Commack High School Winter Concert III
Great concert by the 11th and 12th graders! Very talented bunch. Since I pretty much beat to death how to photograph high school concerts in the two previous posts I thought I'd talk a bit about using lenses with vibration reduction to get better photos in very low light situations.
Typical stage lighting can run the gamut from bright hotspots to areas where light falls off to nearly complete darkness. Getting a decent image of the darker areas of the stage requires shooting at a very low shutter speed. This increases the risk of motion blur both from the motion of your subject and the motion of your camera. You can use a monopod or other support to steady your camera but there's not much you can do about your subject except wait for them to stop moving. Even with a monopod, you run the risk of introducing enough camera shake at low shutter speeds to blur your photo.
Many of today's lenses, and some camera bodies, are equipped with a vibration reduction feature. It's called different things by different camera manufacturers (image stabilization, optical image stabilization, etc.) but its purpose is to minimize camera movement. If you have this feature you should definitely turn it on as it will allow you to take sharper photos at lower shutter speeds.
Have a look at frames 2869 and 2873 in this gallery. I shot them at a focal length of 360mm on an APC-C body, which is equivalent to 540mm on a full frame body, at 1/8 sec. Unless I had the camera on a tripod there's no way I could have used a shutter speed that slow without vibration reduction. And there are times, especially when photographing concerts, when you either can't use a tripod or you wouldn't want to use one.
One caveat to using vibration reduction - it tends to actually increase vibration if the camera is mounted on a tripod, so you want to only use it when your camera is hand-held or on a monopod. Also, if you're in bright light shooting at fast shutter speeds it doesn't really buy you anything except to drain your battery faster, since the fast shutter speed counteracts the effect of camera motion. Other than that, it works like a charm.