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

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

The DEV-50 can use either an SD card (all flavors) or Memory Stick for storage. One minor bit of weirdness: 3D video imported just fine into iMovie, and the app outputs clean, edited HD video. The same AVCHD file appeared severely interlaced inside Aperture, likely owing to the video's composite 3D format.

Interface issues
As much as I enjoyed the immersive aspect of the DEV-50 as a camcorder, the clumsiness of its user interface was a constant source of pain. It has separate buttons for snapping photos and starting/stopping video. You'd expect to be able to just tap-and-snap, but nope. First, there's a separate video/photo mode toggle button. Next, you can't snap photos while the viewfinder is in 3D mode. I missed dozens of photos because the DEV-50 wasn't in a mood to shoot stills when a bird was in exactly the right position and I stabbed my finger down on the shutter button.

Another hassle of shooting still photos? There seems to be little or no buffering. It takes so long to write the JPEG to the card that shot-to-shot time is measured in seconds. I was using pre-production hardware and firmware, so it's possible that some of these quirks will be ironed out before release. At the very least, I wish that it could designate the default powerup mode as Photo instead of Video.

Details

Overall, the DEV-50 is chunky and hefty (close to two pounds) without exceeding the expected dimensions of a standard pair of binoculars. They're nicely molded and very comfortable to hold and operate.

Battery life is solid. A full charge lasted a whole ballgame. I managed to kill it after about four hours of tourism, during which I took no measures to conserve power. The DEV-50 uses replaceable battery cartridges and the one that shipped with my sample unit barely filled half of the designated bay. Sony says it will make a long-duration battery available as an option. Compare this with the infinite battery life of conventional binoculars. Optical binoculars probably have a wider operating temperature range than 0 to 40 degrees Centigrade, too.

A micro-USB port lets you slurp content off of the camera with the memory card in place. You can show off what you've shot on any 2D or 3D display via a micro-HDMI connector. There's also a tripod mount.

I think my birding friend hit it on the head when he described the DEV-50 as a "recreational" device. You certainly can't expect $2000 worth of high performance from these binoculars in any single category, which will make it hard for most people to justify the expense. I'd be more inclined toward spending $500 on good set of conventional binocs and then $1500 on a compact system camera plus a couple of nice zooms.

 

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