Canon 12x36 IS Review
I was initially cynical about image stabilising binoculars, but Canonís original 10x30s convinced me, back when I lived in a Swiss apartment with nowhere to setup a telescope. There is no doubt: one of the main limiting factors with hand-helds will always be the shakes and binoculars 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.
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.
Please note: Iíve since reviewed the newer IS III model. You can read it here.
At A Glance
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
Width x Length
150 x 174mm
Data from Canon.
Whatís in the Box?
Design and Build
The Canon IS range has three different groups: the first includes 8x25, 10x30 and the 12x36 on test here, 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.
Even more recently (2017) Canon have introduced some new designs in the smaller sizes that feature a dual-action stabiliser that may help resolve the artefacts Iíve noted in this review by offering an ĎIS lightí option; I havenít tried them yet.
All Canonís IS binoculars 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. You activate this system by simply pushing a button.
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.
Weight for the 12x26s is 660g: just a little heavier than the Canon 10x30s. They are some 24mm longer, too Ė due to the longer objective housings to accommodate their longer focal length lenses. Nonetheless, like the 10x30s these are a light and compact binocular.
Unlike the more expensive models, these donít offer any special sealing against water ingress (the 50mm models are basically splash-proof, the premium 10x42s fully waterproof).
Most porro-prism binoculars like these 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.
To adjust dioptre, you just twist the right eyepiece, but it is (and has to be) quite stiff to avoid moving it by accident.
Optics - Prisms
As I have said, the Canon 12x36s use porro prisms, albeit with a slightly different geometry Canon refer to as ĎPorro IIí. These are basically the type in your Grandadís old binosí, but they have serious advantages over the roof prisms found in most modern birding binoculars. For one thing, porro prisms donít need mirror coatings, so they transmit more (and scatter less) light. For another, porro prisms donít need special phase coatings to deliver high resolution.
Optics - Objectives
The objectives look to be a conventional doublet design, with no large air gaps or special dispersion lenses. They do, however, boast Canonís premium ĎSuper Spectraí coatings.
Behind those objectives, though, lies all the IS magic Ė the real-time-deformable lenses that work by altering the light path to provide image stabilising.
Optics - Eyepieces
The eyepieces are a fairly simple design, but they do incorporate a doublet field-flattener. They have a pretty standard field of view of about 5į true, 55į apparent Ė same as Nikonís 12x50 SEs - but itís very flat and usable to the edge thanks to those flatteners.
Eye relief is stated by Canon as 14.5mm, but seems more like 16mm on my pair. This is enough to make them fairly comfortable if you view with specs on.
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 eye separation than more conventional designs. If you have a narrow IPD (inter-pupillary-distance) you should try before you buy.
The 10x30 IS come with a decent zipped fabric case and the usual webbing strap. Youíll need to add two AA size batteries. The batteries supposedly last about four hours in continual use.
In Use Ė Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
The Canon 12x36s are light weight and generally easy to handle, once you get used to the unusual, all-in-one, body shape.
The focuser falls easily to finger and though the knob is quite small, the action is smooth and fluid. Focusing is perfectly accurate with no slop or play, no nasty shifts when changing focus direction.
The binoculars are easy to hold and with the eyecups folded away they are comfortable for me with glasses on. Like many wide-field eyepieces they are a bit sensitive to blackouts as you shift eye position, but not as bad as the Nikon SEs, for example.
Initial impressions (before pressing the magic button) are pretty good: a sharp, bright, wide, flat field of view with good contrast and minimal ghosting. Flare is very well controlled.
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 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.
Those quirks are the price you pay, though, for much-improved resolution Ė beyond anything hand-held 12x binoculars would reveal without a support.
The doublet field flattener means these do have a very flat field all the way to the edge.
There is a little chromatic aberration (false colour around the edge of high-contrast subjects), more than the Nikon SEs, but quite typical for most non-HD binoculars. The high-end Canon IS models use ED elements to control chromatic aberration. The cheaper models 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.
In Use Ė The Night Sky
Despite their small aperture, Canonís 12x36s 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.
Meanwhile, the flat field is great for extended objects and star fields.
The 12x36s 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 premium 12x50 birding/hunting binoculars, such as Leicaís lovely 12x50 HDs, 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.
The Moon does reveal just a little false colour around the edge Ė a trace of purple one side, green the other.
If you want to 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 Galilean moons and just about make out Venusí phase (usually a tall order for binoculars).
The Canon 12x36 IS pass the ďJupiter testĒ with no significant flare or prism-spikes.
An objective size of 36mm isnít ideal for deep sky, but the stabilisation really seems to help finder dimmer objects and much of the Messier list is within the grasp of these. I enjoyed the clusters in Auriga, the Pleaides, the Dumbbell Nebula and more. The flat field makes star fields a pleasure Ė try the area around the Double Cluster. Fainter Messier galaxies are hard to find without larger lenses though.
In terms of the basic optics, itís good news: sharp, bright and detailed with good suppression of flare. There is just a bit more false colour than the latest HD designs. Handling is good too, the focuser smooth and accurate. The eyepieces offer a wide flat field and plenty of eye relief, with the old-fashioned fold-down eyecups the main negative point.
However, in some ways I prefer the 10x30s, because their image-stabiliser is so unobtrusive. The image stabilisation on these 12x36s is much more intrusive, showing the strange artefacts like focus shift I found with the 18x50s. Then again, these do reveal more than the 10x30s, both during the day and for astronomy too. These are also arguably a good compromise between the slightly under-powered (for astronomy) 10x30s and the much heavier (and costlier) 50mm models.
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 like these and just live with the I.S. quirks.
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.