Canon 12x32 IS Review
I’ve owned a pair of Canon’s 12x36s for several years and used them a lot, mostly for travel and astronomy, but for casual bird watching and nature viewing too. I really like them as does my daughter who is usually not a fan of high-powered bino’s. They’re a current Scope Views best buy for astronomy.
The 12x36s do have downsides though – too much false colour (esp. for daytime use in bright conditions) and lack of full waterproofing.
Enter Canon’s latest 12x32s. Similar in size and weight to the 12x36s (i.e. much lighter than their other high power I.S. models) and promising advanced new dual-mode stabilisation, I bought a pair to see if a decade of further development might have produced my ideal replacement for the 12x36s.
At A Glance
14.5mm claimed, ~12mm measured
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
174mm eye cups extended
Data from Canon/Me.
What’s in the Box?
A Canon unboxing remains a prosaic affair compared to the embossed card and nature art of Zeiss and Swarovski:
Design and Build
The Canon IS range now (early 2023) has no less than five different groups, though all share a similar design and look:
· A newish range of 32mm models featuring a different type of IS derived from their camera lenses, including the 12x32s on test here
· Older 10x30 and 12x36 models, which share a similar non-waterproof design, are light weight and fairly cheap. The 12x36s are a ScopeViews Best Buy for astronomy.
· Premium 10x42s which are fully waterproof, have special lenses and are mainly aimed at birders
· Large, high-power binoculars of semi-waterproof design, with ED lenses: 15x50 and 18x50
· Recent small and light-weight ‘pocket’ binoculars in 8x20 and 10x20 sizes
Canon 12x36 and 12x32 with a pair of Swarovski EL 12x50s for comparison.
Physically, these 12x32s share their design and materials with other Canon models. They are made in Japan, as are the 12x36s and the 18x50s I’ve reviewed.
Not only do the Canon’s IS models look different from conventional binoculars, they work differently too. Instead of the whole body pivoting to accommodate different eye spacing, just the eyepieces pivot. The hinge-less plastic body has the appearance of an electronic gadget rather than fine optics, more like a Canon camera in fact. But build quality is very good.
Canon claim a weight of 780g for the 12x32s dry, a little heavier than the Canon 12x36s.
The 12x32s are almost exactly the same length as the 12x36s – quite a compact binocular, as compact as many 10x42s. However, the body is much fatter than the 12x36s (possibly to accommodate the new type of I.S.) and a different shape.
The body is also now moulded in one piece, with the objectives integrated into the body structure, unlike the 12x36s’. This should help prevent water ingress. Like the 12x36s, these don’t offer any other special sealing against water, though. Compare the 50mm models, which are splash-proof and the premium 10x42s which are fully waterproof.
Like other Canon bino’s, the 12x32s’ composite body is covered with a thin rubbery armour that helps grip, but though it isn’t a fluff-magnet like some it does attract more than the Swarovski’s for example. It has a slightly different tone of dark grey than the 12x26s, but is otherwise similar. The objectives are surrounded by thin protective rubber ‘bumpers’ – a thoughtful feature.
Some readers have reported that Canon’s armour doesn’t wear well and isn’t replaceable. At risk of repeating myself, treat these as consumer electronics, not the forever investment a pair of Swarovskis could be.
Another change from the earlier models is a different battery housing with a push-fit rubber cover. It’s a welcome improvement over the old version that needs fiddling with a coin to open.
The focuser on the 12x36s is really good – light, smooth and accurate. The focuser on the 10x42s even better, close to an ‘Alpha’ birding bino’.
The 12x32s are slightly worse than either, with a spongier feel, despite a larger wheel. Precision is good, though.
The reason for the change in feel from the 12x36s may be the way the focuser works. Both focus by moving the objectives, but the 12x36s move them externally, whilst the 12x32s have an internal focusing carriage behind a plane window.
Dioptre adjustment is standard Canon – twist the right eyepiece against a scale. It’s quite light and smooth in use (unlike the 14x32s’ I reviewed). It’s best adjusted with the I.S. enabled.
These 12x32s focus very close – I measured about 1.5m. But I couldn’t merge the image at all at this distance, perhaps due to slight miscollimation on this pair.
Close focus to infinity is just over two turns.
Optics - Prisms
All the Canon IS binoculars use a type of porro-prism called a porro II that have cemented prisms.
Porro prisms have an advantage over the roof prisms found in most modern birding binoculars: they don’t need mirror coatings, so transmit more light. Porro prisms also don’t need phase coatings to deliver high resolution.
In my experience, porros can produce tighter star images with fewer ‘spikes’ than roofs too.
Optics - Objectives
The 32mm objectives lie behind plane optical windows in this model – the same as the 14x32s (and the 50mm models), but different from the original smaller one like the 12x36s. The binoculars look like they have larger objectives because those optical windows are 35mm diameter.
Canon’s specs say that these have an astounding seven elements in their objectives. Most bino’s have two or three. But this number likely includes the stabiliser components, see below.
Canon state that they contain a ‘UD’ lens, but I’m not sure what that means. Probably not ED (or SD) glass, judging from their performance, even though most bino’s in this price range do include ED elements to kill false colour fringing.
These have Canon’s premium ‘Super Spectra’ coatings, here with a pinkish-green hue much like the best Alpha brands’. They are different/better than the 12x36s’ (see comparison photo below). Inspection suggests all elements are coated to some degree.
Baffling is good, with ridges on the lens rings and in the focuser carriages.
Canon advertise ‘Super Spectra’ coatings for the 12x32 IS and 12x36 ISIII, but 12x36s’ much more reflective (i.e. worse).
Optics - Eyepieces
The eyepieces are fatter, but have smaller eye lenses than the 12x36s – they look very like the 15x50s’. Canon state that they have 5 elements and include a field flattener lens.
Field of view is acceptable, but far from wide at 55.3° apparent, which translates to 5° true. This is the same as the maximum field you can get out of a Tele Vue 85 scope. For comparison, Swarovski’s 12x50 Els offer a 5.7° field.
Canon claim eye relief of 14.5mm, but I measured about 12mm from the rim of the folded eye cups. That’s not enough and means I can’t see anything like the whole field with my specs on.
The usual fold-down Canon eyecups are essentially redundant here – I need them folded, even without glasses, because there’s far too little eye relief to see the whole field when they’re extended. Those rubber cups fold easily, but they are real dust collectors.
Optics – Image Stabilisation
All Canon’s original I.S. binoculars – from the defunct 8x25s to the 18x50s - work on the same principle: a computer detects movement and alters the shape of a special flexible optical element to compensate and cancel the jiggling your hands induce.
These new 32mm models have a different system derived from Canon’s cameras lenses that features two modes: a regular I.S. that permits easy panning and a ‘Power I.S.’ that attempts to eliminate all movement from the view.
It seems that this new system works by changing the offset between lens elements, rather than a by distorting a single flexible element. This would explain both the chunky body and the excessive number of elements Canon quote for the objectives (seven, see above).
Quite how the standard I.S. mode differs from the ‘Power I.S.’ I don’t know, but interestingly these make a muffled clonking sound from inside when moved about, which the older models don’t.
I expected that the new lens-offset system would alter the wavefront less than a distorting element, so was hoping for enhanced optical performance from these (though the ISIII version of the original system, found in the 12x36s, is excellent).
These 12x32s have a semi-rigid case that’s both classier and more protective than the 12x36s’ basic pouch. With twin zips and a flap, it works as a stay-on case when you’re carrying – like the 10x42s’ only without the half leather. However, the strap is the same thin, unpadded one as the 12x36s’.
Canon thoughtfully include a pair of AA batteries to get you started.
In Use – Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
These 12x32s are light compared to the 15x50s and 18x50s, but heavier than the 12x36s. They have fatter barrels than the 12x36s too, making the focuser a stretch with my smallish hands.
The focuser has no backlash or variation in focus point when reversing direction, but I found it slightly spongy in operation. Best focus is a real point, though, and the focuser is precise enough to make finding it easy.
The right-eyepiece dioptre adjustment is standard for Canon and a bit basic, but smooth and precise enough.
Eyepiece comfort is poor. The eye relief isn’t enough to allow you to see more than maybe half the field with specs on, but specs off and there’s only sufficient with the caps rolled down anyway. The eyepieces are wide too, which means they’d squash my nose if I didn’t rest them on my eye sockets.
The new dual-mode stabilisation has two buttons instead of the usual one.
The front ‘stabiliser’ button allows smooth panning, whilst the back ‘power stabiliser’ button tries to ‘glue’ the image and resist any movement, as if it were a telescope.
I found the front button gives a fluid, natural view with smooth and seamless panning – better in this regard than the old 12x36s’ I.S. However, whilst the power stabiliser does anchor the view it also causes jitter and jerky panning. Overall, the combination is more complex to use, but a bit better than the 12x36s’.
Activating either I.S. mode causes a loud click, but it’s silent in operation.
Compared with the 12x36s, the ergonomics are worse. The 12x32s’ twin buttons are a different shape (one convex, the other concave) and texture from each other and one has a small bump in the armour to distinguish it. But they are smaller than the older model’s and you won’t tell them apart with gloves on.
One big improvement over the 12x36s is you can keep the stabilisation on by giving either button a quick push. Then you can change your grip or operate the focuser no problem.
The view is basically very good – sharp and detailed. The two-mode stay-on I.S. does allow smooth, natural panning in normal mode. Optical quality, as usual with Canon is very high in both barrels and focus suitably snappy.
Resolution is very high with the I.S. enabled. This is typical of stabilised binoculars. I can see details I just can’t with the unstabilised EL 12x50s. I happen on a buzzard in the woods, preening on a branch 200m away. He flies off before I’m in normal bino’ range, but I’m still able to view him in close-up detail with the power stabiliser on.
So there are some great things about the view, some less so. The field of view is the same as the 12x36s’ at 5° but a little narrow compared with modern 12x birding binoculars. However, wearing specs you’ll be lucky to see more than ~3° due to the tight ER.
The other main problem is false colour (see below), which is bad enough to be intrusive in high-contrast situations. Watching a Red Kite soar, twisting his forked tail about to manoeuvre, that russet tail was marred by false colour fringing.
Looking at a pigeon in a tree a few hundred metres away, there’s noticeably more false colour fringing the branches than with the 12x36s and it’s more sensitive to eye position. It gives the view a slightly warm tint too.
That false colour is very apparent compared with Swarovski’s well-corrected 12x50 ELs.
The view is sharp to the edge, with very just a little distortion and minimal curvature. This is something Canon do well, almost too well for birding as the barrel effect when panning is noticeable.
As I noted, false colour is a problem with these. Watching birds in trees, everything is rimmed with purple or green. That false colour comes mostly from the eyepieces and you can mitigate it by careful eye positioning.
But some false colour is also generated by the objectives, obvious when focusing though. That’s despite the claimed ‘UD’ element, despite the moving-objective focusing and porro prisms, all of which usually help quell chromatic aberration.
The false colour seems to manifest as a slight yellow cast. Photographing the view seemed to magnify this effect in every image – see below.
Once again, I just can’t understand why a new model in the ~£1000 price bracket, with a modest magnification and claimed UD glass, doesn’t fix this old bino’ issue.
In Use – Dusk
Another questionable feature is the 32mm objectives. This seems to be a thing with stabilised binoculars (Fuji’s latest are 28mm giving the 16x model an exit pupil of just 1.75mm) – perhaps it has something to do with the stabiliser internals?
In this case the view is bright in full daylight, but performance falls rapidly at dusk like any other 32mm. Yes, the stabilised view makes up for lack of aperture to some degree, but not enough. The 12x36s, which gather 27% more light, do work a little better at dusk.
In Use – The Night Sky
As for the 14x32 model, the drawbacks of the 12x32s by day turn out to be a non-issue for astronomy: stabilisation makes up for lack of aperture more than you expect and you discover how much the shakes detract from both limiting magnitude and resolution. I compared these directly with the EL 12x50s which do go deeper, but not to the degree you might think.
Viewing a star field confirms that the field is very flat, with only the merest trace of astigmatism at the very edge and almost no curvature: stars remain stars all the way across – a great feature for astronomy.
There is no nasty flare and only very faint ghosts, even on a brilliant full Moon. Meanwhile, the slightly vague focuser isn’t a problem – set it once and leave it. The lack of eye relief, as is often the case, is less troublesome in the dark too. Their relatively light weight makes them comfy to use over a long observing session.
The final advantage is the two-mode stabilisation, which is much more functional at night – use the basic I.S. to pan about searching for things, then the ‘Power I.S.’ for the best static view.
The older 12x36s leave in long slow movements, whereas the 12x32s can give a completely static ‘telescopic’ view on Power I.S. I didn’t find this very useful by day, but for astronomy it does increase resolution if there’s nothing to rest on.
As with the 12x36s, the amount of detail you can see on the Moon is surprising for just 12x.
Compared with unstabilised 12x50s, resolution is remarkable. Swarovski’s 12x50 ELs give a great lunar view, but it seems typical of binoculars: just the main landmarks – the maria, brightest rays and biggest craters. The stable view from the 12x32s reveals much more – lots of individual craters and rays, mountains in the maria, that you missed.
As I noted, there is no flare or spiking on the Moon, but there is some false colour – proper green and purple on opposite sides of the limb – but it doesn’t detract from the view the way it does by day.
Jupiter showed a clean disk surrounded by its Galilean moons, but no disk detail as always for prismatic systems. Bright Mars was intensely orange with no spikes or flare.
The 12x32s give stars both very small and intensely bright, colours strong. Why is this? It’s typical of high optical quality and also of porro-prisms, but I wonder if the new stabilisation system helps too.
The field may be narrow by modern standards, but there’s still plenty of width to fit the whole of Orion’s sword or belt in with room to spare and with all the stars sharp. Even in bright Moonlight, the core of the Great Nebula is visible among a mass of icing-sugar stars.
The Pleiades look beautiful, even in strong Moonlight: dazzling blue-white pinpoints of light embedded in a diamond dust of fainter stars.
I was surprised to find the Ring Nebula, but doing so required averted vision, a trick you’d need to acquire to get the best out of these for deep sky. It was a similar story for (relatively) fainter clusters, like M37 in Auriga.
I’m not a fan of these 12x32s by day, but they perform very well for astronomy, surprisingly so for a 32mm aperture.
Canon 12x32 IS vs Canon 12x36 ISIII
I’ve compared the 12x32s with the older 12x36 model throughout this review. Let’s summarise:
· The 12x32s have more (too much) false colour, from the eyepieces and objectives
· The 12x32s have smoother, more seamless panning on regular I.S.
· Power Stabilisation in the 12x32s has more artefacts – jitter, focus shift and jerky panning – but it does give a super-stable view
· The 12x32s’ Spectra coatings are better than the 12x36s’
· Stabilisation in the 12x32s is noisier to activate
· The 12x32s have less eye relief and are not pleasant to use with your spec’s on
· The 12x32s had a slight yellow cast to the view, maybe due to all that false colour
· The 12x36s are lighter and slimmer, so easier to hold
· The 12x36s work better at dusk due to 27% more light gathering
· The focuser on the 12x36s is more fluid and less spongy
· The 12x36s I.S. button is larger, easier to push, but the click-to-stay-on feature of the 12x32s is so much more convenient
· The 12x36s are significantly cheaper
Overall I much prefer the 12x36s, but the 12x32s’ dual-mode stabilisation does offer some advantages, including smoother and more seamless panning in regular I.S. mode.
In some ways the 12x32s are a good binocular, with a sharp bright view, lots of resolution and a flat field. The regular stabilisation is smoother and pans more naturally than the 12x36s’. Optical and mechanical quality is generally very high. But they also have a lot of drawbacks, at least for daytime use:
· The biggest problem is too much false colour, mostly from the eyepieces, that also gives the view a slight yellow cast in some circumstances
· The power stabilisation button anchors the view like a scope, but with lots of jitter and jerky panning
· Eye relief is much too little for use with glasses, so little that the folding eyecups are redundant
However, just as for the 14x32s, they are transformed at night. For astronomy the downsides aren’t as important, but super-sharp stars, a very well-corrected field and steady stabilisation count in their favour.
Overall, though, these underperformed the old 12x36s and won’t replace them as my travel binoculars, despite some real benefits from the new stabilisation.
For most things I would recommend the 12x36s instead of these 12x32s, but they did perform well for astronomy and their dual-mode stabilisation is a useful feature.
OR Buy Canon 12x32 IS from Wex here: