Sony announces the DEV-3 and DEV-5 binoculars today, blazing a trail into a brand new product category. These binoculars are capable of still image and video recording in 1080 HD in either 2D or 3D. The DCR staff spent some time with a pair of these new binoculars; we've got all the specs and some hands-on impressions for you.
When I was invited to New York to preview some of the new products that Sony is releasing in the coming months, I was expecting to get some hands-on time with the usual line-up of digital cameras and camcorders. I think that's why I was a little confused when the company's senior product manager, Phil Bouchillon, began talking to us about binoculars.
"Carrying multiple pieces of equipment can be a hassle," Bouchillon said during our briefing. "Combining them into one package eases the load a bit."
Enter the DEV-3 and the DEV-5 digital camera binoculars from Sony.
"Previously, binoculars only had optical zoom, no optical image stabilization [OIS], and only manual focus," said Bouchillon. "Every time you wanted to take a picture of something, you had to reframe the subject after your equipment change from binoculars to camera or camcorder."
But this is no longer the case. Sporting optical and digital zoom, advanced OIS, and autofocus, the DEV-3 and the DEV-5 are the first binoculars that can record HD video, be it in either 2D or 3D 1920 x 1080 AVCHD. And what's under the hood is some of the newest, most state-of-the art technology Sony has available.
The DEV binoculars, like many of the new cameras from Sony, feature the new BIONZ image processor, as well as dual wide-angle G-lenses (f/1.8-3.4 aperture) and 1/4-inch 4.2 megapixel, back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensors, also allowing for the capture of 7.1-megapixel stills. Other features include an eye distance adjustment dial, manual focus controls, a cold accessory shoe, and an NP-FV7 battery back, which should provide you with up to 2 hours and 35 minutes of 2D recording on a single charge.
As mentioned, the binoculars also have 2D (50i, 60i, or 60p) and 3D HD video capabilities, with direct playback to external sources made possible via an HDMI port. For those of you who aren't equipped with 3D ready televisions or viewing sources, the 3D videos can be played back in either 2D or 3D. I initially perceived the 3D capabilities as nothing more than an attempt to jump on the 3D bandwagon, but Bouchillon made a good point defending the decision.
"Binoculars, being stereoscopic in nature, really lend themselves to 3D technology," he explained. Indeed, with separate sensors and lenses in each eye of the device, Sony would have been remiss to pass up on 3D video recording capabilities here.
The differences between the low-end DEV-3 and the high-end DEV-5 aren't all that vast. Both the DEV-3 and DEV-5 feature 10x optical zooms, but the DEV-5 can go up to 20x via digital zoom. Also, the DEV-5 features a built-in GPS receiver so the binoculars can automatically geo-tag videos and photos on the fly. Beyond that, it's just a matter of accessories; the DEV-5 comes bundled with a carrying case, a strap, and the large eye cups that are seen in the pictures here.
From the moment I saw the DEV binoculars in the flesh and held them in my hands, I knew that they were not particularly sleek. They are huge-far larger than your average, casual pair of binoculars-and their build is very bulky and cumbersome. At 10.63 x 2 5/8 x 3.47 inches, I was especially surprised when Bouchillon said that they were "designed with the world ‘stealth' in mind." To Sony's credit, a lot of the "stealth" factor can be attributed to the fact that many of the controls and ports are hidden behind various covers and doors, but rest assured that the binoculars themselves are not slipping under anybody's radar.
That being said, what surprised me the most about the binoculars was that, despite their clunky design and substantially large size and footprint, they weren't all that heavy. The official spec sheet says that the DEV weighs approximately 1,000 grams (or 38 ounces) without the battery; to be able to pack so much into one package-especially considering the double sensors, lenses, etc.-and keep it less than 2.5 pounds seems pretty impressive to me. Granted, this could probably be contributed to the lightweight and cheap-feeling plastic that made up the better part of the body, but it was still nice to be able to hold them up to my eyes for an extended period of time without my arms getting tired.
The zoom on the binoculars also functioned exceptionally well, with the seamless transition between the 10x optical zoom up to the 20x digital zoom on the DEV-5 going by virtually unnoticed. Even once I had entered the digital zoom spectrum, the picture was still clear with minimal grain as I looked out over New York City from the windows of the Sony Club.
I was impressed with the ergonomics and the well-placed controls on the DEV binoculars, despite their massive build. I found it to be particularly smart to have dual recording buttons, one on each side, so filming and photography could be triggered with either hand. Everything else, including the zoom and the convenient 3D/2D recording switch, was easily within reach, even for my embarrassingly small hands.
While the execution of the DEV-3 and DEV-5 digital camera binoculars is handled relatively well-with some exceptions-my real concern is the concept, which is something that will probably only appeal to a very specific niche market. But I could be wrong, and perhaps there is a greater need for something like this than I realize. Either way, we'll find out when Sony ships the DEV-3 and DEV-5 this November, for $1,399 and $1,999, respectively.