May 30, 2020

Gear Review: Canons Image Stabilized Binoculars.

Every once in a while, we here at Astroguyz find a toy that surpasses expectations. Canonís Image Stabilized (IS) binoculars are one such gizmo. Iíve had my trusty pair of 15 X 45ís for almost ten years now, and theyíve worked flawlessly! They also fit my two criteria for taking on new technology; theyíre simple to use (thereís only one button to push!), and theyíre 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 ďlug-it-yourselfĒ mentality. This usally precludes bringing optics of any kind, as the time tested motto is ďPack light, pack right!Ē 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!

Canon developed IS technology first for video cameras, and then applied it to binocs in the late 90ís. 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; thereís 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 ďbalanceĒ 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 didnít 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. Iíve used these down to about -20 degrees Fahrenheit for brief ten minute periods, but of course I wouldnít 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 50ís. Iím so used to these binocs that I hate to look through ordinary ďunstabilizedĒ gear! Maybe Iíll turn my old 7 x 50 Bushnells into a homemade finder scopeÖ

So, what can you see with these gizmos? Views of the Moon rival an 80mm refractor at low power; lots of craters and contrast. Iíve 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!

Several Messier objects will also become binocular targets with these; Iíve 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!†Iíve also used them for double and variable star observing, as well.

Okay, now for the bad news. Like most high tech toys, IS binocs arenít 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 45ís 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 50ís for a list price of 1599.99. I would go high end if you could possibly afford it, (honey, maybe we donít need a second carÖ) 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 ďAmerican IdolĒ 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, theyíre 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!


  1. [...] -††††††††† Binocs are handy for sighting booster separations; Iíve seen the SRB detachment from a 100 miles away with our Canon IS 15×45s. [...]

  2. [...] actually prefer our trusty Canon 15x45IS image stabilized binoculars for comet hunting… they’re powerful and easy to deploy on a cold [...]

  3. [...] below the equator half a dozen times ourselves and we always make it a point to carry our trusty¬†Canon 15x 45 image stabilized binocs¬†‚Äď or track someone down with a serious ‚Äėscope ‚Äď even when astronomy isn‚Äôt the main focus [...]

  4. [...] this morning low to the south near +3rd magnitude Nu Puppis in the pre-dawn sky with our trusty 15×45 binocs from Yuma, Arizona, for what will probably be our last time. This also means that the time to [...]

  5. [...] this morning low to the south near +3rd magnitude Nu Puppis in the pre-dawn sky with our trusty 15√ó45 binocs from Yuma, Arizona, for what will probably be our last time. This also means that the time to catch [...]

  6. [...] hunting is fun and easy‚Ķ we prefer to sweep the target area with our trusty Canon 15×45 image stabilized binoculars, though a common pair of 7x 50‚Äôs ‚ÄĒ often favored by hunters and bird watchers ‚ÄĒ will do just [...]

  7. [...] hunt for satellites tonight, just a working set of eyes and information. We sometimes use a set of Canon image-stabilized 15x 45 binoculars to hunt for satellites too faint to see with the naked eye. We’ve seen the “Tool [...]

  8. [...] Binoculars are your friend in any comet hunting quest brighter than +10th magnitude. Remember, all that ‘brightness’ is spread out over the apparent surface area of its coma, making it appear visually fainter than the quoted magnitude. Slowly sweeping the skies with the low power field of view afforded by binoculars helps, as does a passage near a bright guide star (see the list above). [...]

  9. [...] course, I was eager to dig my telescopes out. I make do with our trusty pair of image-stabilized Canon 15×45’s on the road, but I was ready to get the REAL telescopes back in action. It was then I discovered an [...]

  10. [...] course, I was eager to dig my telescopes out. I make do with our trusty pair of image-stabilized Canon 15×45’s on the road, but I was ready to get the REAL telescopes back in action. It was then I discovered an [...]

  11. [...] We like to start our search from a nearby bright star, then slowly sweep the field with our trusty Canon 15×45 image-stabilized binoculars (hard to believe, we’ve had this amazing piece of astro-tech in our observing arsenal for nearly [...]

  12. [...] spotting: A good many objects are out of naked eye visual grasp; a good pair of binocs will aid you in this task. To be effective, itís helpful to know when a satellite is whizzing by a [...]

  13. [...] Blackberry for a quick shot for Tweet-fandom. Finally, I traced Atlantis visually with my trusty 15×45 binocs that I brought just for the occasion. Perhaps an FM radio (or its modern day†IPhone equivalent) [...]

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