If you are like me, you probably own a variety of Nikon lenses spanning many years of production. I think my oldest lens is a 50mm F1.8D; whatever happened to those great lens distance scales and focus marks? One thing you might notice is different VR choices for your lenses. Looking through my lenses, I have five choices; off, normal, active, tripod and sport. Obviously, off means off. But what about the other three? Here is the breakdown.
Normal Mode; the default mode. Detects camera shake and minimizes this issue. Also detects panning and will reduce VR to only vertical axis.
Active Mode: to be used when shooting from an unstable platform, such as a car or boat. More aggressive VR is engaged to compensate. Not good for panning.
Tripod Mode: to be used when shooting on a tripod. VR action is changed to deal with slight vibration from mirror or shutter when shooting on a tripod. Some of the super telephotos have this mode, but it is not on the newest versions.
Sport Mode: the newest choice, and the most exciting. Limits VR to minimal amounts, to be used with moving subjects like birds and sports. There is no delay in the shutter firing, and the image is smooth and steady in the viewfinder, easier to track subjects. This mode works with new cameras like the D500 and D5.
Different brands have different modes. Canon Mode 1 is similar to Nikon Normal, and their Mode 2 is for panning shots. Other brands have in-camera stabilization.
When do you use VR? When you are dealing with camera shake at slow shutter speeds. If I am shooting at 1/1000 or faster, then I will turn off my VR because it really isn’t helping. If I am on a tripod, I will also turn it off (except for one situation, more on that in a second). I have shot with VR on with various Nikon lenses mounted on a solid tripod and gotten blurry photos. How? Because VR is looking for movement and trying to compensate for something that is not there. This type of blur has a distinct look; I’d call it fuzzy instead of blurry. Turn off VR on the same lens, and things are tack sharp.
The exception to the ‘tripod VR rule’ is when I shoot my 600mm F4. Because this lens is so big, has so much reach and in general is hard to stabilize, I generally leave it in Tripod mode when on a tripod. I’ve done tests, and I get sharper images with Tripod VR on than with it off. Those little vibrations on big glass are hard to eliminate. And if I am dealing with strong winds, I may just leave the VR on all my lens since the tripod is shaking like a leaf.