Canon 15x50 IS Review
These 15x50s are among the largest aperture and highest power stabilised binoculars that Canon make. They’ve also been around for decades and are widely used for astronomy and spotting. I haven’t reviewed them before because they’re overshadowed by the similar 18x50s. But I personally use the 12x36s just because the they’re so much more user-friendly and general-purpose.
So are the 15x50s really an also-ran to the 18x50s, or a good compromise of the capability of the 18x50s and the usability of the lower powered models? Let’s find out...
At A Glance
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
193mm incl eye cups
Data from Me/Canon.
What’s in the Box?
Design and Build
Canon’s range of image stabilised binoculars now (early 2022) has no less than five different lines sold here in the UK. All share a similar design and look, but different types and generations of IS technology under the hood:
· Large, high-power binoculars of semi-waterproof design, with ED lenses: these 15x50s and the identical-looking 18x50s
· A new line of 32mm models featuring a different type of I.S. derived from their camera lenses, including a 10x32, 12x32 and a 14x32 (see below)
· An older line including 8x25, 10x30 and 12x36, which share a similar non-waterproof design, are light weight and fairly cheap. The 12x36s are a Scope Views Best Buy for astronomy
· Premium 10x42s which are fully waterproof, have special red-ring lenses and are mainly aimed at birders
· Recent small and light-weight ‘pocket’ binoculars in 8x20 and 10x20 sizes
Two smaller high-powered Canon I.S. models – 14x32s and the 12x36s which are a Scope Views Best Buy for astronomy.
Body and Ergonomics
Like most I.S. bino’s, the need to house the electronics mean they don’t have a ‘normal’ binocular body. There is no hinge – the body is just a unitary plastic ovoid with thin, smooth armour. Their look is more like a camera than other high-end bino’s, with a button on top and a battery compartment underneath.
Even if they remind me a bit of an old Sony Walkman, both external and internal build quality is very high, much like my Canon DSLR in fact.
At 1100g, these are heavy compared to the smaller models - almost twice the weight of the basic 10x30s - but slightly less than the 18x50s.
Unlike those 10x30s, Canon claim that these are ‘All Weather’, but given the potential for water ingress through the battery compartment and button, these won’t be submersion-proof like the best roof-prism birding bino’s. You should be able to use them safely in the rain, though.
Unlike most binoculars, the non-hinged body incorporates a standard ¼-20 thread underneath for attachment to a photo tripod, no adapter required.
These regularly appear on EBay in a very worn state, so they’re clearly up to extended use, though eventually they’ll fail like any other consumer electronic device.
The 1/5-20 thread on the underside allows easy mounting on a photo tripod.
The focuser is not super-fast and the knob is quite small, but the action is light, precise and free of any kind of image shift or backlash.
From close-focus of five metres to infinity is just under one and a half turns. There is plenty of focus beyond infinity, to accommodate different peoples’ eyesight, too.
In order to make these waterproof, the focusing mechanism is (unusually for porros) internal – the focuser moves the objectives in and out behind a sealed optical window.
You adjust dioptre (the difference in focus between your eyes) by the traditional method: twisting the right-hand eyepiece to focus it independently. In this case, it works smoothly. It isn’t stiff as so many are, but that does make it all too easy to shift accidentally when folding down the eye cups.
Optics - Prisms
Like most stabilised binoculars, these have traditional porro-prisms. That’s the same as Grandad’s bino’s (though they don’t look like it). But if you think that’s a bad thing, it’s not: porro prisms generally perform a little better than roof prisms because they don’t need mirror or phase coatings.
Optics - Objectives
Canon claim that these objectives have a four-element design, but that may include the optical window they’ve added to the front. That window may sound like a bad idea, but with modern coatings it won’t absorb much light and does make these waterproof. It potentially makes them easier/cheaper to repair if they get scratched too.
Both these 15x50s and the 18x50s feature objectives containing one element of special dispersion glass high in fluorides that gives better resistance to false colour fringing around high contrast parts of the view (chromatic aberration). This is a major improvement over the cheaper models which don’t have it.
Canon refer to this technology as ‘UD’ (ultra-low dispersion). Some manufacturers use labels like ‘ED’ or ‘SD’ to describe much the same thing, whilst others confusingly call their binoculars ‘HD’ because those special lenses give a higher definition view.
The objective coatings are deep blue/purple in hue (not the more neutral tone you get with high-end German bino’s these days), but they are very dark and of high-quality. Combined with the inherently lower-loss porro-prism design, these should give very good light throughput for a bright view, though I did notice at least one uncoated surface somewhere inside.
The insides of the barrels are machined with lots of fine baffles to kill stray light.
Overall optical quality is very high. There is none of the softness you get with some high-powered binoculars. Canon make a lot of quality optics (including the objectives for Takahashi telescopes) and that experience shows here. In terms of sheer optical fabrication quality, these give nothing away to the likes of Swarovski, Zeiss and Nikon.
Optical windows make these waterproof and give the objectives an unusual appearance.
Barrel internals are well baffled to kill stray light.
Optics – Eyepieces
The eyepieces are a complex design that Canon state has seven elements, including a doublet field flattener. That multi-element eyepiece design delivers a wide (for binoculars) 60° apparent field of view, that translates to 4.5° true field width.
Canon claim 15mm of eye relief (exit pupil distance), measured from the eye lens. But the eye lens is deeply recessed in the eye cup and so the effective value is much less - more like 11mm. This means a greatly reduced field with glasses on and just isn’t up to industry-leading standards these days.
With no bridge, these have moveable eyepieces to accommodate different inter-pupillary distances. That’s fine, in theory, but the big eyepieces and cups will squeeze your nose if your IPD is small, like mine.
Most premium binoculars these days have twist-adjustable eye cups with several settings. These have the old-fashioned fold-down rubber eye cups with just two positions. They will probably eventually perish and split at the fold point. The eye cups are very high quality for their type, but the rubber is sticky and a magnet for dust. They are, however, easy to fold and provide a good ridge to rest your glasses on.
Optics – Image Stabiliser
A magnification of 15x is high for bino’s and it amplifies your shakes too, blurring the view and making it harder to see fine details. Hence the need for stabilisation.
This type of I.S. uses sensors to detect the shakes and a microprocessor to control what Canon describe as a ’vari-angle prism’ to counteract them in real time. It’s a mature and reliable technology that really does work.
Most of Canon’s I.S. bino’s work this way, but not all. Canon’s most recent models, like the 14x32s, have a dual-I.S. system that changes the offset between lenses instead of the flexible prism. This new system is derived from their cameras and is supposed to be higher fidelity, though my review of the 14x32s didn’t convince me it was significantly better.
Other manufacturers have image stabilising binoculars which use different systems, like gyros to simply resist the shaking, or with gimbled prisms (Zeiss 20x60s).
Like other Canon stabilised binoculars, you activate the I.S. system on these 15x50s by pushing a button on top. A click and a green light confirm the I.S. is active.
Unlike the cheaper models, the button has two modes. With a firm push it’s on until you release. Give a lighter push and the I.S. remains active until you push it again. This is a great feature, but it’s all too easy to leave it active and run the battery down.
Early versions of these high-powered models had pretty nasty I.S. with lots of unpleasant side effects. These are much better. The image just steadies very positively and effectively. There is little noise and panning works smoothly too. You might just notice a faint jitter of the view and slight changes in the focus that I didn’t find too troublesome.
The lower power means these 15x50s suffer less from unpleasant IS artefacts than the 18x50s.
Overall, the I.S. works well. Hold them steady and you are rewarded with an impressively sharp and stable view; rest on something and the view is telescope-steady.
Unlike cheaper Canons, the 15x50s have a stay-on mode when the button is released.
Power is provided by a pair of AA batteries in a compartment underneath. You need a coin or broad screwdriver to open it.
The 15x50s get a plain fabric bag, with thin padding and a rather fragile buckle, that’s similar to other Canons. It’s the same basic strap with webbing only marginally wider than the cheaper models get: binoculars this costly (and heavy!) deserve better. The broader strap from a Canon DSLR fits and looks fine, works better.
No objective caps are provided, just a push-on rubber eyepiece one.
In Use – Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
Handling is one area where these are noticeably worse than most current premium binoculars. That fat, bridgeless body is harder to hold than nicely sculpted barrels and the armour feels thin and less grippy than the best.
Weight is similar to most 50mm binoculars, although they do get tiring to hold after a while when compared to some of the smaller models, such as the 12x36s and 14x32s.
The focuser is excellent and the dioptre adjustment simple but effective.
I found the dual-mode button a great comfort upgrade over the cheaper models because it allows the I.S. to stay on without keeping the button pushed if you want: less tiring, it reduces shakes too.
The main problem for me are the eyepieces. Uncomfortable with my specs off and balanced on my nose (or squeezing it), they don’t have enough eye relief to show much more than about half the field with my glasses on.
If it matters, these are not an attractive-looking pair of binoculars to be seen wearing, in my opinion.
Compared to a similarly-priced birding binocular, the view is an unpleasant surprise at first look. But that’s mainly down to the poor eye relief and shakes. Roll down the eye cups (even for use without spec’s!), push the magic button and you find that these give a very bright, sharp, high-contrast daytime view.
The field is quite wide for the power, sharpness and focus snap excellent, though the depth of field is very shallow (something to be expected with a high magnification) and so you do need to use the focuser a lot.
But as with other I.S. binoculars here’s the bottom line: the view may seem less aesthetically pleasing, but the combination of high magnification, superb optics and stabilisation mean that these 15x50s resolve much more than ‘normal’ hand-held binoculars, even ones of similar magnification.
That high power and steady view allow you to identify birds at extreme range. I managed to ID a Buzzard soaring in the far distance, just a speck with the naked eye. Similarly, I identified a Gold Crest at a distance where I’d have thought it was a Wren with normal bino’s.
Like the 18x50s, the 15x50s’ capabilities don’t stop with birding either. I can distinguish Boeing from Airbus, spot the orange tail of EasyJet in the airway high overhead. These would work very well for plane spotters.
For other kinds of daytime spotting, marine use, or nature viewing, these again show you more than any normal hand-held binoculars. Watching a muddy post-Christmas football match down in a village below the fell, I could tell my friend hadn’t bothered to turn out among the players.
Both 50mm Canon models are advertised as having field flatteners and the field is very flat for binoculars, one of the very flattest I have tested - largely free from astigmatism and curvature and with just a little distortion for comfortable panning. Even the field edge is completely usable. You can see this in the phone snap taken through them below.
The Canon 15x50s have a very flat and well-corrected field of view.
False colour fringing worsens at higher powers. So, yes, there is false colour: you can easily see it on silhouetted birds or branches, especially when focusing through - a purple tinge one side of focus, yellow the other. These are worse than the best (Swarovski’s 15x56 SLCs) in this respect.
In general use, that false colour fringing isn’t really a problem, but might be under a few specific conditions: if you’re watching wildlife in the snow (or over bright water) for example, as I found out when testing the 12x36s (which have only slightly worse fringing levels) in Yellowstone during the winter.
Stray Light and Ghosting
Using these at dusk under a bright sky generated no significant flare and a full Moon no ghosts.
In Use – Dusk
Their 50mm objectives, high magnification, steady view and bright porro-prism optics mean these penetrate dusk shadows well.
In Use – Observing the Night Sky
The precise focuser and snappy optics mean getting perfect sharpness for astronomy is easy. The stabilisation steadies fast, after which it’s a telescope-like view and the stabilisation makes a huge difference in resolving detail.
Panning with the IS on seems more fluid than the 18x50s, with no jerky view or clicking noises from the IS. The lower power made it easier to avoid getting lost when panning, too.
The ability to leave the IS enabled is a great feature for astronomy, where there’s no need to re-focus when panning about.
Observing a star confirms a very flat field, with no significant astigmatism and very slight field curvature in the last 20%. This is a big plus point when viewing star fields and extended clusters.
The wider field given by the lower power does make finding things a bit easier and there’s plenty of room for most DSOs.
The only downside for me was that the tight eye relief made them hard to use with glasses, same as the 18x50s and worse than the 12x36s.
The 15x50s’ 4.5° field overlaid on Orion’s sword region.
If you have nowhere to set up a scope, higher-powered IS binoculars like these make a surprisingly good way to explore the Moon. 15x may not sound like much compared to your telescope, but with binocular vision you can easily find most of the features on (the Earth-facing side!) of a Moon globe.
Just before full, all the major features were easy to find, including weird and ghostly Reiner Gamma in Oceanus Procellarum, dramatic Sinus Iridium near the terminator and brilliant Aristarchus too.
They surprised me by showing a clear and clean crescent Venus, without flare or false colour.
Just after New Year 2022 I took them up the fell one afternoon at dusk to spot Venus through a break in the cloud, low (just six degrees) above the sunset. It was a perfect view of the thinnest crescent I’ve ever seen – just a dazzling silver arc with the horns pointing away from the Sun. An example of the sort of serendipitous view you’d never get if you had to carry and set up a telescope.
Jupiter showed as a perfect disk, with just a little too much unfocussed light to see the NEB or SEB as in almost all bino’s. The changing positions of the Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede - are super-easy to track with these.
Stabilised at 15x, it is just possible to see the rings as ‘Galilean’ handles, rather than the usual solid oval most bino’s show.
The 15x50s work very well for deep sky. With the IS enabled, views are generally like a small astro’ telescope with a rich-field eyepiece. Surprisingly for a stabilised binocular, I enjoyed sweeping Milky Way star fields looking for clusters.
Views of small DSOs are a bit less punchy and involving and they stand out less than through the 18x50s, but I still easily found and enjoyed the Crab and Ring Nebulae.
The 4.5° field is as much as the widest-field small astro’ telescopes can manage with 1.25” eyepieces and it’s plenty. The whole of Orion’s belt fits in and the outer stars Alnitak and Mintaka remain almost distortion-free due to the flat field.
I had superb views of the Great Orion Nebula, including its extended arms of nebulosity and the central ‘spike’; the knotty dark lane too. I was just about able to resolve the four main Trapezium stars.
Extended clusters looked wonderful and I had great views of M35 and the smaller clusters running up from it through Auriga. All were easily resolved into their component stars and the Starfish and Pinwheel showed their characteristic forms and arcs of stars. The Pleiades showed masses of fainter stars in among the main five.
The Double cluster looked great too – big and populous. The surrounding clusters, big and small, were easy to find and identify.
I found globular cluster M13, even with dawn light starting to bleed into the sky – a more interesting sight than with lower powers.
The 15x50s make a wonderful deep-sky binocular. The 18x50s may go deeper and show more, but these 15x50s make finding things and panning easier, are better for sweeping star fields.
Canon 15x50 IS vs Canon 12x36 IS
If you want a pair of stabilised binoculars with a middling magnification that’s more general purpose than the 18x50s, you’ll probably consider these two options. Let’s compare them point by point:
· The 12x36s are much smaller and lighter to carry or travel with
· The 12x36s are a lot cheaper
· The 12x36s use ‘ISIII’ which feels more fluid and less intrusive
· The 12x36s have more eye relief for spec’s wearers
· The 15x50s claim waterproofing, whilst the 12x36s are just splash-resistant
· The 15x50s have an ED element in their objectives and suffer (slightly) less from false colour fringing
· The 15x50s have a very useful permanently-on mode; the 12x36s don’t – you have to keep the button pressed
· 50mm objectives do capture a lot more light for deep sky than 36mm ones
If you own other bino’s and just want a single-minded extreme distance viewer, buy the 15x50s (or the 18x50s). For general use, the 12x36s are much more user friendly – I regularly travel with them and use them as my only bino’s, taking them hiking and sight-seeing as well as to dark sky sites; I wouldn’t do that with the 15x50s.
Like most high-power bino’s, these 15x50s seem a bit constricted in their view and uncomfortable to use compared with say similarly-priced 10x42 birding bino’s.
But the plain fact is that their stabilisation will allow you to resolve way more detail: be it of birds, wildlife, aircraft; DSOs or the Moon. I’ve said it before – this is not a subtle effect. If you need binoculars purely for functional reasons (i.e. rather than to enjoy the aesthetics of a beautiful view), you should try a stabilised pair like these.
The view may not be as beautiful as a pair of premium 10x42s, but resolution is very high thanks to top optical quality, even without the stabilisation. Again, they may not have the heirloom construction of a pair of European birding bino’s but build quality is excellent too. They’ve been around for many years and they’ll likely be rugged and reliable.
For general purpose use I’d continue to recommend the lighter, cheaper, more user-friendly 12x36s. If you need the highest resolution possible in hand-helds, I’d suggest the 18x50s.
But if your main use case needs the highest resolution (plane spotting, astronomy, long-range birding without a scope), but you also want to be able to use them more casually sometimes, these are indeed an excellent compromise.
Canon’s 15x50s are amongst the highest-resolution hand-held distance viewers you can buy and I can recommend them despite some eyepiece comfort issues. More powerful than the 12x36s, they are more general purpose than the 18x50s.
You can buy Canon's 15x50s from Amazon here:
Or from Wex here: