I'm interested in the opinions and findings of other wildlife photographers on the use of image stabilization on long lenses in low light (shutter speeds around 1/200th).
I find that my own experience, after much experimentation, is still a bit confusing. It's complicated, but I'll try to describe my uncertainty. These comments are more about the Nikon VR on long lenses than others. The Canon and Olympus (in body) versions seem much milder and less intrusive, and so don't really generate this uncertainty.
There are two characteristics of VR that create the question. The first is that the effect is statistical. VR doesn't mean you will get a sharp picture, it means that out of 20 pictures, you have greater probability of getting a sharp one if you use VR. This strikes at the heart of the question: is it worth the risk?
The second consideration is that no one tells you that it is a two-edged sword with long lenses. It can snag you a surprisingly sharp image in low light, and it can also completely destroy the sharpness of all the others, that might otherwise have been just a bit soft. Deciding to switch VR off or on seems like deciding to bet on a horse or a risky investment. The horse can only lose; the risky investment can take you down with it!
Now the heart of the matter: wildlife photography isn't about making 20 pictures and picking out the sharp one. That's what sports and fashion photographers can do. If you miss out, you can ask the model to do it again, and there's always the next game!
Wildlife photography is about waiting poised after a week's observation, finger twitching, ignoring the sharp rocks and the mozzies, for that one magic moment of behaviour, and making that one rare, and often unexpected, opportunity count.
Sure, we make hundreds of nice portrait shots of animals, some sharp, some not, but we know that it is only the one special moment that will make the shot that we want, that the editor wants, and that the viewing public will go ooh and aah over. It's a kind of harnessed serendipity.
For that one special shot, do I switch the VR on and hope my number comes up, at the risk of losing all, or do I switch it off and just hope my shot is "sharp enough"? How far do I push Serendipity?
Thanks for your thoughts.