Plus: Perfectly still images; weatherproof design; low-light performance
Minus: Poor-fitting lens caps; batteries run down quickly, heavy to hold for long periods
The bigger your binoculars, the shakier your view. Cue Canon’s image-stabilizing technology, which freeze-frames your field of view for sharp, bright images in a weighty, but mostly travel-friendly design. We test it here with the Canon 10×42 L IS WP.
“Why is Mars bouncing around like a bright, colorful squiggly worm in my binoculars?” My response to a recent question from a reader was to give advice about bringing their elbows into their body while using binoculars, leaning against a wall, or resting them on a window ledge, all to increase stability. That’s the affordable answer. The expensive option is to invest in Canon’s 10×42 L IS WP binoculars.
Humans are hot. They shake. That’s why Canon’s image stabilization technology, while not particularly cost-effective, remains the top technology for anyone wanting to take the next step in binocular astronomy. The effect is as simple to use as it is complicated in how it works; you press a button on the top of the Canon 10×42 L IS’s and your target – whether a star cluster, the moon or a precious view of the solar corona during a total solar eclipse – switches from shaky and blurry to beautifully still. The system uses motion sensors to detect shake, which are then canceled-out by actuators around the lenses.
Image stabilization is the ‘IS’ in Canon 10×42 L IS. The ‘L’ stands for low dispersion, which means less chromatic aberration. Not all pairs of Canon image stabilizing binoculars have that, which is why these are ideal for astronomy, though the 10x magnification and 42mm objective lens are also well suited to watching the night sky.
Does the IS technology work? Yes, it works wonders, but it’s not perfect, which is why the L glass is used. You do get a steady view of whatever you point these binoculars at, but you also get a touch of softness across the subject. For star fields it’s not hugely noticeable, but for individual stars themselves, and for the moon, you do notice a slight softness. Their use of two AA batteries is annoying; they run out rather too quickly, so you always have to carry a pack of spares.
However, as well as that highly impressive image stabilization technology the Canon 10×42 L IS presents have sharp, crisp and bright images throughout the 59-degree field of view, even in low light (the exit pupil diameter is 4.2 mm), with very little chromatic aberration to speak of. That’s down to a Porro Prism optical design, while various filters boost light transmission and suppress flare. It all easily makes up for the IS system’s slight softness.
The Canon 10×42 L IS is presented in a design that’s not just weatherproof, but waterproof, with twist-up eyecups and – just in case you run out of batteries – a 1/4-inch (0.2 mm) thread for attaching the Canon 10×42 L IS to a tripod.
However, the lens caps supplied are of poor quality; the objective lens covers quickly become loose, while the eyecups cover is similarly unreliable. It’s recommended to buy separate Canon LC-52 Center Pinch lens caps for regular Canon photographic lenses to fit the 52mm filter thread. The Canon 10×42 L IS is also heavy at 39.2 oz (1.1kg) and fairly large at 5.4 by 6.9 by 3.4 inches (137 by 175.8 by 85.4 mm.)
If you’re largely concerned with the IS system over the details of the design, the Canon 10×42 L IS are fabulous, but are they too expensive? I don’t think they are. Bird-watchers – another key target market for Canon’s image stabilization technology – wouldn’t balk at spending this kind of money on a better, clearer, sharper view of their targets. So why should amateur astronomers? The lure of ever-greater magnification offered by cheap telescopes has left the market for binoculars mostly bereft of innovative and high-end technology.
Perfect they are not – with poor lens caps and covers, and a battery-hungry IS mode – but a pair of Canon 10×42 L IS are as good a tool for mobile night sky explorers as any telescope. If you travel a lot to find dark skies, and certainly if you go to watch total solar eclipses, the versatile and superbly stable Canon 10×42 L IS’s advanced optics are easily worth their weight.