Hands-on: Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars

Hands-on: Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars

A Marriage Between a Camcorder and a Pair of Binoculars

What comes into your mind when you hear of a Sony digital imaging product that has dual 'Exmor R' CMOS sensors, Bionz processors, and G lenses? Surely, it must be a new Sony Handycam, or an NEX camera? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sony’s latest member in its personal imaging portfolio is a pair of binoculars. To be exact, it’s a pair of full HD and 3D video recording-capable binoculars. HardwareZone was present at the launch event yesterday that took place at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Naturally, we spent some quality hands-on time with this ‘world’s first’ product.

The DEV-5 uses two 1/4-inch back-illuminated 'Exmor R' CMOS sensors.

During the presentation, Sony's representatives repeatedly stressed that the DEV-5 is a pair of ground-breaking binoculars – and it’s not difficult to see why they said that. A pair of binoculars that’s capable of recording what you’re seeing effectively rids the user the hassle of carrying a separate camcorder. The DEV-5 sports optical image stabilization too (Optical SteadyShot in Sony’s nomenclature) to counter image blur due to handshake. The latter is particularly important, since the effects of handshake are made even more obvious at high magnification. The DEV-5 has 10x optical zoom (35mm equivalent focal lengths of 57.9-660mm in 2D movie mode and 34.4-344mm in 3D movie mode); this expands up to 20x when digital zoom is engaged. And lest we forget, the DEV-5 has built-in GPS, so you can know exactly where you saw that endangered Seychelles Magpie Robin.

Here's Mr. Nobuaki Baba, General Manager, B&I Product Design Department, Imaging Division 1, Personal Imaging & Sound Business Group, from Sony Corporation posing with the DEV-5.

Controls at the top of the DEV-5 looked fairly daunting at first, but we soon got the hang of them. In particular, we like that there are two video record buttons (the red button on each side).

Most of the controls reside at the top of the binoculars. There are two video record buttons, but only one shutter button for still photos. The zoom lever is placed on the right side, in front of the photo record button. In use, we found that using our right index finger to control the zoom and the left index finger to press the left video record button felt the most natural; this required less finger dexterity than if we were to try to rock the zoom lever with the right index finger and then press the record button with the same finger in quick succession. And because the photo and video record buttons are placed next to each other, chances are, you will hit the wrong one when you're in a hurry to capture that rare Nordmann's Greenshank. Sure, you could use your right thumb, but binoculars are meant to be held with both hands, and the thumbs are crucial in ensuring proper support. After all, the DEV-5 weighs a hefty 1.2kg, and that can go up to 1.4kg with an large eyecup and a thicker, high-capacity battery.

Like a camcorder, it has microphone and headphone jacks, an HDMI output, and an A/V remote terminal (for analog audio/video outputs and remote control).

Here, we had the DEV-5 hooked up to a Bravia HDTV via HDMI; the image was projected to the screen in real-time. While it's unlikely that you'd lug a TV with you during an expedition, the presence of HDMI means that you could share what you've seen easily when you're back home.

During our hand-on, we found the electronic viewfinder to be bright and clear for the most part (the lens has a maximum aperture of F1.8); it has a field of view of 35.6 degrees. 3D effects can be seen through the eyepieces. There's adjustment for interpupillary distance too, since not everybody has the same distance between the two eyes.

With regards to image capture, the DEV-5 uses dual 1/4-inch back-illuminated 'Exmor R' CMOS sensors. Maximum effective still photo resolution is about 7.1 megapixels. 1920 x 1080p recording (60p or 50p) is possible in 2D video recording mode. When switched to 3D video recording, the highest quality is 1920 x 1080i (60i or 50i). Both modes have a maximum bitrate of 28Mbps. You can't however capture 3D still photos.

Another key advantage the DEV-5 has over typical binoculars is its ability to autofocus. In 2D mode, focus lock can be achieved on a subject as close as 1cm away (80cm for 3D). If you prefer finer control, it's possible to switch over to manual focus. Exposure is taken care of automatically, but you do have some control in the menus over shutter speeds and some form of exposure compensation. Again, auto exposure worked fine in most scenarios, but was iffy on a few occasions involving scenes with high contrast. We won't be posting any sample images or videos, since the units we tried were non-retail units. But from what we've witnessed, quality went south once we crossed the 10x optical zoom limit. From then on, the image became progressively grainy and soft-looking. At this zoom level, a tripod is also highly recommended.

The DEV-5 accepts a Memory Stick or an SD card; there's no internal memory. At the highest quality setting for 2D video recording or for 3D HD recording, a 32GB card will give you 2 hours 30 minutes worth of footage. A fully charged battery will last about 3 hours for 2D recording, or about 2 hours 40 minutes for 3D.

The DEV-5 has a build-in stereo microphone and a monaural speaker.

For precise focusing, you can attach a CLM-V55 LCD monitor. For us, that takes away the joy of using the binoculars. You could also clip on the ECM-CG50 external gun-type microphone for higher quality sound captures.

Besides the clip-on LCD monitor and microphone, there are other accessories such as rechargeable batteries of different capacities, shoulder strap and tripod.

Two versions of the DEV-5 are available: the DEV-5 and DEV-5K. The DEV-5 is the consumer version, while the DEV-5K is the professional version which offers the same specs as the DEV-5 but comes bundled with the AC-VQV10 high-speed AC adaptor/charger, and a high-capacity NP-FV100 battery (the DEV-5 comes with NP-FV70).

Both the DEV-5 and DEV-5K will go on sale from November 2011, and are priced at S$2,599 and S$3,080 respectively.