How IBIS Saved the Day, er, The Night

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Image for post
A handheld exposure of Comet NEOWISE minutes before the clouds rolled in. Photo by Derrick Story.

Some photographers view In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) as a necessity. Others consider it a convenience. I’m now convinced it’s a life saver.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Image stabilization, whether it’s enabled in the body of the camera, or in the lens, enables the photographer to overcome camera shake in long shutter speed situations. The image softness from camera shake differs from a mis-focused picture, in that everything in the composition lacks sharpness, not just one area. It’s dreadful.

IBIS opens up a new world to artists who like to push the envelope in low light conditions. Instead of having to trot out a tripod every time the shutter speed dips below 1/15th of a second, we can gird our loins, calm our breathing, and handhold a long exposure shot. How very freeing this feels.

And last night, it saved me.

Comet NEOWISE has been flirting in the Northern skies of Sonoma County, my home. The teasing wasn’t so much the comet’s doing as it was from the marine layer that creeps in most evenings providing us with excellent sleeping temperatures. Yes, it’s good for cooling off the house, but not so great for astrophotography.

So we dance.

I tour the back roads in my Saturn SL2 that’s well-accustomed to dust and potholes. Since it has no interior lighting, my night vision benefits as well. When I see an opening in the sky, I scan the area with my binoculars searching for the comet peeking through the clouds. If I spot it, I must act quickly.

Thursday night was the beginning of an excellent viewing window for NEOWISE. I wanted to post a picture on social with a short message urging my photographer friends to venture out and take advantage of this opportunity.

But as I sat there in a dark vineyard waiting, the clouds dampened my enthusiasm. I was almost ready to start the car and look for another location when the comet appeared. How beautiful she looked in the binoculars. I had to act quickly.

I reached for my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with a 17mm f/1.2 lens. There was no time to set up the tripod. It was now or never.

I leaned against the car and recorded a 6-second exposure holding the camera as steady as I could. Not 1/6th of a second; 6 full seconds. Insane, right?

The first frame looked decent on the LCD. The clouds sensed my presence. The battle was on. As they raced toward NEOWISE, I exposed another frame. And then another.

And then she was gone. The sky turned gray and it was time for me to leave the vineyard.

When I opened the laptop at home and started reviewing the images, my hopes were kept in check. No way a handheld 6-second image would be useable. But I was wrong.

The next morning I posted my encouraging message to get out and see the comet, complete with the impossible image from the night before. I didn’t share my story about how I captured the shot. That I saved that for you. And my Olympus camera saved me that night.

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