A Work Commenced December 29 2021
I’m fortunate enough to live in a small, rural village, where I can get to know many of my neighbours and learn of their interests. For example, just a stone’s throw away from my home lives a young man who works for the RSPB, and who routinely employs binoculars and a high-end spotting scope. Further up the village, I know a keen deer hunter who’s allowed me to test drive his very impressive Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 on a number of occasions. And not far from him lives a retired psychiatrist who enjoys using image stabilised binoculars. One day, when I was out for my long daily walk, I met up with him as he walked his dog, and asked if I could borrow one of his Canon IS binoculars for testing. He agreed, and offered me the choice of a 10 x 30 or a smaller 8 x 25. I chose the larger 10 x 30 model, as I wanted to test the image stabilising technology at the higher power of 10x. What follows is a brief review of how it performed, based on a few days of use.
Ergonomics & Handling
The Canon IS 10 x 30 is an earlier model and is about 8 years old. It has now been replaced with the Canon IS II 10 x 30. I was quite taken aback by the size of this instrument. Weighing in at 660g(without its strap) it is very big and bulky. For a size comparison, the picture below shows it alongside my GPO Passion ED 10 x 32.
I found the handling of this binocular to be quite difficult and awkward. It was hard to find a comfortable position in my medium sized hands. The objective lenses are well recessed – a good thing as the unit is not waterproof or dustproof. They do have rather nice, dull greenish antireflection coatings applied which do not show much signs of degrading over the years.
The ocular lenses also show nicely applied antireflection coatings but the eye cups are old-school soft rubber – you know the kind that fold down for use with eye glasses.
The focus wheel is on the small side and I found the turning to be very smooth but somewhat stiff. It takes a bit of getting used to compared with my 10 x 32 ED which is very fast and easy to turn in comparison. Moving from close to far away focus takes a wee while to get there, so maybe not ideal as a birding binocular.
The dioptre setting is conventional. Located under the right ocular; it is very stiff and hard to rotate – just what you want if you don’t have a built-in locking mechanism.
My first impressions of the Canon IS 10x 30’s optics were very good. The 6 degree field is very sharp, nearly all the way to the edge of the field, thanks to built-in field flattening lenses. Contrast is good, although I did detect some weak internal reflections when I pointed it at a bright waning gibbous Moon and some street lights at night. I experienced no blackouts with this model. The view is very comfortable and quite immersive, with a beautifully defined field stop. The eye relief proved perfect for my needs. Glare suppression is also good. By pressing the small button just ahead of the focus wheel, the gyroscopes are activated and the magic begins. The small shaking movements in your hands are cancelled out and even more details pop into view. It’s quite amazing!
I compared the views of the Canon IS 10 x 30 with my GPO Passion 10 x 32 ED in un-stabilised mode, which has the same size field(6 degrees). Going back and forth between the images for a few minutes revealed the latter to be the superior optic. Chromatic aberration could be clearly seen in the Canon on high contrast targets against a grey, overcast December sky. The GPO displayed virtually none in comparison. Furthermore, the GPO displayed noticeably better contrast and a significantly brighter image to boot. That said, once the IS button was activated, the Canon showed more than the GPO, with very fine details jumping out of the image! The stabilised image clearly resolved finer details on all the targets I tried it on. I would say that the effect was immediately noticeable and dramatic. To verify that the increase in resolution was attributed to the stabilisation, I placed the GPO 10 x 32 on a tripod and compared the images; sure enough, I could see the same additional details- and a bit more besides – on the same targets, only that they were brighter, better contrasted, and presenting with a little more colour ‘pop’.
Turning to the Pleaides star cluster well placed in the evening winter sky, I compared the non-stabilised view to the IS-activated view. Just pressing the button showed faint stars popping into view which were quite invisible in the non-stabilised image. Consulting some older literature on the effects of image stabilisation, I read that some observers report a gain as much as one stellar magnitude. I wasn’t able to confirm this but I don’t doubt the claim. Again, very impressive!. I would say that the stabilisation makes the small 10 x 30 optics behave more like a significantly larger un-stabilised instrument, like a 10 x 40 or some such.
Looking at a last quarter Moon also showed me more details than the 10 x 32 ED when the IS button on the Canon was engaged. I could resolve finer crater detail, although it did show up more chromatic aberration than the GPO control binocular.
So what did I think of the Canon IS 10 x 30?
In a word, Groovy!
Sure, it’s not got the best ergonomics and is big and bulky for its aperture, but there is no doubting the technology behind the instrument! If you can live with its less than ideal handling and lack of weather proofing, you most certainly will be very impressed with it. The optics are very good but maybe not excellent but when that stabilisation button is activated it leaves even top-rated 32mm models in the dust. Stabilised images just show you more details!
Overall, my experiences of the older Canon IS 10 x 30 was very favourable. Indeed, it has gotten me curious about two smaller models that were released by Canon just a couple of years ago; the Canon IS 8 x 20 and 10 x 20, both of which are significantly smaller and lighter than the 10 x 30. The small exit pupils on these sub 500g models are no deterrent for me either, as I’ve come to appreciate the coupling of good optics with the best part of the human eye. Stars should be beautiful pinpoints in these models!
So, there it is!
Thanks for reading!