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Nikon 12x50SE vs Canon 15x50IS

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#1 Wes James

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 09:59 AM

Yesterday, in other discussions here, Erik D mentioned it'd be interesting see somewhere a comparison of the Nikon 12x50 SE's against the Canon 15x50 IS. I agreed that it would be an interesting comparison; so having some nice, clear skies that only cold (20's) temperatures can bring to NE Florida, I went out with the pair for a short while to do a direct, side-by-side comparison. These comparisons were drawn viewing M42, M45 & the nearly full moon. Here's what I found:

First off, the Nikon's feel like about half the weight of the Canon's in hand. The Nikon's feel delicate, the Canon's bulky. Neither unpleasant, just hugely different when switching back and forth between the two.

The Nikon's are sharper. Period. The Canon's I had to struggle for best focus, the Nikon's just popped into the sharpest pinpoint stars you can imagine. Now it's not that the Canon's were that BAD, it's just that the Nikon SE's were that much better (even with the IS off).

The Canon's had a slightly narrower FOV than the Nikons, expected with the higher magnification. The Nikon's also had better contrast. The sky through them was simply blacker, that kind of velvety black you associate with the very best optics. In comparison, the Canon's appeared to have some skyglow present. HOWEVER... which do I prefer the view through?? The Canon's, because once you hit that magic "IS" button, the view just freezes, any shuddering/ jittering goes away- and the view just floats there. Float is, in my opinion, the best word to describe the view the IS gives. There is no way short of mounting the Nikon's (or perhaps in a lounger) that I could get anywhere near as stable of view, and to me, the jitter that you're going to get handholding 12x optics is unpleasant. Even leaning my head back against my van in the driveway and bracing my arms couldn't provide adequate support to provide the stability the optics cried out for.

Now on the moon, the results were different, surprisingly. Both bino's focused well on the larger target; While the Nikons still seemed to focus easier, the Canon's still came to an equally sharp-appearing view. The Nikon's exhibited slightly more green CA on the edge of the moon, while not objectionable, it was still there- and more prevalent than in the Canon's, which showed almost no CA. The Canon's handled the brightness of the moon better as well, giving an equally pleasing presentation- only larger. I was unable to notice the difference in the black sky background I noted on the starfields. Overall, the lunar view was quite a bit/definitely more enjoyable through the Canon's, not only because of the increased magnification, but more importantly, to see the moon just floating there- as opposed to the little jitters that the unstabilized view through the Nikons give at best handheld.

My overall favorite? The Canon's. It's just so much easier to get an enjoyable view through than the Nikons. The Nikons, while exhibiting better optical quality, need to be mounted to fully benefit from the improved optical quality in comparison to the Canon's.

Oh... one last comment: I've always been quick to point out lousy objective covers- that don't fit/won't stay on... well, these eyecaps on the Nikon SE's are at the other extreme- Lordy, I had the hardest time getting them off. They simply aren't ever going to fall off accidently or in the case! WAAY too snug. Why is it so difficult to make objective caps that fit properly???

Next in line is a comparison of the Nikon 12x50SE's to the Canon 10x42L IS bino's, hopefully tonight.
Hopes this answers some questions that were finally asked yesterday.

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#2 Luigi


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Posted 07 February 2009 - 10:32 AM

Thanks for the good review. I need to get out more with my bins, but it is so cold outside. I don't have the Nikon SEs to compare against but find the Canon 15x50s to be very sharp during the day. This usually means good optics and good CA, as poor CA degrades contrast at high angular frequency. I think of the IS feature not as part of the optical performance but as mount performance. IS performs the function of a mount, steadying the view. In that function it is really good, it adds very little weight, bulk, and pointing constraints compared to a mount, thought it does trade off intermittent reduction in absolute sharpness of view for these benefits

One problem I have with the Canons is that the diameter of the eye pieces is so large that it leaves little room for the bridge of my nose. I also have this problem with my Fujinon 16x70 bins. No doubt this is due to the difference in physiognomy between Asian and European faces.

#3 RichD


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Posted 07 February 2009 - 10:36 AM

Thanks for that Wes, very interesting little review. Time and time again i hear people saying just how much fun the canons are for astro use - makes me want a pair big time.

I can see me succumbing and splurging on a pair pretty soon...

#4 KennyJ


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Posted 07 February 2009 - 11:52 AM

Thanks for that Wes .

I suspect that apart from the magnification factors , your conclusions echo the reason my friend Brian Lee ( Medinabrit ) reluctantly decided he could live without his Nikon 12 x 50SE , in favour of his Canon 12 x 36 IS .

Brian has so many binoculars that I can't even remember now if he also has a Canon 15 x 50 IS in his collection .


#5 Rich V.

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 12:08 PM

Great comparison, Wes, thanks!

Rich V

#6 backwoody


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Posted 07 February 2009 - 01:15 PM

Wes, nice writeup of your comparison. I'll watch for the follow up.

As an owner of 12x50SEs, I use these a lot for astronomical viewing. The ability to take full advantage of their outstanding optical quality always depends on how steadily I hold them; my best option is usually a deck chair or chaise lounge, where I can prop my elbows.

thanks again for the report.

#7 medinabrit


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Posted 07 February 2009 - 02:26 PM

I had the 12x50 SE but sold them as i found i used the Canon 15 ,12 & 10 IS much more often.
Not a thing wrong with the Nikon but the IS,s are just so much better in use due to the IS feature.
I was just looking thru the 15 x 50 IS to explain the difference in great & good bins to my daughter as she was looking to scrounge some bins cos shes a travelling nurse & needs to see small house numbers from a distance .They are clear right out to the very edge .Very rare in any bino.
By the way i fogged her of with an old pair of BSA bins i got free with a rifle scope i bought.

#8 pcad



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Posted 07 February 2009 - 03:32 PM

I have to agree with Wes about the 15x50IS.

While very, very good, I find the 12x50SE, 10x42IS, Series 8 10x50 and 15x70 and the Tak 22x60 easier to focus than the 15x50IS. Of these only the 10x42IS is as hand holdable as the 15x50IS. The 10x42IS being a little more stable due to the lower mag IMHO.

As mentioned above, the eyecups on both IS models are facially unfriendly to me also. The 10x42IS are large, round with a flat surface and are too firm for my tastes. The eyecups on the 15x50IS are ok when folded down for eyeglass use, but dig into the bridge of my nose when they are extended.

There might be an aftermarket opportunity here for improved eyecups on these otherwise excellent binoculars.

#9 medinabrit


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Posted 07 February 2009 - 06:26 PM

I do agree about the eye cups on the 15,IS .The 12 & 10 are much more comfortable,
I dont have any problem focusing the 15IS though.
I do have the Tak astronomer another great bin but i prefer my Miya 22x60 mainly because of the 45 EPs.
We are very fortunate to have such wonderful viewing tools as these bunch of binoculars.
Pity the sky wont co operate with me though.
After discussing all these great bins i must admit that my all time favorite is the Swaro 15x56.Not just because of the optics but for the ruggedness of the build.
But then again they cost about the same as the 3 Canon IS,s combined.

#10 Joe Ogiba

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Posted 08 February 2009 - 09:41 AM

The 12x36 IS II's have the same FOV as the 12x50SE's and are a better comparison IMHO. The showstopper for me on the 12x50SE's is that I prefer a steady image that IS binoculars give me handheld.

#11 Wes James

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Posted 08 February 2009 - 11:05 AM

The showstopper for me on the 12x50SE's is that I prefer a steady image that IS binoculars give me handheld.

Yep, Joe-
I agree, and my side-by-side comparison's bore that out for me as well. There's nothing like the way the jitter just stops and the view just hangs there when you push that IS button.

Last night I did the same comparison with the 10x42L IS Canon's and the 12x50SE Nikons, and the results were closer, similar, with the Canon's IS button again being the deal breaker for me once again.
Will write it up when I get the time, hopefully later today.

#12 piero pignatta

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 02:04 PM

Hi Wes, good review!
I use nikon 12x50SE for astronomical use, but I tried the canon IS 15x50 and I would like to buy it. The problem is that I can't leave my nikon and I'll probably keep both!
I tried side-by-side the 12x50 on a stative and canon IS-on handheld and I notice that the difference between the 2 bino's becomes less evident in this way, so I found this little trick (see the last photo of the review)to increase the stability, leaning it against my front.
I'm now testing the nikon 10x42SE: it would be interesting a comparaison vs canon 10x42
clear sky to you all

#13 Wes James

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 02:51 PM

so I found this little trick (see the last photo of the review)to increase the stability, leaning it against my front.

Ha!!! What a downright creative idea, Piero! :bow:
I like that!
Yes, I agree- the smaller 10x42 Nikon SE's vs. the Canon 10x42L would indeed be interesting to compare side-by-side. A much closer match. Truly fine optics vs. IS. Much more of a true comparison/match than any of the 3 that I had the opportunity to compare together. I'd still bet the Canon's IS would decide the winner!

#14 EdZ


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Posted 11 February 2009 - 03:32 PM

That idea wins my vote for functional simplicity. That's great! Much better than hanging a 4 foot ladder over your shoulders.


#15 piero pignatta

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 06:30 PM

Congratulation from "guru of binoculars" as you are, it's an honour.... :thanx:
I want also to remark another solution by my friend Felice, observation buddy, using a Manfrotto shoulder brace for monopod, directly attached on his fujinon 16x70
but I realize that now I'm quite off-topic....

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