The stabilised sensor in cameras has been with us since the days of Olympus, Pentax, Samsung or Sony SLRs. It was only with the advent of mirrorless cameras that significant improvements were made. Olympus, with its way of stabilizing the sensor, has considerably escaped the competition. Such efficiency in what it is capable of opens up more possibilities for photographers and, most importantly, removes the need to carry extra equipment such as a tripod. However, we’re still not so far away that it can be omitted completely.
As I have three cameras at home, I couldn’t help but check out the evolution that stabilisation has undergone. The test setup consisted of the EM1 mark II, EM5 mark III and EM1 mark III. The first mentioned had the M. Zuiko 12-40 mm F2.8 PRO lens mounted and the new EM1 mark III had the M. Zuiko 12-100 mm F4 IS PRO on it, which added a bit to the sensor stabilization. That Olympus cameras can easily take a sharp photo that lasted 5 seconds is not in doubt. The goal was to capture a photo for as long as possible, assuming the photo would still look usable. I chose a spot on the bridge by the highway where there were enough vehicles driving by so that they would be drawing light for me and the stars were also nicely visible. There was only one drawback to this and that was the cold. I was shivering quite a bit around 2° C, even though I was well dressed.
The camera settings were the same for all of them. M mode, ISO 200, 12mm, F4, stabilisation switched to auto and one focus point which I tried to aim at one spot each time.
I started testing with the EM1 mark II, which when it came out in 2016 caused a bit of a revolution with all the features it brought. Today they are commonplace. I started inconspicuously at 3.2″ where the photo was superbly sharp everywhere. I continued to increase the values in increments and stopped at 20″ when the photo was no longer usable. So I went back to 15″, where I repeated the photo twice to rule out the possibility of it being an accident. So the EM1 mark II can handle 15″ handheld and the photo is still usable. It may no longer be completely sharp – the corners are out of focus, but the result is more than impressive.
I tested the EM5 mark III second, starting straight at 10″. I’m not going to skimp a bit when it’s supposed to have improved stabilization over the previous model. I stopped at 25″ when the photo was already shaky and unusable. Again, I took a step back and shot 2x. The EM5 mark III can take a 20″ long photo handheld. The corners are again distorted, but a little less than the EM1 mark II.
The last camera I took in hand was the EM1 mark III, which had a small advantage over the other two in testing, and that is the stabilized lens. So the effect of stabilization adds up here. Since the EM5 mark III handled 20″ just fine, I started my testing there. In fact, I wasn’t even surprised that the photo was super sharp even in the corners. I wish I hadn’t. Gradually, I worked my way up to an incredible 50″. Standing still for almost a minute is quite an experience in itself. You try not to move too much, you breathe into your belly, occasionally your knee moves and you feel your body moving back and forth. However, despite the incredible stabilization, the 50″ photo was not usable. A really sharp photo with unshaken but slightly blurred corners can be taken in 30″ handheld. But what surprised me even more was the usable photo at 40″.
If we’re going to be pixelhunters, then yes, these photos won’t go in the magazine, it’s more of a technological demonstration of what’s possible. Olympus is gradually adding other features that are able to take advantage of this stabilization – HighResolution (HighRes) photos or live ND filters. With these features you are able to handheld hold times of several seconds with absolutely no problems.
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