Image Stabilization from Hell

There are two camps out there hunting for the best camera equiptment. Those that put potential image quality first in their search, and those that put usability first. After losing some nice shots due to the same lame equiptment design several times now, I am confidently joining the second camp.

After my last project comparing real Velvia 100 film scans to various digitally captured and software induced equivalents, I was out looking for Fall color in the East Bay this weekend. Although I think I got the hues and tonalities right, a closer inspection showed that I was also getting slightly fuzzy and grainy pictures due to the damn on/off switch for the optical stabilizer in the Panasonic/Leica 35-100/2.8 lens. It is too fiddly to be trusted!

The problem is that the switch is really easy to move accidentally when handling the camera in a normal way. I always keep the in-camera stabilization on with my Olympus E-M5. If both the lens and sensor based stabilization systems are on at the same time, I get duelling stabilizers and a very unstable image.

It’s not usually a total loss for snapshots, but the main subject ends up just a bit less sharp than it needs to be, and the out of focus background picks up a lot of extra graininess. Actually, the effect looks not completely unlike a raw scan of color film compared to the latest greatest digital capture. Not super sharp and with noticeable grain.

No matter what the amazing image quality potential is for a camera, you have to be able to use it effectively without failures over long periods of time to get the expected benefit. It has to be comfortable and as rock solid reliable as possible. I hate finicky camera equiptment.

Maybe that’s why I still occaisionally pick up an old Nikon F3 or more recently purchased Leica M7 and breathe a sigh of relief. Very few things can go wrong with those cameras compared to the new ones with menu after menu of settings and more knobs, buttons and dials than anyone really needs.

So, if I have a choice (and these days there are many interesting choices), I am going to pick equiptment that does not have extra features that I don’t use, poorly placed buttons, loose dials, cramp inducing form factor, etc.

Usability and reliability first!


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