A Worked Commenced January 21 2022
Product: Canon IS 8 x 20
Country of Manufacture: Taiwan
Field of View: 115m@1000m (6.6 angular degrees)
Exit Pupil: 2.5mm
Eye Relief: 13.5mm
Coatings: Fully Broadband Multi-Coated, Super Spectra Coating
Dioptre Compensation: +/- 5.9
Water Proof: No
Nitrogen Purged: No
ED Glass: No
Close Focus: 2m advertised( 2.02 m measured)
Dimensions: W/H 11.8/14.2cm
Weight: 420g(without battery)
Supplied Accessories: Soft carry case, padded neck strap, instruction manual, 1x CR123A lithium battery, eyepiece covers, warranty card.
In a recent blog, I outlined my experiences of an older model Canon IS 10 x 30. I was impressed by the image stabilisation technology on that unit and described its optical quality as very good but not outstanding. These tests got me curious about two smaller models recently introduced by the giant Japanese camera manufacturer; a 8 x 20 IS and 10 x 20 IS, which promised even better ergonomics than the older generation 8 x 25 IS and 10 x 30 IS models. So I decided to buy and test the smaller 8 x 20 IS, the subject of this new review.
The Canon 8 x 20 IS arrived neatly boxed away inside its soft carry case, together with a comprehensive user manual, lithium ion battery, and warranty card. Weighing in at 420g without the battery, the binocular has a tough, grey coloured plastic chassis which I immediately found much easier to handle than the larger 10 x 30 IS, which tips the scales at 660g in comparison.
Like the older generation models, the new Canon 8 x 20 IS has soft rubber eye cups that can be folded down for use with spectacles. Turning next to the objectives, I was quite surprised but very happy to see that the 20mm objectives on the Canon were very deeply recessed; far more deeply in fact than any other binocular I’ve thus far encountered. Doubtless, this helps quite a lot in keeping stray light, dust and rain at bay; a good thing surely, as these units are not waterproof.
The focus wheel on the Canon IS 8 x 20 appears to be made of metal. It has very good grip and is large enough to access and manoeuvre even while wearing thick winter gloves. The dioptre compensation is achieved in the traditional way, by rotating the base of the right eye cup until you achieve your desired setting.
The single CR123A lithium ion battery is easily installed in a pull-out compartment located under the focus wheel. The image stabilisation is achieved by pressing a small button offset onto the right barrel of the binocular, causing a small green LED to light up while it is being activated. The instruction manual states that the battery has a lifetime of about 12 hours at room temperature but is reduced to just 8 hours at -10C. During my tests I never encountered any problems using the image stabilisation function, which involved a few hours of testing at temperatures ranging from +20C to -2C.
The objective lenses on both the ocular and objectives have very nice and evenly applied anti-reflection coatings. The objective coatings have a pale, greenish tint while those on the eyepieces appeared magenta in daylight.
In comparison with my experiences with the older generation Canon IS 10 x 30, the smaller 8 x 20 model was much easier to use in my medium sized hands. For example, it was considerably easier to hold it with two hands, and accessing the off centre stabilisation button did not present any problems.
The large, centrally placed focus wheel turns very smoothly, with excellent inertia and with no play while rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise.
The rather old-school, flexi-rubber eyecups proved reasonably comfortable when they were pressed against my eyes. When I folded them down to test the eye relief for spectacle wearers however, I found it difficult to image the entire field of view using my varifocals. I think this an area that Canon can improve on in the future.
Playing around with the Canon IS 8 x 20 in my hands, and comparing it to a conventional 8 x 20 pocket binocular, I felt the latter was much easier to achieve a stable, comfortable grip with. So, while the newer 8 x 20 IS units are a big improvement over say a larger 10 x 30 IS, they are still nowhere near the comfort levels I experience using a conventional, dual-hinge 8 x 20 glass.
I was quite impressed with the optical quality of the older generation Canon IS 10 x 30 but my tests on the newer IS 8 x 20 showed it to be a good deal better again. Conducting a bright light torch test showed no annoying internal reflections, diffraction spikes or diffused light. Indeed, it was a good step up from the results I achieved with the older, Canon IS 10 x 30 in this regard. No doubt, this is largely attributed to the improved ‘Super Spectra’ coatings applied to its optical elements.
Looking through the Canon IS 8 x 20 during dull, overcast winter weather, I was immediately impressed with the excellent sharpness, contrast and brightness of the image from edge to centre. Like the older models, these smaller Canon IS binoculars have built-in field flattening lenses which reduces field curvature and other off axis aberrations when viewing a target away from the centre of the field.
Indeed, in low light tests I conducted alongside my excellent Leica 8 x 20 BR Ultravid, I judged the Canon IS 8x 20 be equally bright, but just falling short of the sharpness of the Leica. Glare suppression however, was noticeably better in the Canon though. This is probably attributed to the very deeply recessed objective lenses on the Canon IS binocular in contrast to the Leica, the objectives of which are not at all recessed( maximising its compactness) and so are at the mercy of intrusions of stray light.
One aspect of the view was less engaging with the Canon IS 8 x 20 over the hand-held Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 though. Despite having a slightly larger field of view(6.6 vs 6.5 angular degrees), I felt the field was significantly more immersive in the Leica compared with the Canon 8 x 20. It almost felt as if I were watching a scene on a movie screen in the latter compared with the feeling of being much more ‘in the image’ using the Leica.
Chromatic aberration was an absolute non-issue in the Canon IS 8 x 20, unlike the larger and older Canon IS 10 x 30. Indeed, it was fully the equal of the Leica Ultravid 8x 20, with only the extreme edges of the field showing up the merest traces of secondary spectrum whilst glassing high contrast daylight targets.
Close focus was found to be very good in the Canon IS 8x 20 too. I measured it at just over 2 metres, in accordance with the stated numbers issued by Canon. Still, the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR was noticeably better at 1.8 metres.
Depth of focus proved excellent in the Canon IS 8 x 20. Indeed, it was even a shade better than my Leica 8 x 20 Ultravid BR. This was largely to be expected, as the Porro prism design of the Canon has long been known to create better depth perception in comparison to their roof prism counterparts.
All in all, I judged the Canon IS 8 x 20 to have excellent optics, as good or better in many respects to the best roof prism instruments models available today.
Engaging the IS Technology
The real magic of these binoculars takes place when you press the image stabilisation button. Like the larger 10 x 30 IS I tested some weeks back, the smaller Canon 8 x 20 IS works brilliantly. Aim at your target, focus as sharply as you can and press the IS button. You can immediately see finer detail that is quite invisible in the non-stabilised views. The stabilisation function works in two modes: sporadic and continuous. Most of the time, I used the button to stabilise the image for a few seconds before dis-engaging. But the IS function can also be used continuously for up to five minutes. I got on less well with the latter mode, as I felt a bit queasy moving the binocular from one target to the other, and watching the images ‘swim’ into stabilised mode.
In another test, I compared the stabilised views on the Canon 8 x 20 IS to a tripod- mounted Leica Utravid 8 x 20. Carefully going back and forth between the instruments, I discerned slightly more details in the tripod-stabilised Leica than the Canon 8 x 20 IS. This is in keeping with my results with the older generation 10 x 30 IS. The tripod-stabilised view offers a little more in the way of resolution at the cost of losing portability.
In yet another test, I aimed the Canon IS 8 x 20 on the Pleaides star cluster high in the winter sky, comparing the non-stabilised view with the images served up when the IS function was engaged. The results were quite dramatic; many fainter stars popped into view when the IS button was engaged. Very impressive!
Concluding Thoughts and Recommendations
The Canon 8 x 20 IS serves up very impressive views, even when the image stabilisation function is dis-engaged. These newer models have noticeably improved optics over their older counterparts, especially in terms of brightness and contrast, and in the control of stray light. Indeed, optically, they are very close to the quality served up by the world’s best pocket binoculars. Having said that, while I fully acknowledge that the smaller weight of these new Canon IS binoculars is a big step in the right direction in terms of ergonomic handling, they still fall quite a bit short in terms of how good they feel in my hands compared with my little Leica Ultravid. Indeed, I think the engineers at Canon could make some significant improvements in the shape of the chassis to allow a better grip in the hand. What’s more, their lack of waterproofing will put others off, especially if they intend using them for long periods in the field where the weather can change without warning.
So, all in all, a terrific product, but still some room for improvement.
Thanks for reading.