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The Binocular Advisor


Image Stabilizer Binoculars

A hands-on review

by Michael and Diane Porter

Canon Stabilizer Binoculars

Canon's Image Stabilizers (IS) are the Shrek of binoculars. They're big, heavy, and funny looking, but they possess remarkable powers. They can do something no other binocular can do.

The magic of the Image Stabilizer

Push a button on the top of the binocular, and the hand-held picture stabilizes as if it were mounted on a tripod. The Canons let you hand hold binoculars with high magnification and yet see a rock-steady image.

The Canon technology electronically dampens vibrations, such as the normal tremor of the human hand. We've never met anyone who could hand hold a 15-power binocular steady. That's why birding binoculars are usually made in 10 power or less. And it's why people usually use a spotting and tripod scope for situations where they need more magnification.

However, the Canon IS binocular is an alternative to a spotting scope and tripod. While it does not offer as much magnification as many scopes, it is lighter and easier to carry. And it does let you see more detail than any hand-held conventional binocular can.

How much better can you see with a 15x Canon IS?

We did a quick, hand-held test. We posted a dollar bill on one wall of a long room and compared Washington's portrait through Canon IS binoculars and the Zeiss Victory FL 10x42.

With the 10-power Zeiss, we could read the word WASHINGTON very clearly below the portrait at a distance of 13.5 feet. With the Canon Image Stabilizer 15x50, we could back up to 23 feet and still read it. So the 15-power Canon let us see details at almost double the distance. A duck on a lake would be identifiable twice as far away. Pretty nice.

Car power

The Canon IS is even more impressive for use in a car with the motor running. Other binoculars are rendered almost useless by the vibration of a motor. But the Canon image is completely steady.

Canon ISAnother advantage of the Canon IS shows up when you see something from a car and you want to magnify it immediately. You can pop it out the window and get on a distant hawk before it disappears. Much faster than you could set up your car window mount, attach a scope, and aim it (let alone get out of the car and set up a tripod).

A passenger can even look through the Canons while the car is moving. Think how useful it would be on a Big-Day birding trip to be able to check out birds along the route without stopping!

Does the Canon IS completely replace a scope?

Not really. It weighs less than a scope. but there are times when you need more magnification — 20 power or even 60 power —and would not be satisfied with a 15- or 18-power binocular. On the other hand, sometimes you don't really want to carry a scope and tripod. The great advantage of the Canon is that you're likely to have it with you when you need it, times when you might have left the scope at home.

Canon on a strapTwo eyes are better than one. Binoculars let your brain combine the information from both eyes. Hence it can create a richer and more detailed image than it would get from a telescope of the same magnification. That's part of why it's more comfortable to use both eyes, especially when observing a subject for a long time.

We found that we could carry the Canon IS quite comfortably by means of a binocular harness, which takes all the weight off the neck. We also like attaching it to a shoulder strap, which makes it possible to carry it even along with conventional binoculars.

What is it like to use a Canon IS?

The Canon IS has an unusual mode of adjusting the interpupillary distance, to make the two eyepieces the correct distance apart from your eyes. You push two levers together to move the eyepieces apart, and vice versa. It takes a little getting used to, but then it's fine.

You need batteries to make the stabilizing feature work. Handily enough, they're plain old AA batteries. If your batteries run down, the stabilizing feature won't function, but you can still see through the binoculars. (They'll just be like ordinary binoculars.)

To switch on stabilizing mode, you press a conveniently-located button on top of the binocular. For the 15- and 18-power versions there are two options. Press down the button and hold it, and the stabilizing function works until you let up. Or click the button quickly, and the stabilizing function stays on. That's nice for extended viewing. However, you'll want to make a point of remembering to click the button again to turn off stabilization when you're finished, so as not to leave it going and use up battery power unneccesarily.

Canon tripod screw holeIn case you decide you'd like to mount the Canon on a tripod, the binocular is tripod adaptable. There is a threaded hole on the bottom that accepts the screw of a tripod head.

This is a feature that is sorely missing on many other binoculars. We appreciate Canon's making the IS binoculars tripod adaptable.

Which is better, 15x or 18x version?

In our tests, we found that 15 power version stabilized the image to a rocky-steady state. The 18x, on the other hand, seemed to be at the limit of what the stabilizing technology was able to accomplish. We thought the 15x version provided a more comfortable viewing experience than the 18x.

Remember that dollar bill we studied through the Canon IS binoculars? We found that the word WASHINGTON looked a little bigger through the 18x, but we were able to actually read it, hand held, at exactly the same distance as the 15x. The extra steadiness of the 15x made up for the extra size of the 18x and let us see just as much detail. And the 15x has a wider field of view, which makes it easier to locate the bird with it.

It might be different for someone with exceptionally steady hands, but to us the 15x50 was the superior instrument, and it costs less.

What sizes of the Canon IS are available?

We've been talking mostly about the 15x50 and the 18x50 versions here. However, there are also Canon IS binoculars in other sizes. There is a 12x36 IS version that is smaller and a lighter weight. It might be very helpful to a person with a hand tremor.

There is also a 10x42 IS version that is waterproof. (All the others are water resistant but not actually waterproof.)

Do we recommend them?

We recommend them enthusiastically for the special situations in which they excel. The Canon IS binoculars can do something that no other binoculars can — let a person hand-hold a high magnification binocular.

Does the Canon IS replace regular binoculars?

Well, we wouldn't give up our regular binoculars. The Canon IS is heavier, and it doesn't focus as close as the binoculars we usually use, so it's not what we carry on most bird walks. But for taking in the car, or for the occasion where you need (but don't want to carry) a scope and tripod, it's a wonderful third option.

See price

Copyright 2009 by Michael and Diane Porter.



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