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

Time to ditch the tripod? The Canon EOS R3, EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS R7 deliver up to 8-stops of IS, opening up a new world of photo and video opportunities.
A golden eagle in flight, wings outstretched, just above a large boulder with a wooded hillside out of focus in the background.

The In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) in the Canon EOS R7 works cooperatively with the optical IS in IS-equipped lenses, whether they are RF lenses or EF lenses being used with an EF-EOS R Mount Adapter, as wildlife photographer Dani Connor demonstrated while on a trip to Spain to photograph endangered animals. "I could shoot handheld with a long lens quite comfortably," she says. "The stabilisation was incredible when I was photographing birds of prey flying, such as a golden eagle. I was handholding a heavy lens and still getting stable shots." Taken on a Canon EOS R7 with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 300mm, 1/6400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Dani Connor

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, EOS R6 and EOS R3 are the first Canon cameras with 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), and can deliver an industry-leading 8-stops of IS1 when the cameras are paired with certain lenses.

The EOS R7 is also equipped with IBIS, which delivers up to 7-stops of IS with RF-S lenses.2 It is possible to achieve even more stability with certain full-frame lenses, though, as Mike Burnhill, Senior Product Specialist at Canon Europe, explains: "When using either the RF 28-70mm F2L USM or the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM, for example, the EOS R7 will deliver the same 8-stops of IS as the other cameras with IBIS. We're not expecting that many EOS R7 users will be using more expensive pro lenses like these, though."

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.

What can you do with 8-stops of IS?

This groundbreaking level of image stabilisation (IS) 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 stabilisation states it will compensate. For example, 2-stops of IS means you can shoot at shutter speeds that are two stops or more slower.

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An aerial photo of still turquoise waters flanked by tree-covered hillsides.

Adventure photographer Ulla Lohmann shot this landscape handheld from a hot air balloon, yet all the detail is breathtakingly sharp. 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

A long-exposure image of a horizontal red light trail emerging from a cave in a cliff face on a sandy beach.

Commercial photographer Rob Payne used a four-second exposure to capture this striking image of a drone in flight – or more accurately, the red light fitted to it; the moving drone itself is invisible. Even though he shot handheld in low light with such a long exposure, the background is still sharp, down to the tufts of vegetation against the sky on the hillside, demonstrating the effectiveness of the camera's image stabilisation. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 at 24mm, 4 secs, f/5.6 and ISO1600. © Rob Payne

The technology has already been making waves with users. Adventure photographer and Canon Ambassador 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.

To test the capabilities of the EOS R7, wildlife photographer and content creator Dani Connor visited Spain's Andújar Natural Park to photograph and film Iberian lynx. She teamed the flagship APS-C mirrorless camera with a range of IS-equipped lenses, including the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM and Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM.

"I was amazed by the stabilisation of the RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM with the camera," she says. "I was shooting video while I was walking and it was smooth. It was the same when I was filming from a car, even though we were going on bumpy roads. I would never have been able to get those kind of video clips with my DSLR."

 A young orangutan clings to an adult and looks cautiously around the adult's shoulder.

Orangutans are wildlife photographer Maxime Aliaga's speciality, and he says the EOS R5's advanced IS and other technologies are opening up new ways in which to photograph them in the rainforests of Indonesia. Taken handheld on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/4 and ISO800. © Maxime Aliaga

A tiny brightly-coloured bird, a Little Bee-eater, on a branch with an insect in flight just in front of its open beak.

Shooting in remote jungle locations means it's often not possible to set up and plan shots in advance, but Maxime says the advanced IS and outstanding low-light performance of the EOS R5 enable him to react more quickly and get sharp shots he couldn't have captured without a tripod in the past, such as this photo of a Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus) in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens at 1/3200 sec, f/4 and ISO1250. © Maxime Aliaga

Wildlife photographer Maxime Aliaga says that the sophisticated IS and other new technology in the Canon EOS R5 are totally changing the way he shoots. "The combined in-body IS and lens IS is amazing. I don't use a tripod much at all now, other than to rest my arms when shooting for long periods with my RF 600mm F4L IS USM.

"I work a lot with orangutans in Indonesia. The light levels are low in the forests, and in the past I would have had to use a tripod to get steady shots. But now, with the IS and the high ISO performance of the EOS R5, it's possible to shoot handheld. I'm able to react more quickly and get shots that I couldn't have taken before."

Action sports specialist Martin Bissig is equally enthusiastic about the IS performance of his Canon EOS R5 for low-light photography. "A lot of the time I'm using fast shutter speeds to shoot action, but when I'm on an expedition I also end up taking a lot of incidental pictures to document the trip," he says. "I'm often shooting in situations where I don't have a lot of available light to work with, such as inside a temple or on a camp site at night.

"It's really great to have IBIS in my EOS R5 in these instances, and it means that I don't use my tripod that much anymore, if at all. It has allowed me to shoot handheld for exposures that can last 2-3 seconds."

So the benefits of this groundbreaking IS performance are clear – but how does this advanced technology work?

A small fire glows in a rocky cave, while the night sky is filled with stars above.

Action sports photographer Martin Bissig says he can get sharp handheld results with his EOS R5, even with exposures lasting 2-3 seconds: "It takes a couple of tries and you need to not breathe too heavily, but it works beautifully." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 2 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Martin Bissig

The Milky Way and thousands of stars glow in the night sky above a wooden hut and walkway.

"I'm often travelling on a bicycle and constantly on the move, so I am unable to carry a tripod," explains Martin. "But the combination of IBIS and lens stabilisation gives complete freedom to shoot handheld and still get photos and footage that previously would not have been possible without a tripod." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 3.2 sec, f/2.8 and ISO12800. © Martin Bissig

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

Pairing the 5-axis IBIS-equipped EOS R5, EOS R6 or EOS R3 with an IS-equipped lens can deliver 8-stops of combined IS1. 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.

What is impressive in the EOS R3 is that the systems are able to work together to produce up to 8-stops of combined IS even when the camera is shooting high-speed bursts at 30fps.

"The readout speed of the EOS R3's electronic shutter is very fast," explains Mike. "That means you can use a shutter speed of around 1/125 sec to achieve 30fps. Image stabilisation not only has a benefit at that relatively slow shutter speed, it can also improve autofocus acquisition. Having IS means the AF point is more likely to be static on the subject than bouncing around, which improves the AF accuracy at 30fps."

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 stabilisation. 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 stabilisation 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.

Cross-section showing the autofocus system inside a Canon EOS R3 camera and RF lens.

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It isn't just photographers shooting still images who benefit from cooperative IS control. Filmmakers are able to produce smoother handheld footage with Movie Digital IS enabled. "With it turned on, it can really stabilise movement when you're walking, in a similar way to a gimbal," says Mike. "Obviously the original IS systems are good but they're not really designed for you moving around as much, whereas a gimbal system is."

Movie Digital IS works by cropping the image slightly, which allows the sensor data to move around to compensate for shake or vibration. Two settings are available, each with a different crop factor.

In the Canon EOS R, Movie Digital IS uses the lens and image sensor data together, but Canon EOS R System cameras that are equipped with IBIS use all three aspects – lens, IBIS and digital data – to produce enhanced stability. "The whole system is working in combination," says Mike, "with the final stabilisation on the sensor correcting for that movement that is beyond the optical system."

A firmware update for the EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS R3 also brings improved Movie Digital IS performance when using wide-angle lenses. "IBIS allows the sensor to pivot in order to correct vibrations, so the corners of the image move backwards and forwards," explains Mike. "In some situations, the edges can appear more wobbly than the centre, but the digital stabilisation firmware update will correct that movement and give a more stable image."

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 stabilisation gives the most effective IS at wide and telephoto focal lengths, as well as for small and larger amounts of shake.

Communication between lens and camera

So this IS 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 stabilised 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 Stabilisation.

The 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) in the EOS R5, EOS R6, EOS R3 and EOS R7 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 (1), the imaging sensor (2) can be moved around more to provide unprecedented levels of IS. As highlighted in red, light reaches the entire sensor even when it moves to its maximum (3) to maintain image stabilisation.

The role of the RF mount

Key to the IS 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 Stabilisation 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 stabilisation.

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 IS regardless of whether the cameras with IBIS 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.

As you can see, photographers and filmmakers using existing EF lenses and RF lenses without IS can still benefit from the IBIS in the EOS R3, EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS R7, 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.

Adam Duckworth and Marcus Hawkins

1 8-stops of IS based on the CIPA standard with the RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at a focal length of 105mm.

2 7-stops of IS based on the CIPA standard with RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM at a focal length of 150mm

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