Igor Vyvey is a man of many photographic talents. You would be mistaken to think that he just shoots macro. Getting in close and personal. And that is very true. He does shoot some amazing macro shots – stay tuned for an upcoming blog about that! But he is my favourite kind of photographer. The kind that will have a go at any genre. I have seen him walking the streets of Melbourne in a bid to capture some street photography. He has more recently been experimenting with model photography too. He is also a regular at Fuji X Aus events in Sydney. And, of course, he loves his nature photography. Birds and wildlife. Which is why he recently took a new set of Fujifilm binoculars out with him on a wildlife shoot. Let’s hear what Igor though about the experience and the product.
Over the last few weeks, Fujifilm has kindly entrusted me with a pair of their Fujinon Techno-Stabi 12×28 TS1228 Binoculars. I am far from being a binoculars expert to give you a detailed technical review. Instead, as a keen hobbyist nature photographer often drawn to birdlife, I wanted to explore and share with you my practical experience of how well this instrument could assist my wildlife pursuits.
It has literally been an eye-opener for me. I fancy myself as a bit of a techie, but I must admit that I hadn’t realised that stabilisation technology had made it to the binoculars world. My previous experience with field binoculars was pretty much limited to an old pair of 7×50 inherited from my late father who was a keen boat watcher. As a hobbyist photographer drawn to the great outdoors and in particular birds, it would be logical that my pursuits would greatly benefit from closer scouting through the foliage. It would enable me to discern movement I may not otherwise notice and just as importantly identify whether the potential target is worth waiting and strategising for. Not another mynah, please!
The thing is that once I am loaded with my often gripped camera (X-H1 or X-T3 now), XF100-400mm, speedlight, monopod and other paraphernalia and necessities I tend to give my one-kilo binoculars a miss. Enter the 420 grams compact Fujinon Techno-Stabi 12×28 binoculars. Half the size and less than half the weight becomes an entirely different proposition. The lightweight and compactness definitely helps to make the decision to bring them along on a photographic expedition in the first place. If you are just out there birdwatching and don’t have other heavy gear to carry, it doesn’t matter too much, and you’ll gladly carry a heavier pair of binoculars. As a photographer, camera gear including a heavy telephoto lens is a priority, however, so any extras have to earn their keep.
Now that they’ve made the grade to accompany you, how effective and enjoyable are they in field use? There again, I have been pleasantly surprised. With 12x magnification, they offer plenty of power, allowing you to discern a lot of details that escape the naked eye. The angle of view is somewhat restricted as the lens is 28mm, compared to the 50mm I was used to, but adequate for my bird watching purposes.
What considerably contributes to the ease and comfort of use, including for more extended observation sessions is the stabilisation, readily switched on at the flick of a finger. I could not fault it. Technically, the vibration correction range is slated at ±3 degree. What does that mean in the real world? Slightly shaky hands gazing at the top of a tree on the horizon in a stationary position, tick. Walking with eyes staring through the binos on a forest path – do not try this at home – tick. I haven’t tried the shake of a safari jeep back seat on a bumpy trail, but no problems either through the window of the train in motion or the sway of a ferry ride. I gather these binoculars are some of the, if not THE, smallest and lightest stabilised binos ever made and the stabilisation is top notch. Wonder how I could have done without such a tool all that time.
The stabilisation is powered by a CR2 lithium battery – a small, light and long-lasting type which is fairly readily available. The binoculars are rated for 12 hours of use, which I gather is well above the competition. Stabilisation also switches off automatically after 10 minutes to save battery. In a month of use, I indeed never faced any battery replacement issues, but it might be handy to carry a spare for travel.
I familiarised myself with the operation and eye adjustments of the binoculars from my upper balcony, where I am blessed with a sweeping view of a wooded valley abounding with a variety of birds and trees close and distant: dead easy and a long cry from setting up a new camera. No manual required! Just adjust the diopters for each eye and distance between eyes to get that perfect circle view. That’s done in a cinch, fine tune the focus at the smooth and precise turn of the centre wheel – all a one hand operation – and you will be graced with a very clear and sharp highly magnified view.
As I am well used to the quality of Fujifilm lenses, this is not surprising but certainly in line with a proud heritage. Clarity and sharpness edge to edge makes it easy on the eyes through long observations and is a real treat. The lens coating also enhances the view with high contrast. What helps as well is a good amount of eye relief, which would be most beneficial to spectacle wearers. I was also pleasantly surprised with the focus range, as close as around 2.5 meters, which is ideal for smaller birds or other critters popping up at close range…. especially if getting any closer would scare them off …or possibly endanger you.
Ready for some more adventures, I took the binoculars along with my photo gear on a morning at the Warriewood wetlands and another in Lane Cove National Park, my staple birding sites. Aside from a myriad of birds I may not have seen otherwise, and following up close the flight of dragonflies and damselflies, I did spot a red-bellied black snake! They certainly helped me getting a great view and following it through the bushes at a safe distance.
I followed this with a full day tour of the Sydney Northern Beaches, stopping at some reserves along the way. One of these reserves included the bird-rich Dee Why Lagoon Wildlife refuge where observation is difficult through thick bush. I certainly saw through the binoculars a lot more birds than I was able to photograph, darting from one branch to another and disappearing. But they also assisted in spotting and identifying some good photography candidates, such as this Olive Backed Oriole.
They were also a nicely behaved companion on a trip to Dangar Island on the Hawkesbury. It starts with a ferry trip from Brooklyn and an excellent opportunity to test the stabilisation on the water. No problems on this trip only shaken by minor wave ripples and the engine vibration. Luckily, this ferry is all enclosed so just observed through the windows.
But this brings me to what I thought was the main weaker point of these otherwise brilliant binoculars: contrary to the previous model, they are not waterproof, weatherproof or even very weather resistant. They are apparently rated IPX-2, which is minimal protection. It can only handle some dripping water when held vertically. This would have me worried about using in any inclement weather, which can often occur during nature hiking. It also makes it risky to use on say a whale or dolphin watching cruise, where sea spray may damage them.
I am not sure whether the lack of waterproofing was a cost cutting measure or a result of the size and weight of these binoculars, but their previous 12×32 version (Techno-Stabi TS1232) are sold at a similar price point and have waterproofing, fog-proofing as well as slightly larger lenses, which makes for a useful somewhat wider field of view. They were however significantly heavier (more than double as just over 1 kg) and not as compact.
I should point out that both Fujinon binoculars are a digiDIRECT exclusive in Australia. The Fujinon Techno-Stabi 12×28 TS1228 Binoculars retails at $899 and the Fujinon 12×32 Techno-Stabi JR TS1232 Image Stabilized Binocular for $967. I visited their Sydney CBD store as I wanted to have a comparative look at the bigger sibling but found out that they were currently out of stock, however they could be purchased online.
The lack of weather sealing would be my main gripe about the TS1228. Nit-picking a bit, I felt that some improvement of the carry options would assist in alleviating the lack of weather sealing as well as make it more comfortable to wear, particularly alongside a big camera.
Firstly, the binoculars come supplied with a standard strap, which allows you to wear them comfortably around the neck. Fujifilm also provides a soft black case. This case is adequate protection to place the binoculars in another bag, but the lack of straps or belt loop on the case is I think a missed opportunity. Being able to attach the case on my belt, in particular, would have made them more comfortable to carry alongside photographic gear and provided some of the weather protection the binoculars lack.
Secondly, although I am not sure this is common with binos this size, they don’t have a tripod mount. Not that they need to be tripod mounted, given their weight and stabilisation, but such feature would have been convenient to attach to a mounting plate for easy clipping on a backpack, camera strap, belt clip like a Peak Design Capture or even on a PD bino kit.
All of this is relatively minor though, and could surely be mitigated with a weatherproof third-party case of the right size with a belt loop for example, or a jacket pocket weather permitting.
Overall, if all you want is a high quality, powerful, lightweight, compact pair to accompany you on nature hikes or, birdwatching expedition (on a dry day), get a front seat view from the back at a concert or sporting event, or even do a bit of stargazing these stabilised binoculars would be a great choice. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed the experience. If however, some weather sealing is critical to your activities, you may wish to consider the many other options available, including the Fujinon 12×32 Techno-Stabi JR TS1232 Image Stabilized Binoculars.