Olympus E-M5: 5-axis image stabilization

Olympus introduced with E-M5 a new image stabilization system, which has five camera movements stabilized. Present Olympus cameras have different versions of two-axis stabilization.

5-axis IBIS.jpg

This picture shows the 2-axis sensor-stabilizator component of E-P3 on the left and the 5-axis component of E-M5 on the right. The sensor floats in the field of electromagnets.

IS test

I have now a pre-production E-M5 body with 1.0 firmware. My first test with it was to see how effective this new image stabilization is. An easy and effective test method is to shoot the ready lights of some electric gadgets in a dark room. 

IBIS 50mm.jpg

Here is my test done with E-M5 and Zuiko D. 50mm Macro lens.

I shot a series of 10 images handheld (and standing) at various shutter speeds both with IS off and IS1 on. Then I opened those 10 images from each shutter speed in Photoshop as layers and aligned them so that the lights are as exactly above each other as possible in all images. Layer mode was Lighten. In this way I get a well defined image if every shot is sharp. The more there is blur in images the blurrier the combined image becomes. What I get is kind of cumulative camera shake at every shutter speed. Already one bad shot shows.

The upper row shows what happens when IS is off. This picture shows 100% pixels. I am not steady enough to get sharp images at 1/30s. Actually only at 1/125s I can be sure that there is no blur because of camera shake. At 1/60s I get more sharp images than blurred. This is very well in line with the old adage: you should not use a slower shutter speed than what your focal length says in 35mm eq. millimeters. My shooting technique seems to be quite average. Hmmm...

The lower row shows a similar series with IS1 on. At 1/30s and 1/15s every image is sharp. At 1/8s there are 8 sharp images out of 10 and at 1/4s maybe 2 or 3 out of 10.

I did the same drill twice more and each time the results were consistant. This means, with my shooting technique I gain at least 3 EV values. This of course varies a lot between people depending on your posture, how you hold the camera, press or squeeze the shutter button etc.

Next I checked IS with M.Zuiko 12mm lens. With IS off I can be pretty sure of getting sharp images at 1/15s. With IS1 on I got repeatedly sharp images at 1/4s. Half a second is way too long for me to stay still, my body moves too much and IS can´t compensate for it but only occasionally. So, at this focal length I gain 2(+) EVs from IS. With 12mm lens I had this red LED at the edge of image to see the effect of roll compensation. Looks like I don´t "roll" very much, my body shake is more sideways. 

IBIS 425mm.jpg

Many people claim that optical stabilizers are better than in-body stabilizers at longer focal lengths. I was really interested in seeing how effective this new 5-axis IBIS is with a tele lens. To test it, I shot again similar series of images with Zuiko D. 150mm lens plus 1.4X Extender. The total focal length is 210mm, which corresponds to a 420mm lens in Full Frame 35mm camera. Again upper row is without IS and lower with IS1 is on. With IS I was able to stay sharp up to 1/30s. (Blurriness in this image is because of focus. I focused once manually at start and after that my position shifted somewhat between each series of shots.)  That´s at least 4 EV values better than I can do without IBIS. At 1/15s there are more sharp frames than shaken ones. Even at 1/8s there was at least one sharp image in each series of 10 images. Quite astounding!


Olympus claims that their new 5-axis IBIS is effective for up to 5 EV values. It´s based on Olympus´ testing method. Pekka Potka´s testing method gave me again real world knowledge on how far I can trust E-M5 IBIS. I was really surprised to see the benefit at longer focal lenghts. With wide angle lenses like 12mm you really can´t expect to get a 4 EV benefit, as that would mean sharp images at 1 second. Well, maybe some of you can, but at least I wobble way too far over the moving limits of IBIS. 

One huge benefit with already 50mm lens and especially with 150mm lens is E-M5´s stabilized EVF. It´s so calm, you can concentrate on subject and framing without any vibration. EVF image just stays put there solid and clear. It even lacks the snaps and jerks of optical stabilization.

IBIS and video

Olympus new IBIS stabilizes also videoshooting. I will make a separate post on this feature.