Megapixels aren’t everything – here’s what you need to know about mobile image stabilization.

When it comes to mobile photography, megapixels aren’t everything. When it comes to evaluating the photographic sections of smartphones, essential aspects are downplayed, which can make the difference between a great camera and a mediocre one. One of them is the image stabilization, an aspect that is often not given the importance it deserves.

And is that good image stabilization can make a mediocre sensor capable of generating a high-quality image, or substantially improve the night photography capabilities of a device. In this guide, we will take a closer look what is image stabilization, and that types exist today in the market, to make it easier to choose your next mobile based on its photographic section.

The OnePlus Nord is one of the cheapest phones with optical stabilization

What is (and why is it so important) image stabilization

The concept behind image stabilization systems is simple to understand: roughly, it is a technology – be it a device or software in charge of reducing the vibrations of the image that is captured ** through the sensor, in order to eliminate any type of unwanted movement that may lead to blurry captures or shaky video scenes.

Although the existence of image stabilization systems is currently mainly associated with their use in smart mobile phones, photo cameras They were the first to benefit from this type of technology. Since their appearance in the early 1960s, these systems allowed compensate for unintended camera shake, through mechanisms supported by gyroscopes, capable of slightly change the position of the lens in the opposite direction based on the data collected by the gyroscope.

Year after year, technology has been evolving and it has been possible to miniaturize this type of system, so that today we can find Integrated image stabilization on mobile devices, as well as in the cameras themselves or in the lenses. Today, in addition, there are electronic stabilization systems in addition to the optical systems, and that in combination with the latter give life to one of the most effective stabilization systems that exist: the hybrids.

Optical stabilization – OIS

The Huawei P40 Pro includes optical stabilization

The last five years have been key to the implementation of optical stabilization systems in mobile phones. Today, the vast majority of high-end mobiles already include this type of system, commonly known as OIS —Optical Image Stabilization—, and little by little we see how some affordable cutting terminals incorporate these elements into their cameras.

As its name suggests, optical stabilizers are based on physical components and they integrate a MEMS-type gyroscope – Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems – capable of interpret involuntary movements of the device and adjust the direction of the sensor in the opposite direction, to minimize vibrations.

This system has its advantages, such as the fact that it is generally more effective fulfilling its function than some digital alternatives, something that is more notable when combined with “telephoto” type sensors, which require more precise stabilization than sensors with a shorter focal length. In addition, the need for crop the scene when capturing video, something necessary when using digital stabilization systems.

On the other hand, the optical stabilization system can help less powerful mobiles are capable of generating better stabilized videos, since the stabilizer acts independently and does not affect the video capture process, unlike digital stabilization systems, which broadly speaking apply a « filter » over the captured video in real time, thus adding more load to the indicted of the video.

But they are not perfect. Optical stabilization systems are components that add extra cost to the development of the devices, and which ultimately affects the final sale price of these. It should also be borne in mind that, like all physical components, optical stabilizers they can fail.

Electronic stabilization – EIS

The cheapest mobiles usually include only electronic stabilization.

Also called digital stabilization systems, electronic stabilizers or EIS they act in a way very similar to that of optical stabilizers, with the difference that these types of systems do not require specific hardware, but it takes advantage of the existence of the sensors present in the device such as the accelerometer, to detect and correct involuntary movements.

Most systems of this type integrated in current smartphones, base their operation on a adjustment that acts on the image obtained from the sensor itself. Thus, the captured area is slightly reduced giving a zoom effect. Thus, the visible area moves between the upper area compensating for movement. When capturing video, stabilization algorithms work by identifying a high contrast point in the image to keep it fixed.

Although, generally, these types of systems can be very effective when it comes to stabilizing our videos, and by supporting the sensors when taking images, minimizing vibrations, neither are systems without disadvantages. To the problems mentioned before, we must add some effects or aberrations that can arise when recording video, such as the famous “jelly effect” caused by a certain delay when calculating the perspective changes by the stabilizer. In the video below these lines, it is possible to see a clearer example of this effect:

But perhaps the clearest downside is the fact having to settle for a cropped area of ​​the video, which when enlarged translates into lower resolution and image clarity.

Hybrid stabilization – HIS

The OnePlus 8 Pro combines OIS + EIS to bring a hybrid stabilization system to life.

Hybrid systems promise combine the best of both worlds to end up offering the most effective stabilization systems available on a mobile. As its name suggests, hybrid stabilization systems combine the capabilities of an optical stabilizer with the advantages of a digital system. In recent years, more and more manufacturers – Google among them – have chosen to integrate this type of system into their terminals.

The great advantage of this system is that we enjoy the advantages of both technologies. On the part of the OIS, we have the benefits it brings to the field of photography, mainly the possibility of capturing better quality night images. As for the EIS, we have the possibility of being a system that can be easily improved through software updates.

Which is better?

To assess which system is better it is necessary examine which of them fulfills its role in a more effective way, being able to minimize vibrations and movements during the video capture process, or giving the possibility of take pictures in poorly lit scenes no fuzzy parts, giving the sensor more time to capture light and thus generate a brighter image.

With few exceptions, a good optical stabilization system should offer a better result than a digital one, especially when talking about mobiles that move away from the most expensive segments of the market. Also, these types of systems are almost essential if we talk about terminals whose photographic configuration includes a « telephoto » of any kind.

However, the existence of digital stabilization It already ensures a minimum of vibration reduction when capturing video, and for most users it can be more than enough.

The hybrid stabilization, without being clearly superior to other systems, it can score points in terms of versatility, and it is certainly an interesting addition to keep in mind, especially when we talk about the most expensive phones on the market.

It is necessary to mention that, in recent years, some manufacturers have decided to go further, devising new stabilization systems such as Vivo’s gimbal-type technology, which promises to offer a movement and vibration reduction system never seen before. However, these types of technologies are not yet widespread enough, and it is very likely that they will never become so – at least in the short term – due to their high cost of production and the size of their components.

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