Windows 10 Mobile's Camera: testing Digital Stabilisation and OIS together...

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It's becoming increasingly clear that the Windows 10 Mobile Camera application is being groomed for taking over all photo and video duties on all compatible smartphones. I reported on the addition of RAW capture here, and in this video-centric feature I answer a question that many of us have had when looking through Camera's settings: why is there an option for 'Digital Video Stabilisation' when run on all the various Lumias with OIS-equipped cameras? Isn't OIS enough? Actually, it turns out that it isn't, see the video below for proof.

The story so far then - OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) has been in the top end Lumias ever since the Lumia 920 and generally working very well. Hundreds of times a second, sensor data is used to fire in adjustments to tiny MEMS components around the optics, evening out any small vibrations and wobbles caused by the user. In fact, the use of OIS has snowballed across the mobile industry, with devices likes the LG G3, G4 and Motorola Nexus 6 all having the technology.

Now, interestingly, Apple went with OIS on the iPhone 6 Plus and without it on the iPhone 6, despite having just as much 'room' for the components. The iPhone 6 used software stabilisation instead, something which various manufacturers and applications have tried in the past, using both sensor data and frame analysis to adjust the video in real time. It works pretty well too, though you tend to lose part of the field of view once 'wobbles' in the frames have been removed.

Windows 10 Mobile's Camera application appears to do the same, but this does then raise the question of how the physical OIS - which you can't turn off - gets on with the digital stabilisation scheme. Will the combination of the two cause unsightly artefacts and jerkiness? 

I decided to test this with a few quick videos, handheld on the Lumia 930. Mostly I used full PureView digital zoom, i.e. I wanted to make any 'wobbles' caused by my grip/breathing/etc. to be as noticeable and problematic as possible. See what you think:

[As usual with embedded videos, you'll probably want to make the video full-screen in your browser:]

As you'll have heard from my commentary, it turns out that the two stabilisation systems work rather well together, explaining why Microsoft is defaulting to 'Digital video stabilisation' being 'on'. What's happening is that the OIS is correcting for small 'wobbles' of the order of a few tenths of a second, while the digital stabilisation is working an order of magnitude longer, i.e. a second or two, smoothing out larger movement. Obviously, the Microsoft software engineers (many of whom are ex-Nokia) are taking OIS into account and deliberately matching the digital system to work round it and not against it. Phew!

By the way, for those keeping score, what's left to put into Windows 10 Mobile Camera from the old Lumia Camera (née Nokia Pro Camera)? The big one is support for capturing 4K videos, along with a mechanism to capture 8MP stills from these - you'll notice that Lumia Moments is currently missing in action. I queried this with Microsoft and they're 'working on it'. So be patient. There's also something of a question mark over the whole concept of 'oversampling', but a) that only really applies these days to the old Lumia 1020 (since the 16MP capture in the likes of the 930/1520 is now around the industry standard for flagships), and b) I'll cover this in a separate editorial very soon.

Comments welcome on the stabilisation test above - I think I'd be happy leaving this setting on for general use, but what about you? Were you impressed at how stable the zoomed footage was?

PS. No, my guinea pig is not dead, just hot and sleepy after polishing off an entire bowl of food. Honest 8-)