Lensrentals Found a Big Flaw in Sony’s Image Stabilization Unit

The team over at Lensrentals put a few Sony a7 and a9 cameras through some crazy tests and found broken image stabilization units.

I guess something that I’d never even thought about was the durability of image stabilization units in cameras. But LensRentals found that many of the units in their cameras often broke. They found it so alarming that they went so far as to alert Sony to the issue. This is all part of their Sensor to Flange Distance coverage that they’ve been doing, and the results publishing today tackle Canon, Sony, and Micro Four Thirds cameras. So we got the chance to talk to Roger about what gives with Sony’s cameras and more. Plus, you’ll learn the shocking truth about how it affects image stabilization. Be sure to also check out more on the Lensrentals Blog.

Phoblographer: What might have caused the stabilization units to break? Is there a big possibility that this happens in shipping at all? Even though the IS unit gets broken, is there a possibility that this could affect certain genres of photographers more? For example, sensor-based stabilization is better for wide-angle lenses. Without the lens-based stabilization, one is relying on what’s arguably an IS system nursing a wound despite your findings. Further, is this a problem for photographers who mount their cameras on a tripod and that don’t turn the IS off?

Roger: I’m pretty comfortable it’s not shipping, but can’t be certain: we hadn’t found it until now. I think stress of IS units working over time; repeated cleaning are faster horses than shipping, but for certain. I would guess wide angle lenses would be affected most, but I’m guessing.

Phoblographer: You mention mount issues. We’ve played with various full frame cameras, and Sony sensors consistently end up being the ones that get dirty the most. Does Sony’s mount have issues? Paul regularly needs to clean the sensor on his Sony cameras but I’ve never had to clean the sensor on the Pansonic S1 and Canon EOS R. We firmly believe that Sony’s mount has issues as do the lenses that one may attach to them.

Roger: Statistically we didn’t see the Sony mounts failing any more than the Canon. That certainly was a problem in first generation, though.

Phoblographer: How do various third party lenses play into all this? For example, despite the IS mechanism sometimes breaking, could this affect the way images are rendered? You mention sometimes there being softness on one side vs another.

Roger: I honestly can’t say there would be a difference.

Phoblographer: Could this mean that, sometimes, Sony mirrorless ILCs could benefit from micro-adjustments the same way that SLRs do?

Roger: We didn’t check, but the phase detection probably would be affected if the sensor was tilted, which it would have been here.

Phoblographer: How do the silent shutter modes on the Sony a9 and a7 series play into all of this. Because of less shutter slap, could that mean more consistent results providing that the photographer isn’t shaking from excessive coffee stirs? Image stabilization is an aid to deter camera shake. But with electronic shutters/silent shutters on, there is no shutter slap and therefore less of an issue for stabilization to correct. So, even if the unit has the IS mechanism worn down and broken, would the silent shutter still be a solid crutch? I’m assuming it wouldn’t matter because you didn’t see much of a change, correct? Also, what about other cameras with image stabilized sensors? You talk about Micro Four Thirds and, from memory, those IS units break a lot less. But what about the new Fujifilm units or the GFX 100? Anything on those fronts at all?

Roger: I think the problem, particularly for me as a lab rat, is I don’t have a great way to quantify[sic] how well IS works. What we see is the broken mounts don’t affect the actual IS unit, but I wonder if there’s a bit of ‘looseness’ that allows the sensor to vibrate or have some play during stabilization. If there is, then your point is spot on; less need for stabilization should mean less issues if there are issues. As an aside, if the IS unit working is the problem then someone who heavily uses that would be less likely to see it.

This got me thinking again, plus it is morning post coffee, so probably thinking better. These are my thoughts, nothing more, without evidence, but here you go. Screws backing up would be a vibration thing, force from cleaning, shock from shipping aren’t going to cause that. So I would take that as ‘at least to some degree, IS vibration and movement is an issue’. Plastic fractures could be either one; you probably would fracture the cover glass with a straight down push hard enough to break plastic, but maybe you could torque it or push sideways in a way that transferred enough force to cause that. Shipping shock, well, that’s similar to drop force; it should affect the heavier parts the most. A sensor assembly on a plastic mount just has no weight whatsoever. I can’t imagine that’s a contender compared to the other two.

We can’t use this tool to measure Fuji or Pentax bodies, so I can’t comment on them very much, but if the problem is IBIS, then I’d think any big sensor IBIS is at risk. However, I haven’t been inside those cameras enough to know what they use for mounts or compare strengths. This reminds me a lot of what we saw with 1st gen electromagnetic focus lenses; we found the motors were just glued to the focus assembly and they failed a lot. The manufacturers said ‘absolutely no problem, we’ve never seen it’ but people said ‘so that’s what happened to my lens’. 2nd generation electromagnetic motors were set into a plastic cage and glued. 3rd generation are basically in reinforced cages and you NEVER see that anymore.