They may look like the sci-fi specs Luke Skywalker uses to scour the skylines of the ice planet Hoth, but Sony's new digital binoculars are no sci-fi prop. Part 3D camcorder and part binoculars, the DEV-5 is one of the more surprising additions to Sony's digital imaging portfolio. We tried them out at the IFA trade show in Berlin. These are our first impressions.
The DEV-5 will go on sale in November, priced at £2,000.
Zoom and filming
There's definitely something a bit Modern Warfare about these hi-tech binoculars. Sony says they have a stealth design. This means there's only a smattering of controls on the binoculars themselves. Apparently, this is to minimise any clicking that could disturb your quarry in the field. The top-side buttons are big enough to use even when you're wearing bulky gloves.
Magnification is suitably massive. The DEV-5 offers a 20x zoom in 2D mode, although digital zoom magnification kicks in over 10x. As we found when looking out across the expense of the packed IFA halls, resolution does drop off if you're at the extreme end of the zoom.
The maximum magnification in the 3D recording mode is just 5.4x. While this may seem limited, trying to maintain a decent stereoscopic image at a 20x zoom probably isn't feasible, what with the drop in light levels and inherent instability.
The DEV-5 isn't all about distance recording. It's possible to focus on subjects just 1cm away from the lens if you're shooting in 2D. Record in 3D and you'll need to keep a distance of around 80cm.
When you spy something interesting, you can immediately begin recording. The binoculars record at a 1080p resolution in the AVCHD or MPEG-4 MVC 3D format. Audio is recorded as stereo.
The optics on the Dev-5 are first rate. You get a pair of Sony G Lenses, coupled with a dedicated Exmor R CMOS sensor and Bionz image processor.
While the electronic autofocus does a good job of tracking moving objects, there's also a manual override to fine-tune the focus. This might come in useful should you want to pull focus from behind a shrub or tree branch, for example.
The main problem when trying to record anything at a magnification is camera shake. To help matters, Sony's Optical SteadyShot with Active Mode image-stabilising system is on-hand. While this should give good results in most instances, a steady perch is probably the best solution overall. The stabilisation system used here is the same as that which you'll find in Sony's Handycam camcorders and Cyber-shot cameras.
Rather helpfully, video footage can be geotagged by a built-in GPS receiver.
In addition to video, you can also snap digital still images with a maximum resolution of 7.1 megapixels in a 4:3 ratio, or 5.3 megapixels in a 16:9 ratio. The battery is said to last upwards of 3 hours when shooting in 2D.
There's no disguising the fact that these binoculars are rather on the bulky side, weighing 1.2kg. But an ergonomic grip, coated with a non-slip material, helps keep things in hand.
The DEV-5 can record around two and half hours of 3D footage onto a 32GB memory card. There's no internal memory, but you have the choice of using SD, SDHC, SDXC or Memory Stick cards. The card bay sits behind a flap on the front of the binoculars.
Sony's DEV-5 digital binoculars may seem odd, but we suspect their innovative features will be nigh on irresistible to bird-watchers, wildlife film makers and voyeurs alike.
Edited by Charles Kloet