Is image stabilization needed in the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X?

October 6, 2015

Hawei Nexus 6P low light

Both the google Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X new smartphones lack an optical image stabilization, but do you really need one? In this post I want to try to answer that question.

An optical image stabilization mechanism is a hardware component which was designed to compensate for camera movement by moving the sensor (or the lens, aka lens-shift) to the opposite direction, therefore minimizing the occurrence of blurred images. In most cases, blurred images are caused when shooting photos at a shutter speed which is below the recommended by the shutter speed ‘rule of thumb’ (recommended shutter speed = 1 divided by the focal length of the lens). So for example, if you shoot with a 24 mm lens, you should shoot at a minimum shutter speed of 1/24 sec.

The problem starts when there isn’t enough light and a slower shutter speed is needed to get a well exposed shot, or if the photographer intentionally want to use a slower shutter speed to achieve certain type of effects in the image. ¬†Using a slow shutter speed under the optimal one can lead to a blurry image. An optical image stabilization helps with that by allowing photographers to shoot at slower shutter speed and still maintain sharp results. Most mobile phone OIS will give you about 2-stop advantages, some are better, some are less effective. This means that if you shoot an image with a 30mm lens and the recommended shutter speed is 1/30 sec., with a 2-stop compensation OIS, you can shoot at 1/8 sec and still maintain a sharp image.

Keep in mind that an optical image stabilization won’t help in freezing fast moving subjects, for this you’ll need a faster shutter speed that compensates for the movement speed of the subject and freeze it in frame. Also don’t confuse digital stabilization with an optical one. A digital stabilization uses software and is useful when recording videos. The camera records an image larger than the area of the frame and corrects movements by shifting the image in different directions. So for video recording, digital image stabilization can be very efficient, even better than an OIS, but for stills an OIS is the obvious choice.

The Google Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X lacks an optical image stabilization module. You probably read on many sites that according to Google (“..obviate the need for OIS”, see video below) , due to the light gathering capability of the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X sensor, OIS is not necessary.

So the 1.55 micron pixels with the combination of a fast fixed f/2.0 aperture allow the camera to collect more light and therefore improve the overall low-light performance. For a given scene, this allows you to shoot at a faster shutter speed and still maintain good exposure compared to a same phone using a sensor with less efficient light gathering capability. That being said, the problem isn’t gone by using larger pixels, but you now have less chance of getting blurred images in most situations.

According to Google, 80% of all smartphone photos are taken in less than the ideal light conditions. So with the Google Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X you are now less likely to get blurry images when shooting in dark situations. If the Nexus 6P and 5X had an optical image stabilization, that could have helped to even further improve the low-light performance of the Nexus 6P and 5X camera. Whatever the reasons Google has opted to omit the OIS, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X still show very strong low-light capabilities in early tests. In the video above you can see that the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X even outperform the Apple iPhone 6s Plus in terms of brightness, details and tone mapping according to Google.

So should you worry about not having OIS on the new Nexus 6P and 5X? Probably not. According to DxOMark the Google Nexus 6P shown very strong capability and as of the time of writing, it is positioned in the third place, topped out only by the samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Sony Xperia Z5 in the overall score. The large sensor pixels does reduce the need for an OIS probably in most situations, at least for the casual photographer; but it could have helped even further if it had an OIS.

Have a different opinion? share it in the comment section below. Thanks.

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