Image stabilizing (IS) binoculars are rare yet can be a strong advantage for your viewing experience. There are so many times when IS sets can provide a huge improvement, especially when you’re supporting them in-hand rather than on a mount. What are the pros and cons of these devices? We’ve explained how they work, why they improve image quality, and when they’re worth the investment. We’ve also covered all the cons; there are trade-offs, and you need to consider ergonomics and comfort along with battery usage.
Image stabilizing (IS) binoculars offer the advantage of a clearer, sharper image with less work and more flexibility. However, trade-offs need to be considered as this type offers its own unique characteristics. Here are the pros and cons so you can choose the best set for you.
The inescapable reality of using binoculars is that simply holding them by hand will lead to some degree of shaking or movement. This is particularly true if you are using them for any period of time whether stargazing, watching cars at the track, or following your favorite sports game. The result is smearing of your image view.
When binoculars are stabilized, they result in sharper images, better clarity, and clearer contrast. While mounting equipment is available it can be heavy and awkward, along with restricting your binoculars to being mounted on the ground. Image stabilizing binoculars offer better quality without a lot of added weight and fussing.
Beyond image quality, even the slightest waver in your regular binoculars can lead to eyestrain and headaches. Movement causes your eyes to strain, and just like a low resolution computer, a lot of time staring at that image will cause significant discomfort. If you intend to use your set for long periods it will be worth the effort to choose image stabilizers simply to ensure greatest comfort.
Because quality is so improved, image stabilizing binoculars offer a significant difference even for a less powerful set. For example, Canon offers excellent binoculars for car racing. Magnification of even 8x works beautifully, as it allows for a wider field of view (FOV). This wider FOV means you can keep your eye on the cars as they move across the track, while the magnification is still strong enough to put you right in the action. With image stabilization, images remain crisp during the entire race; your car wins and you catch every moment.
Image stabilization requires more parts to be added to your binoculars. The trade-off is in weight and durability – a slightly heavier set of binoculars may need extra support for carrying, and may not withstand as much bumping and bruising as your regular set. That said, there are models with more armor and protection available which may be worth the added expense for your needs.
Be sure to spend some time handling the binoculars in-store; you will find that various sets have different ergonomics and balance, which can compensate for the added weight with repeated use.
The initial investment for IS binoculars is obviously higher. Added machinery and technology, particularly as these binoculars are rather new, will undoubtedly increase the cost. However, there is a wide range to choose from and you can certainly balance features with price.
Furthermore, batteries are required for image stabilization so be sure to check your binocular requirements and keep some spares. In most cases you will need to hold down a stabilization button to activate the feature, which is generally rather easy to do and helps keep battery use as low as possible.
IS binoculars will work very well even when batteries are dead; although image stabilization won’t be available, the binoculars are still functional and perform quite well. Consider investing in high quality rechargeable batteries and a charger for frequent use.
While image stabilizing binoculars inevitably incur a heavier investment in weight and expense, the improvement to quality and comfort are very high. If you are investing in an Alaskan trip or season tickets for football, you may find taking it the extra mile by choosing IS binoculars will absolutely maximize your experience. For long-term use these can’t be beat both for high image quality and premium comfort.