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Button on Canon's image-stabilized binoculars unlocks extraterrestrial vision

Button on Canon's image-stabilized binoculars unlocks extraterrestrial vision

From pirates to spies to child spies, it's a common Hollywood trope: Hold a simple spyglass or binoculars in front of your eyes, and you'll get a crystal-clear cylindrical picture of what's going on.

Of course that's bullshit. Unless you have a surgeon's hand, it is surprisingly difficult to line up an eyeball, several pieces of glass, and a distant subject. Kid Sean is sad to know this. But I'll never forget the day Teen Sean pressed the magic button that made all the difference: the image-stabilization button on the top of the binoculars that Canon still sells today.

A family friend was showing me her new toy on the beach, and I couldn't understand what was so special about it. (I'm blessed with 20/20 vision, and I thought I could already see swimsuit-clad women just fine — why would I want to add complications?) They told me I wasn't holding down the button.

which button? Oh, this button.

Suddenly, I was there right next to the crashing waves, marveling at the glistening sand. For the first time, I had a Legolas-vision. Where was this all my life?

When you press this button, a computer chip reads data from the built-in accelerometer to detect your handshake, then bends a fluid-filled prism inside each lens to counteract that wobble. Is. It all runs off a pair of AA batteries.

The other week, I borrowed a pair of Canon's 12x36 IS III binoculars for a walk down memory lane, and it was almost exactly as I remembered. Best way I can think of to describe it: It's as if you've teleported 100, 200, even 300 feet closer to what you're seeing. (I even brought my measuring wheel to the park to check.)

Although, the actual button is awful? It's a soft rubber nipple with an equally soft membrane underneath that provides zero backlash. There's no satisfying click, and it's easy to let go without realizing it. It takes a bit of force to hold it down and activate image stabilization. I've heard that newer models only let you tap one strong button.

Either way, as long as it's put down and you focus correctly, the world comes into sharp relief. I got "closer" without fear of scaring a red squirrel, noting how its bushy coat was clearly made up of individual hairs. From a distance of 40 metres, I saw a bundle in a tree surrounded by crisp but hairy bark. I admired the front yard of a house on the street surrounding the park, even though there was half a park between that house and me.

At home, I could clearly see my entire living room in the reflection of one of the ornaments on our Christmas tree from across the room. I wish I could take a photo that does it justice, but I can't hold my phone as steady as I'd like, and the phone's camera is wider-angle than the human eye can see. Here's the best I've got completely on hand - imagine it zoomed in, almost as clear as can be:

Canon wasn't the first to have image stabilization in binoculars - even a cursory search shows that gyro versions have been around for military and commercial purposes since at least the 60s, and that Leica introduced it in the 1990s. Presented perfectly. SOLD FROM MECHANICAL PAIR.

But it looks like Canon may have created a consumer/prosumer category with respect to the modern IS. The company introduced its first pair in 1995, calling the original 12x36 IS "the world's first and only affordable binoculars with image stabilization". And despite their $1,599 sticker price, publications like Boating Magazine tested them side by side with binoculars without IS, surprising how much zoom you can get while swimming. "Most marine binoculars are 7x50. That's about the maximum before the images leave the lens," it wrote at the time.

Today, the 12x36 IS costs $799 - still a hefty price, but far less than the original $3,100 it would have cost in today's money.

If you decide to buy or rent a pair, be sure to check their closest focusing distance (CFD) or minimum focusing distance (MFD) before paying, as it's easy to get more magnification than you want or need. Is. Is. Canon's 12x36, for example, just can't focus on anything you have up to 20 feet (six meters) away.

Also, I'm a bit surprised that the category hasn't evolved more since I was a teen. Why can't I find image-stabilized binoculars with a built-in camera or at least a smartphone lens adapter? What about modern autofocus other than the focus dial? Some cheap-o binoculars are shipped with a built-in camera, but I don't see serious ones with image stabilization.

Maybe this is good news. There's still room for a company to build the ultimate telescope.

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