Canon 10x42IS Review
Iíve long liked Canonís image stabilising binoculars. For some years my go to astronomy travel binoculars have been the 12x36 ISIII model. But Iíd hate you to think that means theyíre the best birding binoculars Iíve reviewed Ė theyíre really not. For birding the 12x36s have too much false colour and arenít waterproof.
But even for birding, stabilised binoís have the potential to just show you more. In an odd moment of believe-it-or-not coincidence, as I was typing this, a woodpecker appeared in the tree outside my window and promptly flew off. No matter, I grabbed the 12x36s and followed him from tree to tree into the distance Ė enjoying his speckled plumage and red cap far beyond the range of normal binoís.
So what if you could combine those features of the 12x36s Ė their super-sharp high-power view, stabilised to resolve like no conventional binoís Ė with the attributes of a conventional birding binocular? You can, with these - Canonís top-line 10x42sÖ
At A Glance
16mm claimed, ~13mm measured from the eye cup
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
1110g w/o batteries, ~1150g with
Data from Me/Canon.
Whatís in the Box?
The box is typical Canon Ė small and nothing fancy, no Swarovski soaring raptor painting or embossed card here.
Design and Build
Canon now has a confusingly large range of IS binoculars. As of now (late 2022), no less than five different lines are sold here in the UK:
∑ Large, high-power binoculars of semi-waterproof design, with ED lenses: the 15x50s and the identical-looking 18x50s
∑ A newer line of 32mm models featuring a different type of I.S. derived from their camera lenses, including a 10x32, 12x32 and a 14x32
∑ An older line including 8x25, 10x30 and the 12x36s I mentioned in the introí, which share a similar non-waterproof design, are light weight and fairly cheap. The 12x36s are a Scope Views Best Buy for astronomy
∑ Recent small and light-weight Ďpocketí binoculars in 8x20 and 10x20 sizes
∑ These premium 10x42s aimed at birders
These 10x42s are the top-of-the-range and have features the others donít, despite being one of the older models in the line-up. Even so, I should point out here that, expensive like an Alpha binoí these may be, but you should regard them as an electronic consumer appliance Ė they will eventually wear out and when they do repair options may be limited.
Most Canon IS binoís arenít waterproof. The 50mm models are sealed against rain, but not immersion. These 10x42s however are fully sealed to JIS 7 (immersion resistant to 1m).
The thin rubberised covering is common to all Canons and though it works well for anti-slip, it isnít very protective, though these have armour ridges to protect the body not seen on other models in the range. The armour isnít too magnetic for dust and doesnít have a rubbery odour.
More troublingly the armour seems an integral part of the body (unlike the armour on your Alphas, which can easily be cut off and replaced). I havenít had problems, but a reader wrote to tell me that the coating degrades after some years of heavy use and Canon canít/wonít fix it. Iíll say it again, the price you pay for the I.S. functionality is that these are a semi-disposable consumer appliance.
These feel like a big chunky binocular compared with the 12x36s. At 1110g they are heavy for a 10x42 (for comparison, Zeissí 10x42 Victory SFs are 800g).
Like Canonís other models, the objectives move in and out to focus, but like the 50mm models here they move behind plane optical windows for sealing.
The focuser is silky smooth and ultra precise Ė similar to, but even better than, the cheaper modelsí like the 12x36s - and it needs to be given the super-snappy optics. Close focus is pretty good at about 2.5m, but for a birding binocular these are slow Ė it takes 2 ľ turns to get from there to infinity.
Dioptre adjust is by a ring under the right eyepiece that you have to snick up to adjust. Itís a system that can work well (e.g. Nikonís old HGs), but here the ring is plasticky, the action vague for those ultra-snappy optics and makes a curious rustling sound.
Optics - Prisms
These may not look like Grandad binoís with Ďshouldersí, but as far as I know all the Canon IS models use porro prisms too (rather than the modern standard Schmidt-Pechan, a.k.a. roof, prisms). This is a good thing because porro prisms bend the light with total internal reflection and are less lossy than roofs which need mirrors.
Optics - Objectives
That experience with the Woodpecker reminded me of a major downside to the 12x36s Ė false colour. Weíre not talking off-axis fringing from the eyepieces here, but proper false colour Ė a rim of green and purple around the Woodpeckerís plumage against the bright sky. This doesnít generally spoil the view; but I once used them to watch Bison at Yellowstone in thick snow and then it did.
Despite the ED objective elements that have reduced false colour in other binoculars, itís still a problem across the Canon IS range - even in the 50mm models that do have an ED element in their objectives (most of the others donít). These 10x42s are supposed to be different and a red ring is the clue.
Photographers know what a red ring around a Canon lens means Ė premium quality and cost. Their ĎLí red-ring telephotos are the top choice for professionals. Here that red ring means two elements of ED glass among four elements in three groups. Along with moving-objective focusing, this should be a recipe for supreme resistance to false colour (from the objectives at least).
Coatings are just like those on a lot of premium optics with a muted purple-green hue: similar to the 12x36sí but noticeably darker (i.e. better). Canon claim special metallic coatings to resist fogging.
Canon have fitted multiple knife-edge baffles behind the objectives, an excellent but expensive solution to stray light. However, those optical windows are close to the front so Iím prepared for veiling flare, despite some thread baffles in front of them.
Optics - Eyepieces
These have complex seven element eyepieces that incorporate doublet field flatteners and large (24mm) eye lenses.
Field of view at 6.5į apparent (59į true) is better than the traditional 6į found on older 10x42s, but less than the 7į+ offered by the market leaders. But here you do need to consider that the field edge is more usable than the competitionsí (apart from Swarovskiís 10x42 NL Pures).
One of my least favourite things about all the other Canon IS binoculars Iíve reviewed is eyepiece comfort. The 12x36s are the best of the rest in this respect, but not perfect. Even the most recent models have too little eye relief to see the whole field with specs, combined with folding eye cups that are awkward to use and have only two positions.
Unfortunately, the eye relief here isnít great either (better than the 50mm modelsí, worse than the 12x36s), mainly because Canon have fallen into the common trap of making the cup rims too far from the eye lenses.
Canon claim eye relief of 16mm, but I measured about 12-13mm from the cup rim and thatís how it feels - I canít see anything like the whole wide field with my specs on. Blackouts arenít a problem, though.
A significant difference on these top-line 10x42s is Ďmoderní twist-up cups with four positions. But the action isnít as oily smooth as the best (i.e. Swarovski) and the most extended position doesnít have a click-stop. Another minor issue is that these eye cups are real sticky magnets for every particle of dust.
The eyepiece cap is a robust squishy rubber affair that should be effective. Iím less thrilled with the push-in objective caps that other Canons lack: theyíre hard to get seated so they stay in, even indoors with warm fingers.
Other Canonís Iíve tested have a basic thin strap and an unpadded Cordura-type zip-up pouch: functional but no more.
This premium model gets a fancier semi-rigid case with some padding and a leather base Ė itís a quality item and is designed to accommodate the strap so you can carry the binoís with it on.
The strap is a bit better than the cheaper models get too, but still isnít as padded as many are today.
In Use Ė Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
These are heavy for a 10x42 Ė almost double the 12x36s. Iíd buy a harness for long days in the field. The chunky body with no cutouts makes these less comfy to hold than most Alpha birding binoís, for my smallish hand anyhow, and so the focuser doesnít fall as naturally to finger as some.
The focuser action is perfect in terms of precision and smoothness, with no play or difference in best focus when reversing direction. The knob isnít as large as a pair of Zeiss SFsí or Swarovski NL Puresí, but itís usefully larger than the 12x36sí and so easier to find and use with gloves. But the big downside is speed Ė the focuser is much slower than many birding binoís, making it harder to focus onto rapidly moving targets like birds in flight.
As I noted, the dioptre isnít great on this pair Ė a bit stiff, vague and graunchy, especially given the extremely snappy optics that demand focus precision.
Though the eye cups have three twist-out positions, I found them perfect for use without specs when fully retracted. In that position they rest nicely on my sockets and donít pinch my nose the way some other Canon modelsí do.
There really isnít enough eye relief for people like me who wear glasses to view, though Ė you lose too much field of view.
Otherwise, eyepiece comfort is good with ideal eye relief for viewing without specs and mild blackouts that only happen if you swivel your eyes around the view, not in general use or when panning.
The view is, perhaps as you would expect from the red-ring objectives, really very good indeed: ultra-sharp, vivid, bright, wide, and very flat. Resolution is superb, even without the IS button pressed. Itís a view thatís addictive and compelling, I just keep wanting to pick them up and use them Ė always a good sign.
Colour rendition is natural and all aberrations well controlled - you never notice them during the day.
The view only really loses out to the birding front-runners in width (true field is the same as the 12x42 NL Pures, for example). As a comparison point, the view is very comparable with the previous generation of premium Swaroís, the 10x42 EL SVs.
The field appears very well corrected right to the edge. Close inspection reveals the very field edge is slightly degraded by a touch of field curvature along with lateral false colour from the eyepiece, but this one of the best corrected fields youíll find in a 10x42.
Canon have included some mild distortion to make panning a bit more comfy. But in fact, the flat field globe effect means that, though these pan very fluidly for stabilised binoís, I did find it slightly nauseating eventually.
What minor residual false colour remains comes from the eyepieces and is at the field edge. Mostly, those twin ED elements successfully supress false colour: focusing through silhouetted branch or feather yields almost none and performance on snow or bright water should be excellent. This is an area where this model significantly outperforms the cheaper 10x30s and 12x36s.
Stray Light and Ghosting
I struggled to get any significant ghosting or flare Ė no spikes or ghosts on bright lights at night.
The I.S. system requires two AA batteries. Fitting them needs a coin to operate the lid release, but itís fiddly and youíll probably mar the plastic the first time you use it.
Unlike the cheaper models, here you get the option to have it stay on after the button is released (a quick push), or disengage when the button is released (a longer push): it works intuitively. As usual, a green light tells you itís on.
Unlike some of the higher powered models, the stabilisation is very unobtrusive. Thereís no real click as it activates, almost no noise when itís running and just a small click when it disengages. At this power, the FOV suffers few of the artefacts you get with the 15x50 and 18x50s Ė no jazzing, no cycling of the focus point and only very, very minor jitter in the view. Panning is very seamless too, but see the section on field flatness.
In Use Ė Dusk
They penetrate dusk shadows well for a 42mm and, surprisingly, I had no problem with veiling flare at dusk, even though those optical windows are close to the front.
In Use Ė Observing the Night Sky
Others in the range have proved good for astronomy and thatís true again here. The field is extremely well corrected, with stars distorted just very slightly towards the edge by mild field curvature and perhaps a trace of astigmatism.
But Iím being ultra-picky - off-axis aberrations are far lower than almost every other binocular Iíve reviewed (including plenty that boast field flatteners). Stars remain stars to the field stop with the Canon 10x42s. The field is better corrected than with plenty of astronomy eyepieces.
The 10x42IS Moon is absolutely sharp and even the full Moon shows no flare or spikes, no false colour from the objectives focusing through, just a touch of rose gold on the limb thatís probably from the eyepieces.
Stabilisation allows you to see a lot more detail of crater and maria, subtle shadings and rays than a Ďnormalí 10x42. However, the 12x36s do offer a significantly more engaging and explorable Moon (that jump from 10x to 12x seems subjectively more significant than a further increase to 14x or 15x).
Mars and Jupiter reveal no flare or spikes and the Galilean moons are picked out well, even when close to the planetís limb.
Large open cluster M35 resolved brighter stars with direct vision, stardust with averted. Likewise, M38 (the Starfish Cluster) showed arms with direct vision and its Ďarrow headí shape. I almost got M37, M36 and M38 in one field. Views of these clusters were among best Iíve seen through a 10x42. The Double Cluster was brilliant and populous, itís arc of stars leading away to another cluster - nearby Stock 2.
Galaxy M33 was very well picked out of the background, with its shape more apparent than usual at 42mm. The Andromeda galaxy on the other side of orange Markab looked good too, revealing its smaller companion and the dark lane that seems to cut off the nebulosity.
Orionís great Nebula M42 looked bright and contrasty, with arms and central spike clearly defined. I found the Dumbbell Nebula easily. Globular cluster M15 off Enif in Pegasus was easy to find too - a bright, fuzzy star.
Canonís 10x42IS are among the very best 10x42s for astronomy, due to their very well corrected field, premium optical quality and yes the stabilisation.
Canon 10x42IS vs Canon 12x36IS
The 12x36s are lighter and smaller; theyíre also half the price. So what are the differences between the two?
∑ The 10x42s have almost no false colour, the 12x36s too much
∑ The 10x42s are fully waterproof, the 12x36s arenít even properly rain resistant
∑ The 10x42s have an even better corrected field edge
∑ The 10x42sí focuser is even more precise and fluid, has a chunkier wheel
∑ The 10x42s are a bit better in low light
∑ Optical quality Ė sharpness, resolution, focus snap are similarly top-drawer
∑ I.S. function seems similarly effective and unobtrusive, but the stay-on capability of the 10x42sí button is a useful feature
∑ The 10x42s are much heavier at 1110g vs 650g
For serious birding, youíd obviously choose the 10x42s. But for nature viewing and travel I appreciate the small size and weight of the 12x36s. For astronomy I would choose the 12x26s Ė despite smaller objectives the high power means they generally show you more and cut through sky glow better.
In many ways the Canon 10x42s are up with the very best birding binoculars: the view really is that good, just as those red rings and Canonís optical heritage imply. They donít have the false colour problems of the 12x36s and are fully waterproof too.
Combine superb optics Ė both in design and fabrication quality - with unobtrusive image stabilisation and resolution is simply on a different level from ordinary binoís, even the very best and thatís important to understand. For practical birding Ė seeing plumage detail and making IDs Ė these are compelling. And they are a fair bit cheaper than the current top Alpha models too.
However, they do have some drawbacks to be aware of:
∑ Insufficient eye relief mean they wouldnít be my first choice if you view with glasses
∑ The focus action is excellent and close focus good, but the focuser isnít as fast as Iíd like for birds on the wing
∑ Panning with the IS on works well, but the super flat field generated a lot of rolling ball effect, for me at least
∑ These are a lot heavier than most 10x42s at over a kilo
∑ These are an electronic appliance. Expect them to be robust, but to have a finite life like a quality DSLR. Donít expect them to become an heirloom or get renewed when you wear them out
If you need that absolute freedom from false colour and proper waterproofing, these 10x42s are your best bet in Canonís range; but I still like the lighter, smaller, cheaper, easier to handle 12x36s if you donít.
Stabilisation and superb optical quality make Canonís 10x42IS a compelling birding binocular, even if the view isnít quite as wide as the current market leaders.
OR Buy Canon 10x42 IS from Wex here: