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Sony Dev-50 digital binoculars fill a double bill as a still or video camera

Andy Ihnatko | June 5, 2013
" they're like Luke Skywalker's binoculars, as seen in Episode IV?"

But that's not a bad thing. The autofocus and image-stabilization work well, and operating the zoom control becomes second nature. Yes, it's like watching the game on television...but it's as though you own the sports network and the director always shoots the game exactly the way you want to see it. I've watched ballgames through conventional binoculars before and I vastly prefer the DEV-50.

My eyes were also quite comfortable even after using the DEV-50 throughout my three hours at the ballpark. This, despite warnings about taking the binoculars away from the eyes if I begin to experience dizziness or nausea. The effect was a bit off-putting when the device was fresh from its box, but it helped to get the DEV-50 dialed in just right.

These binoculars also are weatherproof. So when it started to drizzle during the 6th inning, I quickly put my own camera under cover but boldly did nothing to protect the binoculars. No harm done. The DEV-50 is shielded against all sorts of weather and dust; All seams and openings are gasketed, and the front lenses are protected by a harmonica-shaped hard rubber plug. Sony only stops short of calling it "dunkproof."

The preproduction kit Sony sent me also included a padded case. I didn't use the case even once during two weeks of daily use and by the time I boxed the kit up and sent it back, the DEV-50 still looked good and worked well.

Round three: Supreme tourism, aka camerawork
Sony emphasized that the DEV-50 is being sold as digital binoculars and not as a camera. Fair enough. That said, when the DEV-50 was first described, it was the camera features that got my whiskers twitching.

The zoom range on these optics is eye-popping: in 35mm terms, the camera goes from 50 to 2000 millimeters. Those tech specs filled my head with fantasies of shooting poster-quality 20 megapixel photos of duck eyelids from way across the other side of the pond.After my first round of tests, I had to concede that the laws of optics are fairly immutable and the DEV-50 shouldn't be faulted for failing to live up to my completely unreasonable expectations.

A super-super-telephoto lens creates the same challenges for every camera. At the top end of the zoom range, handheld camera shake becomes a problem--despite the DEV-50's image stabilization--and because the lens has only narrow apertures available at that zoom length, good lighting is a must and bright, direct sunlight is highly desirable.

There's another caveat and it has nothing to do with physics. The DEV-50's still camera writes 20 megapixel JPEGs. But it's interpolated: the sensors themselves only output 5.42 megapixels of data. Also, at the most extreme end of the zoom range, the zoom transitions from optical magnification to digital.


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