15 x 45 Classics. (photo by Author).
Every once in a while, we here at Astroguyz find a toy that surpasses expectations. Canon’s Image Stabilized (IS) binoculars are one such gizmo. I’ve had my trusty pair of 15 X 45’s for almost ten years now, and they’ve worked flawlessly! They also fit my two criteria for taking on new technology; they’re simple to use (there’s only one button to push!), and they’re maintenance free. They also enable me to address a conflict with another passion of mine; travel. These binocs give a resolution that rivals a small telescope. My favored mode of travel generally includes backpacking, which means a “lug-it-yourself” mentality. This usally precludes bringing optics of any kind, as the time tested motto is “Pack light, pack right!” However, it can be a shame to visit alien (or at least southern) skies with no optics! IS binocs enable you to bring along some easy to use gear. I used them hiking in New Zealand to great avail. Of course, we were so fanatical about weight on our around the world trek that even the binocs, along with the cherished laptop, stayed home. The issue of theft of such a light weight, expensive item also has to be considered. I never leave these babies unsecured!
Astroguyz in Typical Travel Mode…(Sangkor River in Cambodia).
Canon developed IS technology first for video cameras, and then applied it to binocs in the late 90’s. One of the first things any binocular user notices is that it is impossible to eliminate hand jitter when viewing. Tripods or other contraptions, such as binocular chairs, have been patented, some of which are very cumbersome and awkward. However, even large telescope owners find themselves doing a majority of their viewing through binocs; there’s nothing like the grab and point simplicity that they offer. IS binocs solve the issue of hand jitter very simply and elegantly; when you push and hold the sole button on the casing, servos on the internal prisms kick in, and “balance” the image. The view then slowly floats through the field, allowing fine detail to be seen. The quality of the optics is also top notch. These revolutionary binocs didn’t only create a buzz in the astronomical community; they became the gold standard for birders and folks who do rescue work as well. A-10 pilots have used them for combat search and rescue in Afghanistan; IS technology does well to dampen jet aircraft vibrations.
The IS system is powered by two AA batteries. There is also a slot in the carrying case to pop in extras. Battery life tends to be a couple of hours use with new alkalines, maybe half that with fresh rechargeables or lower temperatures. I’ve used these down to about -20 degrees Fahrenheit for brief ten minute periods, but of course I wouldn’t leave them sitting out for extended periods at these temperatures! Standard indicators include a red light near the IS button that winks off after a few seconds; if the batteries are getting low, a whirring noise may be heard. Their overall use is simple enough that I can generally hand them off after a brief 10 second tutorial to the uninitiated; the diopter spacing, however, is a bit counter-intuitive! Where as standard binocs pivot along a central axis, the eye pieces on the IS binocs swivel internally. Focusing and adjustments for individual eye differences are the same as standard 7 x 50’s. I’m so used to these binocs that I hate to look through ordinary “unstabilized” gear! Maybe I’ll turn my old 7 x 50 Bushnells into a homemade finder scope…
Diopter Adjustment. (Photo by Author).
So, what can you see with these gizmos? Views of the Moon rival an 80mm refractor at low power; lots of craters and contrast. I’ve pointed them at all of the major planets, including Neptune; Saturn shows tiny, spikey rings, and Mercury can show a distinct phase. These are also first rate for sweeping up comets and other faint fuzzies; I would guess-timate that the limiting magnitude is down to maybe +11 under pristine skies. I was certainly glad to have these on hand when Comet Holmes exploded last year!
A Binocular Worthy Target…Comet Holmes (Credit: NASA/HST, A. Dyer, H. Weaver).
Several Messier objects will also become binocular targets with these; I’ve easily picked out the Dumbbell and Owl Nebulas, and the M81 and M82 galaxies show a discernable orientation, as well. I would dare say you could run an entire Messier binocular Marathon with these! I’ve also used them for double and variable star observing, as well.
Okay, now for the bad news. Like most high tech toys, IS binocs aren’t cheap! I shelled out about $1000 bones USD for mine, and that was in 1998. Looking on the web, prices seem to be about the same today, which would tell me that they really hold their value. My 15 x 45’s have been discontinued, but the current line offered by Canon runs from an ultra light weight pair of 8 x 25s for list price of 299.99 to a super sized, all the bells and whistles pair of 18 x 50’s for a list price of 1599.99. I would go high end if you could possibly afford it, (honey, maybe we don’t need a second car…) But even the 8 x 25s would be good for casual use.
So, who needs $1,000 binocs? You may need them if you are one of the following;
1. A hard-core amateur astronomer. Especially a comet hunter and/or binoc aficionado.
2. Anyone who backpacks and uses optics. Again, birders and mercenaries come to mind.
3. A tech addict. Who needs a jumbo HD plasma-sarus just to watch “American Idol” on, anyway? IS binocs will distinguish you from the nerd herd. (Then get the plasma to display real time images from your automated observatory in the Canaries!)
In short, my Canon IS Binocs have become an indispensable tool in my astronomical arsenal. Simple and compact, they’re almost never far away for that quick look at the sky. Not every piece of tech gear has lived up to expectations, but these are definitely worth the price!
The Canon Line of Binocs. (Credit; canon.com).