.

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