Shaken, Not Blurred

The newest pocket cams use stabilization to save you from your shaky hands

The smaller your camera, the more susceptible it is to even the slightest tremble, which can leave your photos looking like Impressionist paintings. Fortunately, optical image stabilization has trickled down from pro cams to the shake-prone pocket models. The cameras use motion sensors to detect any quiver and move a piece of the lens to compensate for it. I tested three in the most blur-inducing scenarios: in low light without a flash-the slow shutter speed gives you more time to twitch-and at full zoom, which magnifies shake.

To see how they fared, launch the photo gallery by clicking the "Slideshow" button above.


Canon PowerShot SD700 IS

Low-Light: The Canon produced surprisingly sharp images of a pair of cats scurrying around my girlfriend´s near-dark apartment.
Zoom: Shooting a friend in an alcove illuminated only by natural light at the SD700´s full 4x zoom, I consistently got shots with little to no blur.
Usability: The Canon has three flavors of stabilization: âa'¬continuous,âa'¬ which stays on all the time; âa'¬shoot only,âa'¬ which kicks in only on shutter press; and âa'¬panning,âa'¬ for things going by. The rub: no dedicated button to activate them. $500;

Nikon Coolpix P4

Low-Light: Although the Nikon´s VR (Vibration Reduction) takes its name from the company´s professional lenses, in which it works well, VR on the P4 gave me only images of a furry blur.
Zoom: Around half of the portraits showed some kind of shake-frustrating, since this camera took the best pics under steadier circumstances.
Usability: A tiny âa'¬VRâa'¬ button switches between âa'¬normal,âa'¬ or continuous (also used for panning), and âa'¬active,âa'¬ which handles severe-shake situations, like shooting from a moving car. $400; Related:
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01

Low-Light: The FX01 captured crisp shots of Rufus the Cat in dusk-like lighting but produced excessive noise, or graininess, in the shadows.
Zoom: I got accurate skin detail with a minimum of blur on individual shots, but when I fired off a series, every third photo showed signs of shake.
Usability: A âa'¬shaky handâa'¬ button on top gives you access to two modes called, unimaginatively, âa'¬mode 1âa'¬ (continuous) and âa'¬mode 2âa'¬ (shoot-only). Both produced similar results, but âa'¬mode 1âa'¬ drained the battery faster. $350;