The Canon Zoom Digital Monocular is an interesting product that promises to deliver telephoto performance and solid images quickly and easily. We’ve been putting this niche product to the test over the last few weeks. Find out if it’s worth your time in our full review.

Pros

  • Fits in your pocket
  • Up to 800mm of zoom
  • Large EVF
  • Good stabilization up to 400mm
  • Not a bad price

Cons

  • Image quality
  • Battery life
  • Autofocus performance
  • Clunky controls
  • No weather sealing
  • No manual controls

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular — Technical specifications

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular

All of the technical specifications for the Canon Zoom Digital Monocular are from the product listing at B&H Photo:

  • Sensor resolution: 12.1 megapixels
  • Sensor: 1/2.3″ CMOS
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3
  • File format: 8-bit JPEG only
  • Stabilization: Optical (4-Axis)
  • Optical design: 11 elements in eight groups
  • Focal length: 13.8 to 55.5mm (35mm equiv: 100 to 400mm)
  • Zooms: Optical zoom 4x, digital zoom 2x (8x combined)
  • Aperture: f/5.6 to 6.3
  • Focus range: 3.3′ to infinity (wide), 14.8′ to infinity (telephoto)
  • Exposure modes: Auto exposure, auto white balance
  • Video: H.264/MP4 4:2:0 8-Bit, full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/29.97p [30 Mb/s]
  • Recording limit: 9 min, 59 Secs
  • Viewfinder: 2.36m dot, 100% coverage
  • Memory: Single slot microSD (UHS-I)
  • Connectivity: USB Type-C, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • Battery: Rechargeable 800 mAh (approx. 150 Shots)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D) 1.3 x 2 x 4.1″ / 33.4 x 50.8 x 103.2 mm
  • Weight: 5.1 oz / 0.31lbs

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular — Ergonomics and build quality

The Canon Zoom is designed to easily slip into a pocket so that you can take it with you everywhere. The curves of the Zoom’s body make it fit into your hand nicely. I have large hands and have no problem holding it. On top of this, the button placement is great. I’m able to hit all of the controls with one hand and without taking the monocular away from my eye.

The front of the Zoom is home to the lens (which does not have a lens cap). On the side you’ll find a somewhat flimsy cover that protects the MicroSD card slot and the USB-C port. At the rear you’ll see the EVF. On top of the EVF are the zoom, power and menu buttons. Underneath the EVF are a diopter dial, and photo and video controls. The Canon Zoom is nicely designed and most will find it easy to hold and use.

Canon’s Zoom Digital Monocular feels well made. It’s light at 0.31lbs. The plastic feels great and has a nice texture to it. There’s soft rubber around the EVF, which again, feels nice to touch.

The biggest downside is that there’s no weather sealing. This is an item that has been designed to be used out in the wild and it can’t stand up to light rains. Shake my head. Provided you don’t go out in the rain or snow, the Canon Zoom should last you a while.

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular — In the field

The Canon Zoom Digital Monocular isn’t a hard product to use but, it can be incredibly frustrating. Let’s take setting up and navigating the menus for instance. You have to navigate the menus using most of the buttons on the Zoom.

There’s no scroll wheel or joystick to navigate. So, you have to figure out and remember which button moves the menu selector left, which one moves right, up, down, select and so on. One simple scroll wheel or joystick would have made setting up the Zoom a breeze, but no. Instead, you’ll spend 15 frustrating minutes just trying to fumble through the menus. Once you’re out of the menus the controls are easier.

You might have noticed that there’s no playback button listed above. You cannot view the images or videos you have captured on the device. Did you get the shot in focus? Is it a keeper? Who knows. You’ll just have to wait until you get the images off the SD card. This is a shame because the EVF is pretty good. It’s a 2.36m dot screen with a 60 frame per second refresh rate that offers a sharp image. Too bad you can’t use it to view your images.

You’re not in control

You have zero control over the Canon Zoom. You’ll find more often than not that the camera gets it wrong and will select shutter speeds that are too slow.

Using the Canon Zoom as a monocular, spotting scope or camera is straightforward and fun. I can’t help but feel like I’m a pirate on the Jolly Roger looking for my next ship to plunder when I hold it up to my eye. All you have to do is turn it on, point it where you want to look, hit the zoom button to zoom in, press photo for a still or video to capture video. It’s that easy. Everything is automatic. It’s autofocus only, with auto white balance and auto exposure. You just point and shoot.

Still, there are a few cons to talk about. There’s no sound when you take a shot. The only way to see if you have taken a picture is to look for a white flashing border around the screen. Video recording is capped to nine minutes, 59 seconds. At 100mm and 400mm, stabilization works well. However, at 800mm stabilization is less effective. You need a real steady hand.

There’s no tripod mount on the device either and there’s no way to protect the lens from fingerprints or sharp objects when it’s in your pocket. These are huge design flaws. These are Canon needs to go back to the drawing board and look at these issues for the second generation of this device.

The focal range

The focal range is what most people will be interested in. The 100mm and 400mm optical zooms are great. The digital zoom up to 800mm is also pretty useful. However, there are no in-between focal ranges. It’s 100mm, 400mm, or 800mm and not 100mm through to 800mm. So, the Canon Zoom is pretty limiting in that regard. Still, the Canon Zoom is made for birding, watching wildlife or viewing sports from the nosebleed section of your team’s stadium. These focal lengths come in handy for these things.

Buffer and battery life

Battery life is garbage. If you think you can go and spend a day outside birding, or use it through a whole sporting event, well, you’re going to be disappointed. At most, I got an hour of use from a full charge. The buffer performance is decent. Granted, the UHS-I memory card is only having to write 12-megapixel images, but you can expect roughly 25 stills from a burst before the buffer starts to choke. This makes capturing action or birds in flight a little easier.

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular — Autofocus

Autofocus performance is a mixed bag. Sometimes it works well, other times it will make you scream. AF on the Canon Zoom Digital Monocular works just like on any other camera. You just half-press the photo button and it locks on. There are just two modes to choose from. Single point and wide, which is where the camera decides what to focus on.

I found myself using the single point most of the time. I got decent results in good light. In low light, forget about it. This is frustrating because there are no manual controls. It’s autofocus or nothing. What’s frustrating is when you’re trying to focus on a bird and the Zoom just locks onto a branch instead. It happens far too much and there’s no way to override it. In the wide mode the camera detects human faces. That’s a consistent performer at least. The minimum focusing distances aren’t great either. on the wide end (100mm) you’ll need to be 3.3 feet away. This jumps to 14.8 feet on the telephoto side.

Overall, If you’re out with the Canon Zoom on a bright day you’ll have little to complain about apart from the Canon Zoom just defaulting to focusing on what’s closest, like branches. Dusk or dawn birders and wildlife photographers will become frustrated even quicker.

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular — Image quality

Temper your expectations when it comes to image quality and you might be OK with the images the Canon Zoom churns out. The Canon Zoom uses a sensor that’s smaller than those found in most smartphones. However, it’s married to a Digic 8 processor. Still don’t expect images better than those from a phone. Expect worse images.

The Canon Zoom can only shoot 8-bit JPEGs. Images are mushy, soft and lack fine detail. Things get worse when you shoot at 800mm because it’s just a digital zoom that introduces digital noise. Because the Canon Zoom employs auto-exposure only you’ll find that it blows out highlights all the time. It also majorly cranks the ISO in low light conditions and the noise is not pretty. It should go without saying that low-light images are shocking. On the plus side, the colors are quite pleasing. The images you create will be fine for social media but that’s about it.

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular — Wait for the second generation

Canon Zoom Digital Monocular

The Canon Zoom Digital Monocular is an interesting device. I think Canon’s heart was in the right place. I would even go as far as saying they need to be praised for trying something different. However, the Canon Zoom is a good idea that has been executed poorly. It feels great in the hand, but the user experience is subpar. I wouldn’t be surprised if people give up at the initial setup screen. You have no control over the images you create. Images themselves are pretty terrible, and the battery life is a downer. It’s a hard sell at $319.99.

I do see some value in the Canon Zoom. I can see it being used as a spotting scope for wildlife and bird photographers. It’s kind of nice to see what’s out there without having to lift a heavy camera and lens combo. I think people who just want to observe the world around them will get some enjoyment from it too. Smartphone photographers who crave telephoto reach might also enjoy it. Still, Canon can do better than this. Much better. This is a good first attempt at a new product category. Still, my advice would be to wait for the second generation of this device.