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Why image stabilization is a revolution in binoculars
on January 20, 2002
If you want to get a quick idea why image stabilization (IS) is the next revolution in binoculars, that's easy: take any binoculars that you can get and look through them at some object (a printed page of paper with several font sizes is ideal). Then look again at the same object from the same distance, but this time with the binoculars moudnted on a steady support (don't touch em!). You will notice that the actual resolution increases by a factor of at least 2 or 3 when mounted. That is, you can discern details that are at least two or three times smaller, because mounting eliminates the smear caused by the shaking of your hands. IS is like having this support available any time and anywhere you need it by a push of a button! In most conditions, the practical resolutions I can get with my Canon IS cannot be matched by any hand-held, unstabilized binoculars in the market, including those fancy Nikons, Swarovskis, Leicas and Zeiss that cost three or four times as much. No matter how good (and how expensive) is the optics of these top-of-the-line binoculars, their limiting factor in the field is the shaking of your hands. You may have heard that IS is important because it eliminates eyestrain and headaches, or because you can use the binoculars from a boat or a moving car. While these are good reasons to buy the Canon, the best reason is that they let you see much more detail in any given distance. And this is the reason why you buy binoculars in the first place.
If you are a birder like me, and you are looking for a top of the line binoculars, do not buy anything before you try this one. In my opinion IS is going to revolutionize the whole field, so a costly pair of Swarovski or Zeiss, that normally could be considered as a good investment for life, will not be top of the line anymore in two or three years. In addition to the IS, the Canon has quite good optics, good field of view and is much smaller and lighter then most models you probably considered. This makes the Canon very close to the ideal birding binoculars: Highest resolution, less weight, and less money. I did not have the opportunity to test the larger Canon IS models, but I don't think I'd buy them even if I had the money, because they are twice as heavy and (very important for birding) has smaller field of view.
Note one general disadvantage of the Canon, however: They are not as tough as the top roof prism binoculars. They are water resistant but not water proof, and the IS requires batteries (a pair of NiMH for several hours of birding. This is the digital camera procedure: get a charger and at least one replacement set). While the binoculars feel sturdy, dropping them is not good for the IS mechanism, and this is probably why Canon gives only one year warranty. So the Canon are not the best pair to take for an expedition in Alaska, but for a Sunday birder like me, these are easily the best in their price range, and probably the best in any price.