Electronic IS and IBIS vs gimbal: how far can in-camera stabilisation carry you?

Canon's video image stabilisation camera technologies open up new opportunities for solo shooters. So is it really time to ditch the gimbal?
Ulla Lohmann holds a Canon EOS R5 camera as she hangs from a sheer rock face.

Photojournalist and filmmaker Ulla Lohmann uses both Movie Digital IS (Electronic IS) and In-camera Image Stabilisation (IBIS) in the Canon EOS R5, and has tested how the system performs on the water in a kayak, in the air with a paraglider, and on land while rock climbing. "It probably doesn't get more extreme than having a stable camera system during rock climbing when you're hanging off a rock," she says.

Canon is a pioneer of image stabilisation (IS) technology, having launched the world's first interchangeable SLR lens with IS in 1995, as well as introducing the first cameras with in-body IS (IBIS) delivering up to 8 stops of image stabilisation – the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6.

Video stabilisation technologies continue to evolve. Many of Canon's Cinema EOS pro video cameras feature 5-axis Electronic IS (EIS), while EOS R System hybrid cameras have Movie Digital IS.

All these stabilisation technologies – optical, IBIS and digital – can work together to bring a greatly improved level of steadiness when you're recording video footage, as the sample footage below (filmed on an EOS R6 Mark II) illustrates. So how does this advanced Canon image stabilisation make filmmakers' jobs easier? And does it really mean you can retire the gimbal?

Here, we explore the freedom that in-camera Electronic IS, IBIS and IS lenses are giving to Canon Ambassadors Francesca Tosarelli and Ulla Lohmann. Working across journalism and documentary filmmaking, Francesca produces features for broadcasters that can then be developed into character-driven, cinéma-vérité-style films, while Ulla is a photojournalist and filmmaker specialising in documentary, expeditions and adventure.

Both have used gimbals to capture smooth footage while on the move, but they routinely rely on the image stabilisation features built into their Canon cameras and lenses.

Without IS

With IS

The benefits of in-camera 5-axis image stabilisation

In-camera image stabilisation technologies have many advantages. They can stabilise your footage even when you're using lenses that aren't equipped with IS, and are more convenient and faster to set up than a gimbal. However, IBIS and in-camera Electronic IS work in different ways.

"If you have a camera with IBIS, it will physically shift the sensor ever so slightly to counteract movement," explains Canon Europe Product Specialist Aron Randhawa. "It's fantastic if you're a photographer and you're taking long exposure shots, where traditionally you've had to use a tripod."

Instead of shifting the sensor, Electronic IS compensates for camera shake by digitally shifting the image to counter movement detected by in-camera gyro sensors. This has the effect of applying a slight crop to the image, as details at the edges of the frame are shifted out of the capture area.

"Electronic IS truly shines when you're walking or running, or panning the camera," Aron says. "Those are the types of movements that IBIS struggles to deal with, because it can compensate only as much as the sensor can physically move."

You can also choose a stronger stabilisation effect, at the cost of a bigger crop. "Of course, if you go for the higher option, you're losing resolution," Aron points out. "But at the same time, the amount of compensation you're gaining is greater. It might not have the same level of fidelity but can produce exceptional results as you may have been shooting in a very challenging environment where this was the only way to capture it."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A monochrome photograph of Francesca Tosarelli holding a Canon EOS C70 at the Dorico Stadium in Ancona, Italy, while filming her women's football documentary.

Filming subjects in action on the sports pitch for her documentary about the women's football team Ancona Respect, Francesca employed a gimbal with her Canon EOS C70 in the Dorico Stadium in Ancona, Italy. In more hostile environments, however, Francesca says she prefers to work without one. "From the perspective of a filmmaker working in conflict zones and emergency situations with delicate stories," she explains, "the less obtrusive and intrusive the equipment is, the better." © Arianna Moroni

A diagram of the five different planes of movement that a camera and lens might suffer.

"Canon cameras that include our advanced 5-axis Electronic IS system work hand in hand with Canon lenses that have optical IS," explains Canon Europe's Aron Randhawa. "So two axes of movement are handled by the lens and three axes by the body. If you're using an RF mount body and our latest RF series of lenses, then the lens can actually communicate with the body and vice versa, and that gives you the optimum results."

Electronic IS and IBIS vs gimbal

Modern gimbals use motors, motion sensors and computer algorithms to stabilise a camera, with 3-axis models counteracting unintentional pitch (up-and-down), yaw (side-to-side) and roll (rotational) motion while you're shooting on the move.

Longer shots that require a lot of walking or running, as well as subjects that move erratically, are likely to benefit from the motion stabilisation afforded by a gimbal. This is why Francesca used a gimbal when filming a documentary that focused on football as a binding factor for a community of women in Ancona in Italy.

"I wanted to run alongside a very fast player who is the top scorer of her team," Francesca says. "Considering her exceptional speed, I needed to use a camera, lens and gimbal that offered the right balance of performance and weight. The combination of a Canon EOS R5 C camera, EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and DJI RS 3 Pro gimbal proved to be the perfect setup for capturing footage that conveyed the sense of action."

In situations of this sort, a gimbal or Steadicam is the only option. While gimbals make it easy for single camera operators to capture smooth handheld footage, however, they do have some drawbacks. Chief of these is their extra weight, bulk and battery requirements. There's also the time it takes to manually balance the camera and lens – and the adjustments that need to be made if you change lenses or add additional accessories. Although you won't get professional results without a gimbal in extreme cases such as running alongside an athlete, it's much faster to get going and shoot with an image-stabilised camera and lens.

It's for these reasons that Francesca rarely uses a gimbal when she's filming documentaries. For her, there is an extra consideration: "A gimbal acts as an additional barrier between me and the people I'm working with," she says, "which is why I only use it in situations of absolute necessity.

"Since all of my projects require a great deal of intimacy and trust from the protagonists opening their lives to me, I feel that a gimbal somewhat diminishes my creative and dynamic possibilities," she explains.

"It also reduces my control over the frame," she adds. Gimbals are designed strictly for panning and orbital movements, whereas shooting handheld frees you to seek out whatever angle is most suitable. "I naturally prefer to do most of my shooting handheld or with a monopod," Francesca concludes.

A golden eagle in flight, wings outstretched, just above a large boulder with a wooded hillside out of focus in the background.

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Filmmaker Francesca Tosarelli uses a Canon EOS C70 camera to film her subject, with both standing on rocks on the seashore.

Francesca shoots mainly handheld or with a monopod, using a Canon EOS C70 (shown here), EOS C300 Mark III and IS-equipped L-Series Canon lenses. She values the compactness and agility offered by in-camera image stabilisation as compared to a gimbal, particularly when she needs to be able to move over difficult terrain and place her camera in any available location, such as this rocky outcrop.

5-axis image stabilisation for documentary filmmaking

Francesca's reportage and documentary projects regularly require her to work alone, so she doesn't have time or capacity to attach a gimbal or other accessories to the camera body.

"Often, I have only a top handle to quickly grip the camera, with a shotgun mic and wireless mic attached," she says. "I frequently have to place the camera in any available location, including on debris on the ground. The action is always fast paced, so it's important for the entire video and audio setup to be as small and compact as possible.

"All of my films rely on Canon's image stabilisation technology for handheld shooting or, at most, on a quickly mountable and removable monopod. While filming a documentary on the protests of Iraqi youth environmentalists in Baghdad, I used the Canon EOS C300 Mark II handheld. This allowed me to be agile in Tahrir Square during clashes, and to use the same setup in intimate moments with one of the protagonists just minutes later if they wanted to speak about the situation.

"If some shots are not entirely smooth because I'm running, it is not necessarily a problem from a visual perspective," Francesca adds. "I deal with reality, and the narrative of a chaotic scene doesn't have to be aesthetically perfect for me. Otherwise, it's fiction."

A view of a lone climber standing on a snowy mountainside filming lava flowing during an eruption at Mount Etna, Sicily.

Video image stabilisation in a volcano

Both Francesca and Ulla frequently shoot in environments where gimbals are impractical. "I don't even have my gimbal anymore – I've sold it," Ulla confesses. "I shoot a lot on expeditions, and there is no place for a gimbal when I'm working in caves, lava tunnels and volcanoes.

"It might add another one percent of perfection to my work, but it is so bulky to carry, and I get really good results with the in-camera image stabilisation."

It was during a trip to Mount Etna – Europe's most active volcano – that Ulla really got to push the IBIS and EIS capabilities of her Canon EOS R6 to the limit. "I was shooting very close to the lava flow," she explains, "so close, in fact, that I actually burnt my shoes.

"I was standing on lava that had just cooled down, so it was still hot underneath and unstable. In these situations you can't concentrate on moving very slowly from the hip and making nice movements with a camera. You're only able to stay a short time – you have to focus on where you're walking and just shoot. I had to use the camera handheld, and the image stabilisation worked perfectly."

While Francesca and Ulla frequently find themselves in extremely testing environments where a gimbal would be unworkable, these accessories still have a place – particularly when using heavier cameras and lenses, where uncompromising performance and resolution are required, or if you need to move the camera at speed. But the ability to keep your camera setup lightweight and shoot handheld more spontaneously is where the freedom, immediacy and creativity offered by Electronic IS, IBIS and optical lens IS truly shine.

Marcus Hawkins

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