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Canon 10x30 IS Review

 

 

 

When I was a child, the astronomy books I read (most of them admittedly by the same author – Patrick Moore) urged me to start with binoculars, so I did. I got a pair of quality Tasco 7x50s, the size he recommended. But I never really got into binocular astronomy. The polluted skies of the London suburb where I grew up didn’t help, but a big part of the problem was that I found it hard to hold the binos steady enough to get a satisfying view.

 

There is no doubt that modern binoculars are a huge improvement. My Zeiss 7x42 FLs are every bit as bright as those old Tascos, but much lighter and easier to hold steady due to their ergonomic design. Even so, every time I use them I am aware that I would be seeing a whole lot more if only I could learn to jiggle them a bit less. With higher power binoculars the main factor limiting resolution is still how steady you or I are able to hold them. Enter the world of image stabilisation.

 

Canon make a range of image stabilising binoculars, all of porro prism design (but with moving objectives for focusing, rather than eyepieces, so they can be sealed). All of them work on the same principle: a computer (you knew it) detects movement and alters the shape of a special flexible prism to compensate and cancel the jiggling your hands induce. You activate this system by simply pushing a button, so the binoculars can be used without it. Note that other manufacturers have image stabilising binoculars which use different systems, like gyros to simply resist the shaking, or with gimbled prisms. I can’t comment on how these other systems work, but I can tell you that the Canon system works really well, mostly; more on that shortly.

 

The Canon range has three different groups: the first includes 8x25, 10x30 and 12x36 sizes which share a similar, non-waterproof design and are light weight and fairly cheap. Then there are the premium 10x42s which are fully waterproof, have special lenses and are mainly aimed at birders. Finally there are the larger binoculars, of semi-waterproof design: 15x50 and 18x50, which are much heavier and more costly.

 

So I decided to try the 10x30s which can be had for a few hundred pounds (half as much as the 12x36s and not much more than the 8x25s).

 

At A Glance

 

Magnification

10x

Objective Size

30mm

Eye Relief

~16mm

Actual Field of View

Apparent field of view

60°

Close focus

7m

Dimensions   (L x W)

150 x 127mm

Weight

600g

 

What’s in the Box?

 

 

Design and Build

 

Body and ergonomics

 

The external design of these binoculars is unusual. For a start, they are not metal, but some sort of plastic, but the fit and finish are good. The eyepieces pivot to accommodate different eye spacing, but are fixed length-ways, as I have said. Focusing moves the objectives in and out; the focusing is smooth – better than most porros, but not quite up to the best of the roofs.

 

Weight is very reasonable at 600g – less than Nikon’s 10x35 EII, itself a lightweight 10x binocular.

 

Optics

 

Objectives have quality coatings and the barrels are baffled against stray light.

 

The coatings on the lenses are good as well and the barrels are well baffled against stray light. The lenses on these do not contain ED glass, but the larger models from 42mm upwards, apparently do.

 

The eyepieces are a wide angle design giving about 60 degrees apparent field with good eye relief (stated by Canon as 14.5mm, but seems more like 16mm on my pair). Unfortunately the fold-down rubber eyecups are less convenient for glasses-wearers than the click-stop type, especially if like me you share them with someone who doesn’t wear glasses.

 

Wide-angle eyepieces have lots of eye relief, but the fold-down eyecups aren’t ideal.

 

Accessories

 

The 10x30 IS come with a decent fabric zipped case and the usual webbing strap. You’ll need to add two AA size batteries.

 

In Use - Daytime

 

Optics

 

Without the stabilisation feature, initial impressions are pretty good: a sharp, bright, wide, flat field of view with good contrast and minimal ghosting. The binoculars are easy to hold and with the eyecups folded away they are comfortable for me with glasses on. Like most wide-field eyepieces they are a bit sensitive to blackouts if you don’t get the position right, but not as bad as the Nikon SEs, for example. Flare and coma are very well controlled; these pass the “Jupiter test” with flying colours.

 

Talking of colour, there is a little chromatic aberration (false colour around the edge of high-contrast subjects)  on the moon, more than the Nikon SEs, but quite typical for most binoculars. Apparently the high-end pairs use ED elements to control chromatic aberration, but these cheaper pairs are not bad without it. So far much like a good, normal pair of porros with excellent optics, then.

 

Stabilisation

 

Now for the clever part. To activate stabilisation, you have to press a button on top and keep it pressed (some of the other models just need one press for on and another for off). It takes a few seconds for the stabilisation to really kick-in, it’s not instant. Then, miraculously, all the micro-jiggling just smooths out and you suddenly see more detail, much more detail. That’s the first thing that really hits you with these – how much detail you’ve been missing with ordinary bino’s, even good ones. Stars become tight and resolution improves dramatically, almost as if they were tripod-mounted.

 

My wife and I were high up on a hillside, amongst the vineyards overlooking the Swiss town where we lived for a couple of years. She was using the Canons for the first time and trying to make out a neon sign a few miles off in Montreux. She was struggling.

 

“Benetton?” She guessed.

“Press the button on top” I said.

“Oh wow! Right! it’s Bernard Nicod” (A Swiss estate agent) she said confidently.

That’s how much difference I.S. makes.

 

Let’s (quite literally) be clear about this. I have heard reports that stabilisation produces weird artefacts and distortions in the view. That is true of the more powerful models, but not with these. The effect is unobtrusive and seamless. You can use the binoculars just like normal, including panning. It’s just that almost all of the shakes are taken out. The only thing you notice is a slight tremor at the field edge, but nothing distracting.

 

In Use – The Night Sky

 

Despite their small size and contrary to what I have read elsewhere, these bino’s work well for astronomy.

 

In Switzerland we lived in a little first-floor flat above an old cobbled street near the lake where there was no garden and little opportunity to use a telescope. During that time the Canons became my only access to astronomy, so every clear night I would walk up a steep footpath, away from the streetlights and into the vineyards, near to the track of a funicular railway. There I would lie on a stone wall and scan the night sky (or take a break and watch steamers on the lake, or the moonlit snowy mountain peaks, or night skiers with flares on the slopes at the aptly named resort of Les Pleiades).

 

View from my observing site above Lake Geneva.

 

I used to look forward to viewing the crescent Moon each month and the Canon’s steady view gave surprisingly enjoyable views of Luna, but the dark Alpine nights were best. People say these small Canons are dim and of course the objectives are just 30mm, but the steady view lets you see deeper and goes a long way towards making up for the small lenses. Lying on that wall above Lake Geneva I enjoyed Praesepe and the Orion Nebula, the Double Cluster and the string of open clusters in Auriga, Andromeda and the star fields in Perseus. Saturn easily yielded the flying-saucer shape drawn by Galileo (if not actually visible as rings) and Titan. Tracking the Galilean moons of Jupiter was easy too. I even used the Canons for some of the practical sessions in my Open University astronomy course.

 

One memorable evening in February 2007 we sat on a bench near the village of St Saphorin and watched comet McNaught low in the twilight over the French pre-Alps towards Evian on the far side of Lake Geneva. Two nights later we dragged a telescope to the same spot, but the comet was already too close to the Sun …

 

My experience of the larger Canon IS models is that they introduce more strange disturbances of the view due to the stabilisation. However, larger lenses and higher magnifications of course show you more. So whilst the 10x30s are my favourite of the Canon I.S. line, if I had to be without a scope for an extended period again, as I was whilst living in Switzerland, I might be tempted by one of the higher magnification models and just live with the IS artefacts.

 

Summary

 

I really liked the Canon 10x30 IS binoculars. True they don’t gather as much light as larger pairs, but the stabilisation is no gimmick and helps make up for the lack of aperture. If you travel a lot, or live in a flat, or just want a quick-grab way of getting an astronomy fix between winter storms, these are well worth considering.

 

Canon’s 10x30IS binoculars are highly recommended.

 

You can buy Canon’s 10x30 IS binoculars here: