Canon 12x36 IS Review

 

 

I was initially very cynical about image stabilising binoculars, but having tried Canonís 10x30s over several years when living abroad with limited access to a telescope, I was sold. There is no doubt: one of the main limiting factors with hand-helds will always be the shakes and binos that eliminate it have a real head-start in terms of resolution.

 

The Canon 10x30s were great, but I wanted more power (donít we all), so I started looking at Canonís other IS offerings. 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.

 

All the binoculars work on the same principle: a computer 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.

 

For astronomy, the 50mm models have most appeal, but a brief fling with a pair of 18x50s left me unsure Ė they were powerful and sharp, but the IS seemed to induce a lot of strange visual effects I didnít like. So being a cheapskate, my next IS binos were the 12x36s reviewed here.

 

At A Glance

 

Magnification

12x

Objective Size

36mm

Eye Relief

~16mm

Actual Field of View

Apparent field of view

60į

Close focus

7m

Dimensions   (L x W)

150 x 127mm

Weight

660g

 

 

Whatís in the box?

 

 

 

 

Design and Build

 

Body and ergonomics

 

 

All the Canon IS binoculars use porro-prisms (not the roof prisms more commonly found on high-end binos), but their design looks nothing like other porros. They have a non-pivoting plastic body and have the general appearance of an electronic gadget rather than fine optics.

 

Not only do the Canon IS 12x36s look different from other porro-prism binoculars, they work differently too. Instead of the whole body pivoting to accommodate different eye spacing, just the eyepieces pivot. Most porros focus by means of moving eyepieces, but on these itís the objectives that move. The focusing action is smooth, though: better than most porros, but not quite equal to the best roofs.

 

Weight for the 12x26s is 660g: just a little heavier than the both the Canon IS 10x30s and Nikonís magnesium bodied (but much more traditional) porros, the 10x35 EII.

 

Optics

 

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

 

The coatings on the lenses are good 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 doesnít wear glasses. Those pivoting eyepieces may also be less accommodating for unusual eye separation than more conventional designs.

 

Wide-angle eyepieces have lots of eye relief, but the fold-down eyecups arenít ideal.

 

Accessories

 

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

 

Canonís 12x36 IS binoculars share their fabric case with the 10x30s

 

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 donít get the position right, but not as bad as the Nikon SEs, for example. Flare and coma are very well controlled. The Canon 12x36 IS pass the ďJupiter testĒ with no significant flare or prism-spikes.

 

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 Canon IS models use ED elements to control chromatic aberration. These cheaper pairs are not bad without it, though this 12x version may have a bit more than the 10x30s, as you would expect from scaling up the same optical design.

 

Stabilisation

 

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 stops and you suddenly see more detail.

 

However, compared to the smaller model, the 12x26s take longer to settle after hitting the button. Even when they have settled down, here are those weird artefacts in the view that I had experienced with the 18x50s and not found with the 10x30s. In particular, I found a cyclic shift in focus very disturbing: over the course of a few seconds the focus would blur out and then sharpen again. The 12x36s didnít take well to being panned either, making a chattering noise and giving a strange jerkiness to the edges of the view.

 

 

In Use Ė The Night Sky

 

Despite their small aperture for a 12x magnification, these binoís do work well for astronomy. You might expect them to be dim, but thatís not the impression. As with the 10x30s, itís as if removing the shakes allows you to see fainter stars, compensating for the relative lack of light-gathering lens area.

 

The 12x36s do show more detail on the Moon than just about any other hand-held binoculars I can think of. In some ways these show you more than Nikonís superb 12x50 SEs for example, just because the view is so much less jiggly.

If you love the Moon, but live in a city with nowhere to set up a telescope, then the higher power Canon IS binoculars (with 12x being the minimum youíd go for) make a lot of sense: head out to a quiet spot, find a dark corner and take your fill of Luna, enjoying the phases and seeing the terminator highlight the major features in turn. Under such circumstances, youíll easily forgive the IS artefacts because these binos will give you views youíll otherwise only get at star parties.

 

If you must take an occasional peak at a planet with binoculars, Canonís IS line again win over un-stabilised designs, even premium ones. You can make out Saturnís shape, easily see Titan, follow Jupiterís Gailean moons and just about make out Venusí phase (usually a tall order for binoculars).

 

The 10x30s are my favourite of the Canon IS line because the image-stabiliser is so unobtrusive; but if I had to be without a scope for an extended period again, as I was whilst living abroad, I might be tempted by one of the higher magnification models myself and just live with the I.S. artefacts.

 

Summary

 

Was I lucky with the 10x30s, or does the stabilisation just suit the lower magnification better? A poor experience with the 18x50s suggest that it might be the latter. The image stabilisation on these is much more intrusive than it is with the 10x30s. Then again, these also show more than the 10x30s, both for deep sky and the Moon.

 

In terms of the basic optics, itís mostly good news: sharp, bright, with good eye relief and a wide field. These are also arguably a good compromise between the slightly under-powered (for astronomy) 10x30s and the much heavier (and costlier) 50mm models.

 

Despite the strange effects the stabilisation can create, the Canon 12x36 are highly recommended because no un-stabilised hand-held binoculars come as close to a telescope in reach and resolution.

 

You can buy the Canon 12x36 IS binoculars here: