In my years at sea on merchant ships, warships, and sailboats, I spent a lot of time looking through binoculars. After a weekend on the water and on land with a pair of Fujinon Techno-Stabi image-stabilized binoculars, the 14x40 TS1440 and the 12x28 TS1228s, I wish I could go back in time and take one or both of these binoculars with me. That isn't to say that these are ideal all-purpose binoculars—they aren't. But, what they do offer is the ability to view at high magnifications with stellar image stabilization.
Over the years, not all the binoculars at my disposal were good—some, especially onboard ships, were downright horrid. It didn't take a job at B&H Photo and hanging out at the SuperStore's optics department to realize the pleasures of looking through premium optics. Both Fujinon binoculars deliver crisp images and have a second-to-none build quality, so no worries there. But, how do they perform in the field?
Fujinon 14x40 TS1440 Techno-Stabi Binoculars
At first glance, these binoculars look like they came straight from the prop closet on the set of a science-fiction movie. In fact, these look a lot like the binocular version of the ubiquitous bi-ocular that your favorite space heroes use in the movies. The boxy chassis is fully fog- and waterproof, is polycarbonate, mostly covered with rubber armoring, and houses the image-stabilizing technology of the Fujinons that provides a huge 5° of stabilization in every axis.
Because of the non-traditional configuration, the ergonomics of the Fujinons take a little getting used to. That is not to say they are not comfortable to hold and use—they are—but both the interpupillary adjustment and the placement of the focus knob are unique to these Fujinons. You can attach a wrist strap to either side of the binocular chassis, and a floating neck strap is available, as well. The 14x40s weigh 2.7 lb.
Four AA batteries power the image stabilization system from a tray at the bottom of the binoculars, but, you can also run the binoculars on AC or DC power, if needed. Fujinon sent extra batteries in the padded hard case that comes with the binoculars, but I never needed them. I am not sure if there was a fresh set in the Techno-Stabi binoculars, but I didn't burn through them. The IS system does have a power-saving sleep mode that kicks in after one minute of the binoculars not being used.
B&H colleague Christopher Witt was testing some Canon stabilized binoculars on the same cruise, and he preferred the Canon's method of press-to-stabilize over the Fujinon method of turning it on and having it always on until you shut it off or it goes into the power-save mode. One advantage of the Fujinons here is that you don't have to find and press a button while viewing. The disadvantage is that you might burn through your batteries a little faster if you aren't shutting them down after use.
Compared to other 14x binoculars, the Fujinons are bright and sharp, but you must remind yourself that you are looking through 14x binoculars, so your exit pupils are going to be small, even with a respectably sized 40mm objective. Besides the ergonomics, looking through a stabilized binocular takes some getting used to. When the stabilizations system kicks in, there is a bit of a lag as the image tries to catch up to where you think you have the binoculars pointed. Once it finds itself, however, you are good to go and you quickly accept that the price of a stabilized image is simply a bit of speed as you look at different targets through the binoculars. When you pan with a non-stabilized binocular, you instantly see what you have pointed the optics at. With a stabilized system, the image catches up a fraction of a second later.
The stabilization is so good that it gives you a false sense of steady-hand prowess. You'll be looking at a distant channel marker or buoy and think to yourself, "This stabilization system really isn't working too hard. I bet I don't need it." Turn off the stabilization and, boom—shake city.
Fujinon 12x28 TS1228 Techno-Stabi Binoculars
In the world of optics, be careful when you hear the term "revolutionary" tossed around. Binoculars, spotting scopes, and telescopes today are not very different in design than they were when they were first invented—optically superior, yes, but Galileo would quickly find himself at home with a modern telescope if one were to be placed before him. Because of their relatively small size, the Fujinon 12x28 Techno-Stabi binoculars are a bit revolutionary in the world of image-stabilized binoculars. Traditionally, with image stabilization came a bulky electronics-filled chassis surrounding the optics. The Fujinon 12x28s, while not as small as some of their 12x travel binocular brethren, are certainly closer in size to traditional binoculars than other image stabilized pairs.
Along with their smaller-than-expected size is a lighter-than-expected weight of less than a pound. Most image-stabilized binoculars around the 12x28 size weigh around 2 lb. Helping with the diet is a power source of a single CR2 lithium battery that is good for 12 hours of viewing. While the 14x40s have two buttons for operation, the 12x28s have a single rotary knob to turn the stabilization on or off. After 10 minutes on the chart table, the binos switch to a power-saving mode.
Ergonomically, the 12x28s offer the familiar feel of a central focus knob and they are comfortable to hold, despite the non-standard binocular chassis feel. Optically, you get a bright and sharp image even without the light-gathering power of a larger objective.
The 12x28 Techno-Stabi binoculars have 3° of image stabilization—less than the 14x40s, but, when activated, the stabilization feels like it acquires a stabilized platform faster than its larger stablemates. But, once fully on, the pairs are comparable, with the 14x40s giving a bit more stability even while at a greater magnification.
Unlike the 14x40s, the 12x28s are not waterproof, so use caution when using them in the maritime environment.
If you are a mariner or boater accustomed to the combination of amazing brightness and the gigantic exit pupil of your trusty 7x50 marine binoculars, or a birder used to your expensive 8x42 binoculars, be forewarned that using either of these Fujinon Techno-Stabi binoculars is going to provide you with a vastly different viewing experience. Yes, you will get visually closer to what you are targeting, but, optically, you are looking through a much smaller and narrower image with a small exit pupil. The Fujinons are great for what they are, but don't expect to see the big and bright image that your premium 7x50 or 8x42 binoculars deliver.
However, if you need the extra magnification of a 12x or 14x binocular without the frustration of a shaky image, these Fujinons fill the bill well. For the mariner, aviator, or law enforcement official, the robust and waterproof 14x40s are going to be standard equipment for your work and pleasure. For the hiker, traveler, and/or safari-goer who doesn't want to lug around heavy optics, but wants to see things up close, the 12x28s are going to allow you to see farther—and with artificially steadier hands—than you ever have before with other binoculars.
For the through-the-binoculars images in this article, I tried the new Celestron NexYZ 3-Axis Universal Smartphone Adapter. Compared to other smartphone adapters I have used in the past, this one was a very welcome improvement. The adapter is easy and fast in setup and requires minimal fuss to align the binocular optics with your smartphone camera. The knobs and gear are metal—nice! It was a pleasure to use right out of the box.
The only drawbacks I had with the adapter were the weight—it isn't the lightest adapter I have tried—and the sharp edges of the chassis. I am half-tempted to take a file to some of the plastic corners and edges to give it a more finished feel.
Both of those complaints are minor, because this NexYZ instantly became my favorite smartphone digiscoping adapter.