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Which IS Mode for Sports Photography?


The first Canon EF lens to come with In-lens Image Stabilizer (Optical IS) was introduced in 1995 in the form of the EF75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. For a lot of sports photographers who rely on telephoto lenses, this was an extremely appealing feature, being able to shoot with the lens zoomed to its maximum without the need for a tripod.  

What a lot of photographers misunderstand about Optical IS is that it helps to stabilise the subject. This is not true, as the gyroscopes and sensors within the lens work in tandem to detect the amount of movement and translate that to adjusting the lens position within the barrel to counteract such movements.  

These days, EF lenses with Optical IS are abundant. Even the kit lens that is bundled with an entry-level digital camera may be shipped with an Optical IS-equipped lens, such as the EF-S18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. But, depending on the lens, there may be up to three different Optical IS modes, which you can choose from. For sports photographers like Victor, these different Optical IS modes will accommodate different types of camera movements introduced while capturing the shot.  


EOS R5, EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, f/2.8, ISO 1250, 1/1000s, 300mm 

IS Mode 1 

IS Mode 1 is the most commonly used Optical IS mode, and is found in all IS-equipped lenses. In this mode, the lens will counteract pitch and yaw movements. IS Mode 1 is great for stabilising shots taken with a slow shutter speed, and where the subject is static within the frame. For example, sports like golf, archery and weightlifting, can be easily captured tack-sharp with the aid of IS Mode 1.  


EOS R5, EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/1250s, 300mm 

IS Mode 2 

Sports photographers who do a lot of panning shots will find IS Mode 2 extremely useful. This is because IS Mode 2 was designed specifically to counteract camera movement caused by panning. In this mode, the lens will sense perpendicular movements and stabilise the lens. This mode will be very useful for photographers who are shooting the F1 races, track-and-field and motocross sports, where the subject is moving in one direction.  

Lenses that have IS Mode 2 are equipped with IS Mode 1, too. For example, the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM and the EF300mm f/4L IS USM.  


EOS R5, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, f/2.8, ISO 5000, 1/1000s, 70mm 

IS Mode 3 

IS Mode 3 is the latest mode, and was introduced by Canon in 2010. In this mode, Optical IS is activated only on a full press of the shutter to capture the shot. In IS Mode 1 and IS Mode 2, the stabilising effect kicks in when the shutter button is half-pressed. This poses a problem for some photographers who capture team sports such as basketball or soccer, where the movement of the athletes may change suddenly. The sudden change in camera movement may introduce undesirable effects caused by the Optical IS module switching stabilising direction as the photo is taken.  

Lenses that have IS Mode 3 also have both IS Mode 1 and IS Mode 2. For example, the EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, EF400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, EF400mm f/4 DO II IS USM, EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, EF600mm f/4L IS III USM, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x and RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. 


Outside of sports, photographers who use telephoto lenses extensively will stand to benefit from these different Optical IS modes as well, as long as they know whether the subject is static, or moving in one direction or erratically.  

Optical IS has been a mainstay for Canon, but with the launch of the mirrorless EOS R5 and R6, In-Body Image Stabilizer (In-body IS) was introduced. While a traditional Optical IS offers up to 5 stops of stabilisation, a combination of compatible In-Body IS and Optical IS can compensate for up to 8 stops. For example, when the R5 is paired with the RF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, photographers can shoot handheld with extremely slow shutter speeds and still get sharp photos.  

A lesser known Optical IS mode of Canon's is Hybrid IS. Hybrid IS is specifically designed for close up and macro photography, where camera movements may be a combination of both linear and rotational. Lenses such as the EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM have Hybrid IS built in.  


With such in-depth know-how of image stabilisation, it is no wonder that some EF lenses have long been a favourite among sports photographers. But this is not the end of the road; with the introduction of In-body IS in the R5 and R6, you can be sure that Canon will push the envelope and dish out more innovative IS features.  


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