I have always read that you must turn off your lens vibration reduction when shooting on a tripod. So what happens if you don’t? Are your shots hopelessly blurred? Do all lenses behave equally badly if you forget to turn VR off?
Is Vibration OFF mandatory for tripod use?
I tend to reject just accepting what I’ve read or been told at face value. So, naturally, I decided to conduct a test to find out for myself. I already know that keeping VR active while using a gimbal head works fine.
I decided to test a Sigma and a Nikon lens, in case the two different companies use entirely different technology in their anti-vibration systems. In both cases, I chose their latest-generation lenses that should represent the state of the art in vibration reduction (or “optical stabilization” as Sigma calls it). Really old lenses with first-generation VR might give different results, but for now I wanted to try modern gear.
I chose to test the Sigma 70-200mm Sport at 70mm and f/2.8 and the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 E VR at 70mm and f/2.8. In both cases, I used a shutter speed of 1/160. There is also lore that says “don’t go beyond 1/500 shutter with VR active”, which I have also debunked with my “modern” lenses.
The Sigma lens was set up with their OS algorithm called “Moderate View Mode”, although all of their OS algorithms are supposed to achieve identical anti-shake results on the sensor.
The Nikkor lens was set up with the “Normal” VR reduction mode.
Both of the selected VR modes mentioned above are my standard ones to use, and therefore the ones I’d forget to turn off when mounting my camera on a tripod. Believe it or not, I have forgotten to turn off VR more than once.
In all tests, I used a really heavy tripod, since a flimsy tripod would probably need lens VR active anyway. I mounted the lenses onto my Nikon D850, and I shot the tests using Live View (with contrast detect) and with “Silent Shutter”, to guarantee that there would be zero camera vibrations. I used a wired remote shutter release.
Comparison Resolution Results: Sigma
The plots above show the MTF50 resolution (measured in line pairs per millimeter). These 2-D plots show the entire sensor surface results. This kind of plot could be handy in case any vibrations would tend to mess up resolution in either the vertical or horizontal directions. The “meridional” plot measures resolution in what’s often called the “tangential” direction. The “sagittal” plot is measuring resolution parallel to “spokes” emanating from the lens center.
The first plot is a “reference”, since vibration reduction is turned off. Center resolution peaks at about an MTF50 of 62 lp/mm. Again, the camera is on a tripod.
In the plots above, vibration reduction was turned on while being mounted on the tripod. The resolution in the “VR ON” mode is actually a tiny bit higher, but essentially the same as the “VR OFF” results, within experimental error.
I would conclude from these results that it really doesn’t matter if anti-vibration is active or not. I actually took many shots of my resolution target with both VR=ON and VR=OFF. I really couldn’t discern any overall difference between VR active or not. The average MTF50 for 10 shots with VR ON was 62.3, and the average for 10 shots with VR OFF was 60.2 lp/mm. Given the shot-to-shot variation, these values should be considered to be about the same.
Comparison Resolution Results: Nikkor
The plots above are my reference standard for my Nikkor 24-70 at f/2.8 without any vibration reduction while mounted to my tripod. Peak resolution is about 52 lp/mm
With VR active, the results don’t look any different. Again, the camera is on the tripod. Peak resolution looks about the same as with the VR OFF shot. The average of 10 shots with VR ON was 50.2 lp/mm and the average of 10 shots with VR OFF was 50.5 lp/mm. Again, these average values should be considered about equal.
Slow Shutter Speeds
Is there any concern about VR with slow shutter speeds? I tried using my Sigma 150-600 at 600mm, ISO 64, f/11, and 1/25 second shutter. This is a crazy slow shutter speed for this lens, even on a tripod.
VR ‘off’ testing showed a peak MTF50 of 34 lp/mm and an average MTF50 of 31.3 lp/mm.
VR ‘on’ testing showed a peak MTF50 of 37 lp/mm and an average MTF50 of 32.6 lp/mm.
If anything, leaving VR active helped a little bit. It certainly didn’t harm anything.
I don’t think I’ll bother to turn VR OFF when I use a tripod for a short period. I will still probably turn it off for extremely long shutter speeds (like several seconds) if for no other reason than to save some battery power.
You might want to do some testing of your own if you have some old lenses with ancient vibration reduction hardware. I don’t want to imply that these three different lens test results are guaranteed valid across all lenses (especially other brands).
I keep finding that you can’t just take photography rules at face value. Find out what your gear can actually do, and it will enable you to be a better photographer.