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Canon 10x30 IS Review

These 10x30 image stabilising binoculars are among the oldest and cheapest models in Canonís current range, which has expanded to a bewildering 11 models from at least three generations and goes from 8x20 to 18x50.

I used a pair of these extensively when I lived in a second floor flat in Switzerland and had only the lakefront boulevard to set up a tiny telescope in a corner.

Before that I had thought of stabilising binos as a gimmick, but I soon realised how useful they were Ė able to go deeper and resolve more by eliminating the shakes Ė and I used them more than anything else, mainly for deep sky and the Moon too.

If you want to try image stabilisation without spending too much, these remain an obvious choice, the cheapest of Canonís range likely to work for astronomy (20mm objectives are just too small, 8x magnification too low).

At A Glance

Magnification

10x

Objective Size

30mm

Eye Relief

14.5mm

Actual Field of View

Apparent field of view

55.3į (105m/1000m)

Close focus

4.2m

Dimensions (L x W)

150x127mm

Weight

600g (excl. 2xAA batteries)

Data from Canon.

Whatís in the Box?

Design and Build

Compared with normal binoculars, the external design of these binoculars is unusual, though typical of Canonís entire IS line. They have the look of consumer electronics not optics, but the fit and finish are good.

Body

The body is plastic covered in a thin rubber that you wouldnít call armour because it wonít do much to protect them from knocks. As Iíve said, they look like the consumer electronic appliance they are rather than traditional binoculars.

These and the other basic models boast no particular sealing standard, but their plastic body looks as if it would stand a heavy shower without leaking. In comparison, Canonís premium 10x42 IS model is completely sealed, like a typical high-end birding binocular. The large 15x50 and 18x50s are Ďbuilt to withstand harsh weatherí but arenít fully waterproof against immersion.

The larger IS models are bulky and heavy, but not so these. They are a bit larger and chunkier than a traditional pair of 10x30s, but weight is very reasonable at 600g Ė no more than most conventional 10x30 binoculars.

Focuser

One of the unusual things about Canonís IS designs is that they have internal moving-objective focusing, despite being porro-prism. In practice the focuser is smooth, progressive and precise, although the knob is on the small side for gloved hands.

Optics - Prisms

Like other Canon IS models, these are Porro-prism binoculars, just like traditional Ďgranddadí binos, though they donít look it. Thatís no bad thing, because porro-prisms transmit more light because they donít need mirrors and need no special phase coatings, unlike most roof prisms.

The clever feature of these is of course the stabilisation, which works via a flexible lens in the optical path which is distorted under computer control to counteract shaking. Itís an electrical system like all image stabilising binoculars except Zeissí ancient and expensive 20x60s.

This cutaway image shows the IS lenses and field flatteners sandwiching conventional porro prisms.

Optics - Objectives

The objectives on Canonís basic models like these are simple doublet achromats and do not contain ED glass, though the larger models from 42mm upwards do.

They are marketed as having ĎSuper Spectraí coatings, which seems to mean the same high quality multi-coatings that all Canon binoculars have. The coatings certainly look excellent, very transparent and of a neutral muted greenish hue, as youíd expect from a maker of so much premium optics. This is important for brightness, but to prevent ghosting and reflections too.

Internally, the barrels are well baffled against stray light with the sort of multiple ridged baffles you sometimes get in high-end camera lenses and exactly like the ones on the top-of-the-range 18x50s.

One stand-out feature of these optically are doublet field flattener lenses. Now more widely found in high-end binos, they are still a rarity at this sort of price. Field flatteners are a great feature for astronomy, because stars really show-up the edge distortions found in many binoculars by stretching into lines away from centre field.

Optics - Eyepieces

The eyepieces appear to be a simple 3-lens design plus those doublet field flatteners to make 5 elements total. They do a good job, though, with reasonable eye relief stated at 14.5mm but feeling closer to 16mm. Field of view is a very typical 6įapparent and 55.3į actual Ė exactly like my reference-standard Nikon 10x42 SEs.

Like other Canon IS binoculars, the eyepieces pivot to accommodate different eye spacing, but donít move in and out like usual porros.

As do all Canonís binoculars except the premium 10x42s, these have fold-down rubber eyecups instead of the click-stop variety most modern designs feature. Fold-down cups are rugged and these do work well, providing a good rubber lip to rest glasses on when folded down, but they lack intermediate positions and can be tricky to fold.

Eyecups have just one folded position, but provide good lip to rest glasses on.

Accessories

The 10x30 IS come with a decent fabric zipped case and the usual webbing strap. Youíll need to add two AA size batteries for the stabilising, which pop into a little compartment with a hinged door.

In Use Ė Daytime

Ergonomics and Handling

The 10x30IS are easy to hold and the focuser falls nicely under the index finger. The plastic body has the advantage of being warmer to hold in winter. These arenít a heavy binocular and are comfortable to carry.

The eyecups arenít ideal, but folded down they are comfortable for me with glasses on.

The View

Even without activating stabilisation, initial impressions are good: a sharp, bright, wide, flat field of view with good contrast and minimal ghosting. Like many eyepieces they are a bit sensitive to blackouts if you donít get the position right, but not as bad as the Nikon SEs, for example. Flare and coma are very well controlled.

Flat field?

As you might expect, given the field flatteners these incorporate, the field of view remains sharp and flat to the edge.

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, itís not instant. Then, miraculously, all the micro-jiggling just smooths out and you suddenly see more detail, much more detail. Thatís the first thing that really hits you with these Ė how much detail youíve been missing with ordinary binos, even good ones.

My wife and I were high up on a hillside, amongst the vineyards overlooking that 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.

ďBenetton?Ē She guessed.

ďPress the button on topĒ I said.

ďOh wow! Right! itís Bernard Nicod.Ē (A Swiss estate agent) she said confidently.

Thatís how much difference I.S. makes.

You may have read 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. Itís 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.

Chromatic Aberration

These lack ED lenses to control chromatic aberration, but they are not too bad without it - much like a good, old-fashioned pair of porros with excellent optics. They do show some false colour fringing when panning through branches in silhouette, for example, or when watching birds wading in bright water. Mostly, itís not intrusive.

This level of false colour was once the norm, but more and more binoculars at mid price levels now have ED lenses to all but eliminate it.

In Use Ė Dusk

Despite good coatings and high-transmission porro optics, thereís no getting away from the small objectives for dusk use: these are good average, but no better. Still, these gave me some wonderful views of the alpenglow-lit peaks of the Dents Du Midi at the end of Lake Geneva.

In Use Ė The Night Sky

Despite their small size and contrary to what I have read elsewhere, these binoís 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 apart from a tiny telescope. On clear nights after work, 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).

The stabilisation is a real bonus for astronomy. Press the magic button and stars become tight and resolution improves dramatically, almost as if they were tripod-mounted.

Meanwhile, basic optical quality is, like all the Canonís Iíve tried, very high as promised. These pass the ďJupiter testĒ with flying colours, showing no flare or smear.

A snowy Swiss Moon was one of my favourite views with Canonís 10x30 IS binoculars.

The Moon

In Switzerland, I used to look forward to viewing the crescent Moon each month and the Canonís steady view gave surprisingly enjoyable views of Luna.

There is a little false colour on the Moonís limb, more than the Nikon SEs, but quite typical for most binoculars. Otherwise, these give a surprisingly detailed view of the Moon, more than usual with 10x binos simple because they eliminate those shakes.

Most of the mare and highland regions from an atlas or app can be found and explored, the major craters too.

Planets

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.

Deep Sky

Surprisingly, the dark Alpine nights brought out the best in Canonís 10x30s.

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 when viewing deep sky. Donít discount this effect Ė itís real. Shaky stars are blurry stars are fainter stars!

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, the Andromeda galaxy and the star fields in Perseus. I even used the Canons for some of the practical sessions in my Open University astronomy course.

On other evenings, Iíd walk out on a pier into the lake and enjoy the lapping waves below and the sparkling Pleiades (cluster not ski resort) above.

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 Ö

The view from my favourite astronomy spot above Lake Geneva.

Summary

I really liked the Canon 10x30 IS binoculars. True they donít 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.

Alternatively, if you just want to try image stabilising binoculars without blowing your budget, these are an excellent choice.

They may be an old and basic model, but Canonís 10x30 IS binoculars have excellent optics and good stabilisation. They are highly recommended.

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