Image stabilization or Vibration Reduction vs Large Aperture lenses

The question always arises in a lot of camera and equipment forums ... Should I buy a lens with Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) or buy lenses with larger apertures like F2.8?

Of course the best answer is buy a lens with both but what if you can only afford one or the other. You will likely see most people would say go for the large apertures because IS/VR doesn't prevent motion blur. And they are 100% correct about that.

But what I also hear from most people that larger apertures are better for low light photography. This however is NOT 100% true. Large apertures are only good in low light situations when you are shooting at large apertures. i.e. a lens that has a largest aperture of F2.8 is not good in low light condition if you are shooting in F9.

There are many low light situations that large apertures are not ideal from a depth of field perspective. For example if you are shooting landscapes at night, you probably want a large depth of field and therefore smaller apertures. This is where you would either use a tripod or IS/VR becomes very useful. IS/VR will allow you to get away shooting at small apertures and still be able to handheld the camera still enough for the photo to come out clear. Of course putting it on a tripod would be the best solution however, in many cases a tripod is impractical or not possible. For example this photo of people crossing in the busy district Ginza in Toyko. It would be impractical or maybe even dangerous setting up a tripod in the middle of the pedestrian crossing. Even if it was safe, the likelihood is someone crossing would bump one of the tripod legs thus blurring the photo.

Also, I feel IS/VR is more useful from a stock photography perspective since stock photos general have a larger depth of field F4-F5.6 or higher. IS/VR will allow you to take photos of objects and products with enough depth of field so that they won't be rejected by the stocksites because the depth of field is too shallow. This photo of a typical airline meal is another example of IS/VR in use. A low light situation where I wanted an aperture F8-F10. And as you can see, not a situation where you would be able to setup a tripod.

Another interesting way you can use IS/VR is to deliberately slow the shutter speed down even in bright sunlight to give motion blur to objects in motion. An artistic way to show the dynamic of movement. In this photo of passengers walking in the airport, I slowed down the shutter speed to capture some motion blur deliberately.

So if you are on the fence on which lens to buy, I hope this article will give you another perspective in your decision.


NOTE: All the photos in this blog were shot without a tripod.

Photo credits: Retina2020.

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Hey Silvia. I think you will appreciate having the VR. I end up using it all the time even for situations that you might not think your need it. Ex. Landscape photos in overcast days. Normally have to start shooting at ISO 400 or higher when shooting small apertures but with VR you can get away with ISO 100 (three stops)


Thanks for sharing. Really useful article. I think my next lens purchase will be of a VR one :)


Nice article with very good images!


I agree with your points - a fast lens is only better for low light situations where minimizing subject motion blur is important. Otherwise having three stops of IS versus one stop of extra aperture is usually preferrable, and gets you more depth of field. With Canon lenses, an f/4 lens with IS is also lighter and smaller (24-105 and 70-200) than the f/2.8 counterpart.


Good article, thanks! And my compliments on Tokyo district photo! Excellent!!!

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