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Premium (Alpha) vs Image stabilized (2 Viewers)

Paultricounty

Well-known member
United States
Compared with Canon 10x42L IS

I’ll put this right up front so nobody has to read the rest if they don’t want to.

Nice glass, better than any of the other IS Canon’s I’ve tried previous. This is sharp glass. Optics are upper mid-grade or just below premium (alpha). I put them in the MHG, Zeiss Conquest, Kowa Genesis, and some tell me Meopta. I’ll put it right out there now, the L doesn’t have the magic of an NL, SF, or Noctivids. But the interesting part is we’re not just comparing optics alone, if we were the personal review would be over now. We’re comparing these binoculars as tools, and with that being said, each shines in different areas and exposes there benefits in different ways. When using the L IS for astronomy, hands down (hand held) these binoculars outperform anything that’s not IS. These make any Alpha class binoculars obsolete in that area. These are the Alpha’s of the night sky. There I said it, I admit it, I plead for mercy from the alpha gods and please don’t judge me😉.

With that being said let’s slow it down a bit.

There’s been a good deal of conversation and bickering here (yes, from me as well) and on other forums as to the optical qualities of IS in comparison to non IS premium binoculars, as well as to which is a better optical tool. Most of the bickering is from a small group of dedicated IS users, some of whom have never tried any premium non IS examples. So hopefully this may help that group as well as the IS hater group, who have never tried IS.

This is an objective opinion analysis of current premium class binoculars (sprinkled with some lesser priced options) in direct comparison to what is considered the current top of the line IS binoculars, the Canon 10x42L IS (Image stabilized). I’ll give the good the bad and the ugly on the L IS.

The premium binoculars available to compare with the IS were the following (Top of the line Alphas). All were 10x42.
Swarovski 10x42NL.
Leica 10x42 Noctivids.
Leica 10x42 UVHD+.
Upper mid-grade, just below alpha $1000 range.
Nikon MHG
Zeiss Conquest
GPO
Nikon SE (porro)
Mid-grade $500+/- range binoculars.
Vortex Viper HD
Nikon Monarch 7
Zeiss Terra

Observing with six people, weather conditions generally sunny, midday with some occasional cloud cover (was nice to be able to compare under different lighting conditions). This needed to be done over a few days to gather up the needed equipment and schedule the test group. At first all the optics were hand held, second go around all tested on tripods.

We’re not going into the optical qualitative differences of each of the non-image stabilized binoculars , that’s not the purpose of the comparison or the discussion.

The purpose was/is to judge the perceived qualitative image differences between the different level of non-IS in direct comparison to the IS. And to determine what optical category level the L IS falls into with and without the IS function in use, as well as the overall image preference between group members.

As we all know the IS function doesn’t change the optical image quality at all, what it does is stabilize the image so one can discern detail more readily than non-IS, which is in this case is undeniable. Using the 10X IS is even more stable than a 7X non-IS hand held , which is not necessarily surprising, but an interesting note considering how stable we all know 7’s are. Undeniable this is a wonderful tool and a marvel in optical image technology. That’s part of the good. The optical quality of the L IS series is excellent, more on that later). The IS benefit is completely nullified the minute you put any of the non-IS premium binoculars on a tripod. But that is not the point here.

The good:
At this point I’d say I have to eat some humble pie as to the image qualities of this L Canon, ( not so much for me on the non L versions I’ve tried previously, and yes I’m spoiled). As an optical tool for what binoculars are designed for (to see distant objects and detail closer up) then these IS are superior to non IS premium binos in some ways.

The L IS image is very good, even without the IS engaged, this is terrific glass. A clear, sharp , bright image , edge correction is very good with a flat field ( if you like that), very little CA on par with some of the best. The balance is surprisingly good and although different than standard porros they really feel good in the hands. An amazing and very enjoyable optical tool. For what they do as an observing tool with there optical quality, these are a bargain! It’s not that the IS engagement makes the image better, what it does is make the inherent optical quality of the L stand out.

Optics:
Sharpness: All the premiums were superior to the L IS in this area. The Canon’s we’re at the same sharpness level as the upper mid-grade examples.

Brightness:
Hands down all the premiums were brighter. Even the mid upper grade $1000 range were as bright except for the MHG , which most couldn’t see a difference between them and the L.

Edge quality:
I found this tough to rate personally and the group was divided , the L IS and NL have flat fields (relatively), almost all the way to the edge, whereas the Leica’s don’t go the flat field design route. If you like or want flat field , then the L IS were superior to the Leica’s.

Glare:
Well controlled in the Leica’s and the L IS . The NL’s showed some glare under certain conditions/angles. It was a mix between the upper mid-grades and the L IS.

Color rendition:
This was also a mixed bag and had more to do with preference than superiority. The Canon’s were on the neutral side.

Optically hand held or on a tripod the L IS was clearly superior to all the mid grade $500 range options. Nothing more needs to be said here, you pay for what you get. Maybe someone could do a comparison with this group and the Canon 32 and 36mm IS.

The bad and ugly.
Ergonomically the IS is not great, there heavy, clunky and there plastic, they have no feeling of a high end quality optic. The eye cups are hard and not a pleasure to use for any length of time, but I did get use to it. There’s no mechanical finesse (other than a really good focuser), no feel of a precision instrument, these are not Rolex or even Movado timepiece jewelry, it’s an ultra heavy Casio or timex. Id like to make a comment about the weight , although these are very heavy for a 10x42 optic, taken into perspective and considering they have image stabilization properties we could say that their light for there genre.

Because of the design (no space between barrels) and weight you can’t walk around holding them in one hand to your side confidently , and if your hands are sweaty don’t even try it. For any long hikes these will be like carrying a brick around your neck. There difficult to hold up to your eyes for any length of time as well. Because of many of these design idiosyncrasies it’s not hard to understand why these are not prevalent or the preferred tool for birders.

There was some image drift or shift, annoying at times , but not a deal breaker to anybody. Focusing is a little slow. One thing noticed by everyone was that when observing an object on branch at distance , then moving up the branch it appears it’s out of focus for a second, then moving back down the branch , same thing. I believe or equate this to the image shift/drift and the IS function delay. Some older observers didn’t like it. I got used to it.

There is talk about durability issues, longevity of the electronics , warranty and so on, but I think all these things would be inherent in all the current IS options and something you have to accept. Very similar to having to accept spending ridiculous amounts of money for non IS premium choices. Like someone here said, you could almost buy a small villa somewhere in Europe for the cost of a collection of premium optics. At almost $1500 you would want to know that 10-20 years from now they’d still work for you, because your not going to spend the money to fix 10+ year old electronics. I’m sure others can speak more about this than I. It would seem obvious to me that there would have to be a higher percentage of these having problems down the road. Again as an optical tool or for any any tool it comes down to what’s acceptable to you.

Those that have these IS as well as some high end (Alpha) binos, as a tool to what can be seen ( again intended purpose of binos) these take your alphas down a notch as soon as you hit that button. And these are real nice without the button, if you can hold two and a half pounds steady. If one were not concerned or doesn't care about high quality pieces of jewelry/equipment, then there is no need to buy a premium non IS alpha at $500-$1000+ (25-50%) more.

Summation:
Optically the premium choices are superior in image quality. The consensus of our group felt the L IS fell into the just below alpha category optically, which seems reasonable for the price point.

I found no consensus in our small test group that IS was preferred when it came down image quality. Nor have I found any consensus in most of my research on current optical forums (other than for astronomy) that IS is superior to the premium (alpha) offerings. Two from our group would choose the L IS for there purposes. They felt the L IS offered more with the IS feature than the small jump in optical image quality in the non IS.

If you want an optical tool to observe distant objects without hand shake and no tripod or for potential marine use, then there are no better binoculars, there I said it 😟. There is no need for a high end premium non IS binos if you can live with the IS design. But if you want the finest , sharpest, breathtaking eye candy image, in a precision , well balanced , and smooth mechanics all in a magnesium body , wrapped in a rubberized armor with delicious fit and finish, then there is no choice for you.

I may not be the best person to say something works or doesn’t work , as I never met a quality optic I didn’t like. That includes Habicht’s with there glare (8x30’s), EL’s with globe effect, SF’s with the lovely blue ring , and some Leica’s with edge distortion.
With that being said the Canon L’s are quality optics.

My suggestion is if you never tried IS, you should , if you never tried one of the high end premium non IS (alpha) precision instruments, you should. Each serve a purpose and has a different user experience. I’m not selling any of my Alphas for this IS , and the IS in my opinion and many others ,are not a replacement for premium non IS. But I’m keeping this L IS and If Canon (or other equal brand) offers L series quality in 32, 36 and 50mm , I would buy them. I’m also buying the extended three year accident warranty.

I’m sure this review will not please everyone , they never do, and I’m also sure there will be a few that say it didn’t go deep enough. We’ll do some resolution testing further down the road with just the premium examples with the L. My goal here was to give a few user opinions under actual use in the field and not to measure every optical Idiosyncrasy.

Thank you
 

corvid-8

Well-known member
Welcome to the IS club. You have turned to the dark side 😁
NO, too the "STEADY SIDE" ! ;)
excellent write up "paultricounty"
One thing that you do not touch on which I would think is an important factor is BATTERY LIFE.
Looking over the web the times given inc Canon website is 2.5 hours. Google search to this question is 8hrs.
Who is right. A hell of a difference and even 8hrs seems low compared to Kite APC 36hrs for 30s and 60hrs for 42s (per set hr).
BTW, Kite says NO to using rechargeable batteries, anyone use them or knows why not.
Using on a tripod, is it like cameras, do you need to turn the stabilisation off , or does this work differently.
Lots of things to ponder and I must admit I am looking at IS from 10x upwards, It's an age thing and only to use in specific birding, ie Sea Watching, Raptor Watching, Waders around large open waters and Geese on open water / fields etc.
This is very timely and helpful .
regards.
 
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Paultricounty

Well-known member
United States
NO, too the "STEADY SIDE" !
excellent write up "paultricounty"
One thing that you do not touch on which I would think is an important factor is BATTERY LIFE.
Looking over the web the times given inc Canon website is 2.5 hours. Google search to this question is 8hrs.
Who is right. A hell of a difference and even 8hrs seems low compared to Kite APC 36hrs for 30s and 60hrs for 42s (per set hr).
BTW, Kite says NO to using rechargeable batteries, anyone use them or knows why not.
Using on a tripod, is it like cameras, do you need to turn the stabilisation off , or does this work differently.
Lots of things to ponder and I must admit I am looking at IS from 10x upwards, It's an age thing and only to use in specific birding, ie Raptor watching, Waders around large open waters and Geese on open water / fields etc.
This is very timely and helpful .
regards.
Thank you corvid-8,

Im using lithium ultras and have been using these almost everyday since last Monday. And non stop for a few hours for two days with 5-6 people, still going strong. Attached is the Canon manual for battery info for the L IS. I always take these numbers (of all battery operated devices) and subtract 20-25%. It would be wise to bring along a spare set.

Standing, stationary, short walks/hikes, wading are all reasonable time frames for use , after that not so much. My wife wasn’t crazy about them the first few times, but then they started to grow on her, only problem she can’t or won’t hold them up and is done in a few minutes. She’s likes the MHG, not surprising.

I didn’t notice any difference when on the tripod with or without the IS engaged. If you’re putting them on a tripod it defeats the purpose. At that point you take the 12x50 EL or 12x42 NL

Paul
 

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Hermann

Well-known member
Paul:
Thank you for a thorough and totally fair review. Excellent work!

One thought: You may want to try using a harness. Yes, they are a hassle, and I resisted using them for years. However, with the big and heavy Canons I find they make life considerably easier, especially when hiking in difficult terrain.

Thanks again!

Hermann
 

tenex

reality-based
Excellent post. How quickly can the IS L get stabilized on a bird? And the remaining question is, how can IS develop further to entice more users?

Weight -- maybe not such a problem, at least for me. 2oz lighter than my SLC 56s! (which I admit I don't use every day, but have worn for hours)
Ergonomics -- what improvement would be possible here given the overall design?
Build quality and feel -- I assume Canon could easily improve this at a higher price point and wonder why they don't.
IS glitches -- lag time, loss of focus etc is not ideal.
Battery type or life?
 

Hermann

Well-known member
One thing that you do not touch on which I would think is an important factor is BATTERY LIFE.
Looking over the web the times given inc Canon website is 2.5 hours. Google search to this question is 8hrs.
Who is right. A hell of a difference and even 8hrs seems low compared to Kite APC 36hrs for 30s and 60hrs for 42s (per set hr).
No comment on the Kite. With the Canon I change batteries (I use Sanyo Eneloop rechargeables) after 3 to 4 days of birding full time. They might last a couple of days longer but I prefer not to change batteries in the field. I always carry a spare set though.
Using on a tripod, is it like cameras, do you need to turn the stabilisation off , or does this work differently.
I don't think it makes a difference. I personally don't leave the stabiliser on when I have the Canon on a tripod. On a monopod I always leave the stabiliser on, of course.

Hermann
 

corvid-8

Well-known member
I know that if you leave the camera or lens stabiliser on if using a tripod it actually works against it and does the opposite of what it is suppose to do.
I would not see any reason for me to use an IS Binocular on a tripod as I use a scope .
An IS binocular will be NO substitute for a Scope using one is too ingrained in me.
Anyone have any ideas why Kite Optics say NO rechargeable .
If I dip into the IS world it would be a Kite APC for the battery saving and life, FOV on the 10x30 and Eye Relief with glasses.
Pity the 30s are not gassed tho'. Also the cost v usage as these would only be used for specific birding areas.
regards
 

Paultricounty

Well-known member
United States
Maybe because the AA batteries are 1.5V sources and the AA Ni-MH rechargeable are 1.2V sources. Just a guess.
It has more to do with milliampere hour than volts. The Volts number is like the horsepower in a car, the milliampere hour number is the size of the gas tank. Nickel metal hydride rechargeables have a lower milliampere hour rating than a standard alkaline or lithium AAs. The lithiums are higher (bigger gas tank) , so they last much longer.

Speaking of volts, there is a minimum and a maximum volt amount that can be used in a specific device to work. If it’s to high you can fry the electronics or blow LED lighting. Lithium Rechargeable’s are 4.2 volts fully charged. I collect flashlights as well ( torches for you guys over the great pond). 😂
 

Paultricounty

Well-known member
United States
Paul:
Thank you for a thorough and totally fair review. Excellent work!

One thought: You may want to try using a harness. Yes, they are a hassle, and I resisted using them for years. However, with the big and heavy Canons I find they make life considerably easier, especially when hiking in difficult terrain.

Thanks again!

Hermann
Thx Herman 🙏🏼,

I agree a harness is the only way to go for heavy optics. Anything but level ground will be very uncomfortable without the harness with these canons.

Paul
 

Paultricounty

Well-known member
United States
Excellent post. How quickly can the IS L get stabilized on a bird? And the remaining question is, how can IS develop further to entice more users?

Weight -- maybe not such a problem, at least for me. 2oz lighter than my SLC 56s! (which I admit I don't use every day, but have worn for hours)
Ergonomics -- what improvement would be possible here given the overall design?
Build quality and feel -- I assume Canon could easily improve this at a higher price point and wonder why they don't.
IS glitches -- lag time, loss of focus etc is not ideal.
Battery type or life?
Thank you ,

How quickly the L stabilizes is a great question. I’m still playing around with it and having fun , I locate the object without IS engaged then hit the button. id say it’s almost as fast as you let go of the button, your in. Of course you can leave it on and as soon as you focused on the object it’s already stabilized. Same with birds in flight, but there is a slight focus lag (shift). It’s like it’s searching for focus , then finds it. It’s very slight, but it’s there. Is this one of the artifacts that some users talk about, I don’t know.

There are some other things not mentioned in the review that I believe may be inherent in the prism design due to how the glass gets moved around. The edges although sharp are not as defined as the non-IS, the field stop is more elusive. The system works real well though.

The ergonomics are the biggest drawbacks. Space between barrels, less weight and better materials and then I think these would sell like hot cakes. People spend over $3000 for range ELs, so they’d certainly be a market for a IS NL or IS Noctivids.

Paul
 

[email protected]

Well-known member
Supporter
The Canon 10x42 IS-L certainly is not the perfect birding binocular, but the optics are very close if not equal to the alpha's. Don't forget that it also has the 3D stereopsis of a good porro that none of the alpha roofs have. I feel with the IS engaged it gives you about the best view you are going to get with any binocular available, and you will have as much as 50% better resolution, giving you the ability to see much more detail. When you consider all the components that go into it, they actually did a pretty good job. The ergonomics are kind of what they have to be. Have you ever seen a cutaway of one? They are crammed with electrical, mechanical and optical components. It is actually quite a feat of engineering. It surprises me that more of the manufacturers don't get on the IS bandwagon because optical image stabilization is so popular in the camera world. Nikon, Leica or Swarovski could easily make an IS binocular. I think Swarovski was coming out with an IS module for their spotting scopes, and Nikon and Leica have IS cameras.
 
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John A Roberts

Well-known member
Australia
The Canon 10x42 IS-L certainly is not the perfect birding binocular, but the optics are very close if not equal to the alpha's. Don't forget that it also has the 3D stereopsis of a good porro that none of the alpha roofs have . . .

Hi Dennis,

As can be seen in the top view, the objective and eyepiece axes have no horizontal offset, so there is no conventional Porro prism binocular like effect.
That's in contrast to the vertical offset shown in the side view.


John

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Ted Y.

Forum member
Supporter
Canada
As can be seen in the top view, the objective and eyepiece axes have no horizontal offset, so there is no conventional Porro prism binocular like effect.
The binocular has no hinge. In order to change the IPD, one must rotate one eyepiece and both will will rotate symmetrically.

Changing the IPD from max., as depicted in top view, the eyepiece is no more co-linear with the objective and the offset exists.
 

[email protected]

Well-known member
Supporter
Hi Dennis,

As can be seen in the top view, the objective and eyepiece axes have no horizontal offset, so there is no conventional Porro prism binocular like effect.
That's in contrast to the vertical offset shown in the side view.


John

View attachment 1459721
Thanks for the cut away. It really shows the complexity of the Canon 10x42 IS-L and why it has to be as big as it is. But I think Ted is correct. Once you change the IPD from max, you do have an offset, so you would still have porro prism stereopsis. When I use the Canon 10x42IS-L the 3D image is very noticeable to me. In fact, I see more stereopsis in the Canon than I do some conventional porro's.
 
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