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Canon 14x32 IS Review

Canon’s revamped (ISIII) 12x36s are my current favourite general purpose astronomy binocular. They’re light, bright, sharp and comfy to use. Their stabilised images yield details of the Moon and DSOs no hand helds can. But the basic design is over a decade old now and they do have downsides – too much false colour (esp. for daytime use in bright conditions), not enough eye relief and lack of full waterproofing.

Enter Canon’s latest 14x32s. 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 was excited to try them and see what a decade of further development might bring to Canon’s I.S. technology.

At A Glance

Magnification

14x

Objective Size

32mm

Eye Relief

14mm measured

Actual Field of View

75m/1000m = 4.3°

Apparent field of view

55.5°

Close focus

1.5m measured, 2m claimed

Transmissivity

90% est.

Length

700mm cups ext.

Weight

775g claimed (820g measured incl. batteries)

Data from Canon/Me.

What’s in the Box?

A Canon unboxing remains a prosaic affair compared to Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica ...

Design and Build

The Canon IS range now (late 2020) has no less than five different groups, though all share a similar design and look:

·        A new range of 32mm models featuring a different type of IS derived from their camera lenses, including a 12x32 and the 14x32 on test here

·        8x25, 10x30 and the 12x36, 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

Body

Physically, these 14x32s are very similar in design and materials to the original 10x30 and 12x26 models, which I’ve tested before. They are made in Japan, as are the 12x36s and the 18x50s I’ve reviewed.

Not only do the Canon 14x32s 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 775g for the 14x32s dry. I measured 820g including the two AA batteries: a little heavier than the Canon 12x36s, but considerably less than the 15x50s.

The 14x32s are almost exactly the same length as the 12x36s – quite a compact binocular, as compact as many 10x42s for example. However, the body is much fatter than the 12x36s (presumably to accommodate the new type of I.S.) and a different shape, with the objectives integrated into the body structure.

The body is also now moulded in one piece, which 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.

The 14x32s’ composite body is covered with a thin rubbery armour that helps grip, but isn’t a fluff-magnet like some. It has a slightly different tone of dark grey than the 12x26s, but is otherwise similar apart from ribbing on the side for grip. The objectives are surrounded by thin protective rubber ‘bumpers’.

Other changes from the earlier models include a different battery housing with a push-fit rubber cover that should be easier to use with cold fingers or in low light.

Focuser

The focuser on the 12x36s is really good – light, smooth and accurate. Initially, these 14x32 were much worse but improved to end up much the same, albeit with a slightly spongier feel, despite the larger wheel. Like all fine optics, good focus is a real point and the focuser gives confidence finding it.

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 14x32s have an internal focusing carriage.

The dioptre is the Canon usual – you twist the right eyepiece. But here it’s stiff to use. The trick is to leave the standard I.S. enabled with a light click whilst adjusting it.

These 14x32s do focus very close, however – I measured 1.5m. Close focus to infinity is a fairly fast (considering how close they focus) two turns.

Optics - Prisms

All the Canon IS binoculars use a type of porro-prism (not the roof prisms more commonly found on high-end binos), but their design looks nothing like other porros, partly because these are Abbe-Porros (Porro II).

Porro prisms are basically the type in your Grandad’s old binos’, but they have serious advantages over the roof prisms found in most modern birding binoculars. For one thing, porro prisms don’t need mirror coatings, so they transmit more (and scatter less) light. For another, porro prisms don’t need special phase coatings to deliver high resolution. Thirdly, porros typically deliver tighter star images with fewer ‘spikes’ than roofs.

Optics - Objectives

The integrated 32mm objectives appear to sit behind plane optical windows in this model – the same as the 15x50s, but different from the more budget models.

Canon’s specs say that these have an astounding seven elements in their objectives. Most binos have two or three. But this number likely includes the stabiliser components, see below. However, none of those seven elements include special dispersion glasses. Consider that almost all binos from the mid range up now include SD elements to kill false colour fringing. What’s more, higher magnifications suffer more from false colour. Now add in the fact that these have a premium price tag and are made by one of the world’s leading optics manufacturers and it seems very odd that Canon should omit this key feature. My best guess is that this is a marketing ploy to avoid superseding their expensive high-end models.

As for the 12x36s, Canon say these use their premium ‘Super Spectra’ coatings, but in fact they are different/better than the 12x36s’, with a more muted tobacco hue more like the best Alpha brands’ (see comparison photo below).

Canon advertise ‘Super Spectra’ coatings for the 14x32 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’.

Field of view is an acceptable, but far from wide, at 55.5° apparent, which translates to a narrow 4.3° true due to the high power. For comparison, this is the same as the maximum field you can get out of a Tele Vue 85 scope, which usually gets fitted with a finder!

Eye relief measures an acceptable ~14mm, much as claimed. But for some reason it just doesn’t feel like it in use: I can’t see anything like the whole field with my specs on.

Enough already with the fluff-magnet rubber eye cups! Why can’t Canon learn from the European brands here?! The usual fold-down Canon eyecups don’t work with my IPD either, because they’re much wider than the 12x36s’: I have to fold them for use without glasses. Fortunately, this works fine, otherwise these binos would be almost unusable for me without my glasses on.

If you have a narrowish IPD like me, try these before you buy them.

Optics – Image Stabilisation

All Canon’s original I.S. binoculars – from the 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. You activate this system by simply pushing a button.

These new 32mm models have a different system derived from Canon’s cameras lenses that features a dual-action stabiliser with two buttons: a regular I.S. that permits easy panning and a ‘Power I.S.’ that attempts to eliminate all movement from the view.

From what I can find out, it seems as if this system has the computer change the optical path 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. Do they employ passively sprung elements, like Zeiss’ expensive mechanical 20x60 I.S. model?

An any case, you would think that the new lens-offset system would alter the wavefront less than a distorting element, so you might expect enhanced optical performance from these (though the originals are excellent).

Accessories

These 14x32s have a semi-rigid case that’s both classier and more protective than the 12x36s’ basic pouch.

However, the thin unpadded strap is the same budget item. Canon do include a pair of AA batteries to get you started.

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics and Handling

Handling isn’t too bad. They’re light compared to the massive 15x50s and 18x50s, but noticeably heavier than the 12x36s.

The 14x32s have fatter barrels than the 12x36s and I found them more difficult to hold securely as a result, with less finger left to find the buttons and focuser. Those with bigger hands might well find them better.

The focuser works and has no actual problems like backlash or vagueness, but I found it too spongy in operation.

To adjust dioptre, you need to click the stabiliser on, then move your hand to make the adjustment. It’s not ideal. The dioptre mechanism really needs to be centralised like Swarovski’s new NL Pures'.

Any way you slice it, eyepiece comfort is poor. The eye relief isn’t enough to allow you to view the whole field with specs on, but specs off and the chunky eyepieces make these problematic if (like me) you have a small inter-pupillary distance (IPD).

Image Stabilisation

The two-mode stabilisation is effective. 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. Meanwhile, the ‘power stabiliser’ does remove the slow movements the 12x26s’ I.S. leaves in – it’s more like a rock steady scope view (!)

Activating either I.S. mode causes a loud ‘click’; in the 12x36 ISIIIs it’s silent. But the 14x32s are similarly silent in normal operation.

Compared with the larger 15x50 and 18x50 models, the 14x32s’ I.S. is less intrusive, quieter in operation and generated fewer (though not zero) artefacts like jitter and focus shift.

I.S. performance is an improvement over the original in many ways, but the ergonomics are worse. They have made the two buttons a different shape and feel, but they are way too small. Finding them with thicker gloves on will be impossible. The buttons are too resistant for my liking and too far from the focuser as well.

However, these gripes are mostly negated by just giving either button a quick push, leaving the I.S. enabled with an LED to let you know. Then you can change your grip or operate the focuser no problem. This is a convenient feature the 12x36s don’t have.

Styling svelter, cleaner than the older models.

The View

The view is truly excellent for a high power binocular, in bright conditions at least – apparently quite wide, very flat, pin sharp and reasonably bright. But most striking is the extraordinary detail. I watch a Wren ferreting through leaves in my local copse, 200m away. Crows squabbling over fallen apples 100m distant reveal amazing detail – every feather and glint of eye picked out with stunning resolution. Similarly, I watch a lame Oystercatcher grubbing for worms in the field with scope-like views of his lame leg and muddy bill. He should be out on the sands with his flock and I worry about him, but that’s just me, softie that I am.

The two-mode stay-on I.S. does allow smooth, natural panning in normal mode and you can almost forget these are stabilised – a great feature.

Optical quality, as usual with Canon is very high in both barrels and focus suitably snappy – an absolute point.

Depth of field is shallow, just due to the high magnification. That field of view of 4.3° is narrow enough anyway, but with specs on you’ll be lucky to get more than 3° - these binoculars are (obviously perhaps) about the details, not the overview.

If you need to get in close and see highly resolved fine detail with scope-like stability, these offer a great view.

Flat field?

The view is pretty much sharp to the edge, but incorporates a little distortion for comfortable panning.

Chromatic Aberration

These suffer from good old fashioned false colour – the way all binos were twenty years ago. In general use it’s not too noticeable, but it is when viewing birds silhouetted against the sky - on the wing or in tree tops.

What does this mean in practice? I watch a crow in a tree a few hundred metres away with these and the 12x36s. Both deliver amazingly detailed views of eye and feather at this distance, but the 14x32s have noticeably worse false colour, fringing the black glossy feathers with purple and green that mar the view. Those apple and blueberry hues are even more apparent when focusing or panning.

You can see this effect in the photo below, taken through the 14x32s – note the false colour around bird and leaf.

At risk of repeating myself, I just can’t understand why a new model in the premium price bracket, and from Canon no less, doesn’t get the SD glass elements found in pair of Nikons Monarchs at a quarter of the price.

In Use – Dusk

Another questionable design decision was 32mm objectives. They work very well in bright 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. This makes them a less general purpose binocular than the 12x36s, which gather 27% more light and work better in low light.

In Use – The Night Sky

Not for the first time, a pair of high-power binoculars that has issues by day turned out to be pretty good for astronomy. Even more surprising because, on the face of it, an aperture of 32mm just doesn’t sound enough. But as with the (admittedly much cheaper 10x30s), stabilisation makes up for lack of aperture more than you expect: the shakes you get holding conventional high-power binos detract from both limiting magnitude and resolution much more than you realise.

So it’s a sharp and steady view, really very much like a small telescope. The field is nice and flat for enjoying star fields and there is no nasty flare or ghosts, even on a brilliant full Lunar disk. Meanwhile, focusing isn’t an issue because you do 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 compared to the 15x50s and 18x50s makes them easier to use over a long observing session.

The final advantage is that the two mode stabilisation 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. And as I said above, it does provide a more rock steady view than the 12x36s. Those leave in long slow movements, whereas the 14x32s can give a completely static ‘telescopic’ view on ‘Power I.S. Again, this is a minor difference by day, a much bigger deal for astronomy.

One downside to mention is that smallish true field – finding things via star hopping and panning is more challenging than at lower powers. These aren’t for newcomers to binocular astronomy.

The Moon

The Moon is an obvious use case for these binoculars, so I’ll go into some detail here. I spent several long sessions comparing them with the 12x36s and a pair of conventional 10x binoculars, including on a 19-Day waning gibbous Moon one memorable December dawn.

Compared with 10x, or even 12x, the 14x magnification of these binoculars makes a big difference on the Moon. I actually preferred both the quality of the view and the stabilisation of the 12x36s – brighter, sharper and with less jitter and I.S. focus shift. Still, 14x gave a more involving and ‘telescope-like’ level of detail. I could find most of the features and craters in my ‘Photographic Atlas of the Moon’.

For example, that 19-Day Moon revealed lots of features around Mare Nectaris on the terminator, with Theophilus in sharp relief and showing its central peak. Nearby, 27km Mädler was clearly resolvable as a bowl-shaped crater. To the south of Catherina, the 1000m high scarp of Rupes Altai was very prominent, with a bright ray from Tycho shooting across it.  Further south, Maurolycus revealed its central peaks too and numerous craters around in the rugged southern highlands.

In the north, I could make out Posidonius A within the larger crater. Nearby was bright Menelaus, another medium sized crater, with the beautiful ray through it that spikes across Mare Serenitatis to lonely Bessel.

On the other side of the Moon, I could make out strange and ghostly Reiner Gamma and brilliant Aristarchus.

With stabilisation, a magnification of 14x allows real Lunar exploration. I spent time referring back to my atlas to identify new features, just like I might with a telescope.

Seen on a phone screen, this image from my library shows roughly the level of detail I observed.

Planets

Jupiter showed a clean disk surrounded by its Galilean moons and bright Mars an intense orange colour with no spikes or flare. So far so normal for binocular planets. But it was Saturn that exceeded my expectations by showing the rings as clear ‘handles’ separate from the planet, just the way Galileo drew them, not the vague saucer shape binos generally reveal.

Lastly, I was able to track the ISS, positively identifying it by the 4 tiny spikes of its solar arrays.

Deep Sky

More than any other binoculars I can remember, the trick for deep sky observing with these is to use averted vision. If you do, they can show you a lot. I recall one strange instance where globular cluster M15 blinked out with direct vision, blinked back in as a nice fuzzy blob with a dense core looking away.

Having got that straight, I found and enjoyed all my usual bino DSOs. I found the Ring Nebula with ease, the dumbbell too. With averted vision, the double cluster and M35 through M38 in Auriga showed their characteristic star-blast patterns much better than with lower mags or without I.S.

I easily found other globular clusters, those enigmatic and ancient balls of stars on the fringes of the galaxy, too. Besides M15 near Enif, I quickly located M13 and M92 in Hercules, despite being low to the horizon in December. They looked much more interesting than the slightly fuzzy stars you see at lower magnifications, with M13 clearly more diffuse, M92 less so but with a denser core.

No need for averted vision to enjoy a beautifully split Albireo and the silver glitter-mist of the Seven Sisters. Those excellent porro optics do deliver lovely pinpoint and brilliant star images with intense (not false!) colours. Surprisingly, the Andromeda Galaxy looked good too, with its dense core picked out and a hint of a dark lane looking away.

The Orion Nebula however didn’t look as good as through larger apertures, with less nebulosity on show than through, say, a pair of 15x56s – blame the small aperture.

Surprisingly, these 14x32s will probably show you more of the night sky and in greater comfort than a pair of premium conventional 10x50s (unless you mount them of course). They do work very well for astronomy, but use averted vision to get the best out of them for deep sky.

Canon 14x32 IS vs Canon 12x36 ISIII

I’ve compared the 14x32s with the 12x36s throughout this review, but let’s summarise the comparison:

·        The 14x32s have better edge sharpness

·        The 14x32s’ higher power is better for the Moon and small, bright DSOs

·        The 14x32s have slightly stronger stabilisation on ‘Power I.S.’, slightly smoother panning on regular I.S.

·        Stabilisation in the 14x32s is noisier to activate and has more artefacts, jitter and focus shift, than the 12x36s

·        The 14x32s’ Spectra coatings are better than the 12x36s

·        The 12x36s are lighter and slimmer, so easier to hold

·        The 12x36s have lower (but still not ideal) false colour levels for daytime use

·        The 12x36s work better at dusk due to 27% more light gathering

·        The focuser on the 12x36s is more fluid and less spongy

·        Eyepiece comfort is better in the 12x36s, esp. for specs wearers

·        The 12x36s I.S. button is larger, easier to push, but the click-to-stay-on feature of the 14x32s is so much more convenient

·        The 12x36s are a little over half the price at the time of writing

Apart perhaps from for specialised astronomy use – the Moon, doubles and small DSOs – or other uses, like plane spotting, where you need extreme resolution, I’d recommend the 12x36s.

Summary

The last few binos I’ve reviewed have been getting so good that I’ve started to sound like an extension of Canon or Leica or Swarovski’s marketing department. No worry of that here because I found some downsides to these mostly excellent Canon 14x32s.

Poor eyepiece comfort and lack of waterproofing are significant gripes, but perhaps my biggest criticism overall is the lack of HD optics to combat false colour. Most mid range binoculars costing half as much have HD optics now. Canon more or less pioneered the technology, for consumers anyway, with their fluorite lenses for Vixen and Takahashi telescopes in the 1980s, so it’s bizarre they should exclude it here.

Nevertheless, these make great astronomy binoculars. The level of pin-sharp detail available is quite extraordinary, day or night. They have high quality optics and do offer a very flat field and steady high-power views thanks to improved stabilisation.

So if you enjoy astronomy but live in an apartment with nowhere to set up a telescope, these binoculars might be a solution, especially if you find the 15x50s too heavy. The extra power over the 12x36s does make for more involving views of smaller DSOs and especially the Moon, it helps cut through sky glow too. The lack of HD optics isn’t a problem at night either. But be prepared to use averted vision to get the best out of them on deep sky.

If Canon’s old high-power models are too bulky and heavy, but you want the extra magnification for astronomy, plane spotting or whatever, these are a serious option. For general use I’d recommend the cheaper 12x36s instead.

 

OR Buy Canon 14x32 IS from Wex here:

 

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