The iPhone's image lens-based optical image stabilization is pretty damn good but it may get even better in 2020, when Apple may change to a different image stabilization technology called sensor shift.
And I say "may" because this is all according to DigiTimes, which has a hit-or-miss record when it comes to Apple supply chain reports. Still, as spotted by Apple fan site 9to5Mac, the Taiwanese publication is adamant on its prediction that the iPhone 12 will see the good old lens-based image stabilization swapped to sensor shift technology.
The current lens-based stabilization in the iPhone 11 and all flagships out there do a pretty good job at avoiding unwanted blur and jittery motion on the vertical and horizontal axis; sensor shift will add stabilization no matter the direction in which the iPhone shakes.
Lens-based vs sensor shift image stabilization
The debate between lens and sensor stabilization has been happening for a while in the photography world. Lens-based stabilization uses piezoelectric angular velocity sensors that work on the vertical and horizontal axis parallel to the image plane.
When these sensors detect irregular motion in these directions, they activate electromagnets that move the lenses in exactly the opposite direction to counter the unwanted motion. The result is less blur and clearer video. Another advantage is that it makes autofocus in low light level conditions a lot better. But the mechanism adds complexity and weight to the lens mechanism, also increasing their price.
Sensor shift stabilization works on the sensor itself. Gyroscopes detect motion in every direction and a processor interprets this motion to activate an actuator on the sensor to compensate for it. The result is that these type of sensors can eliminate unwanted motion on any axis, including unwanted rolling motion.
The camera wars rage on
In theory, this will give Apple an advantage over the iPhone competition, providing clearer photos and video footage.
Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and other flagship phone makers have been increasingly investing in camera technology. It seems that this is where all the significant innovation is and the war is heating on with new camera sensors with higher pixel counts, optical zooms, and even more camera lenses.
Samsung, for example, seems to be getting ready a photographic powerhouse in the Galaxy S11, with a rumored impressive 108MP sensor and 5X telephoto lenses with 48MP sensors — an impressive bet designed to take the photographic crown from Google and the Pixel 4.
However, I don't know of any other brands that have announced sensor shift stabilization technology yet. If Apple is really going for this, it may get an extra advantage. But it's yet to be seen how effective the tech would be.