Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars review

17 Jan 2013

Too pricey and impractical: take our advice and buy proper binoculars and a separate camera instead

Price when reviewed: 
1,249(£1,249 inc VAT)
3

Birdwatching is a hugely popular pastime in the UK, but the main tool of the trade - a good pair of binoculars - hasn’t changed much over the years. With its futuristic DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars Sony sets about dismantling that trend with a wrecking ball.

These futuristic binoculars look more like a piece of military equipment, designed for spotting tanks rather than terns. But they’re most certainly targeted at consumers - anyone who likes shooting video of the birds they’re out watching, but would rather not have to switch between two devices.

At that job they’re rather good. Peer through the eyepieces and you’re confronted with twin 1,227kpixel EVFs (electronic viewfinders), which present an image captured by two closely grouped zoom lenses at the front and twin 4.1mm CMOS sensors behind them.

This optical system gives a native magnification level of 10x (similar to many mainstream standard binoculars) and a zoom range of 12x. Sony quotes a top 20x zoom in its specifications, but this is only achievable via digital interpolation, and at maximum magnification the image is so grainy it isn’t much use anyway.

Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars

The main advantages the DEV-5 provide over most standard binoculars are threefold. The first is zoom: where traditional equivalents are fixed the Sonys can be zoomed in and out using a rocker switch on top, thus delivering more flexibility. Being able to get a wide-angle view of the scene in front of you and home in on a particular area of interest without having to drop the binoculars from your eyes can be a great help if what you’re look for is far away or small and well-camouflaged.

Second is autofocus, which works superbly well, focussing swiftly, accurately and silently on the trickiest of subjects. If it can’t cope with foreground undergrowth, there’s a manual focus override mode, adjusted using a plastic knob below the eyepieces. Finally, the lenses are optically stabilised, delivering a steady image to your eyes even at maximum zoom.

Not only can the DEV-5’s deliver a close-up view, but they can also be employed to record what you see and add geotags using the built-in GPS. They can capture 7.1-megapixel stills, or video in Full HD (either 2D or 3D), with all data saved to an SD or SDXC card, in a slot under a large flap at the front.

For 2D video, footage is recorded at 50fps in H.264 AVCHD format at Full-HD resolution with a maximum video bit rate of 26Mbits/sec. Again autofocus is fast and reliable, and the quality of the footage is generally excellent - on a par with our A-List camcorder, the Panasonic HDC-X800 although at full zoom the picture can get a little noisy.

In 3D the frame rate is halved to 25fps, and the stereoscopic effect works surprisingly well. The bonus of having twin eyepieces is you can watch 3D video as it was intended on the camera itself, without the need for a compatible 3D monitor or TV. It’s also possible to simulate the stereoscopic effect live, as you look through the eyepieces, but since this reduces the maximum zoom to 5.4x, it isn’t that useful for spotting.

The big drawback of the DEV-5, though, is that for pure image quality they simply can’t match a proper pair of optical binoculars - even a relatively modestly priced pair. We tested against a pair of vintage Super Zenith 10 x 50 which we picked up on eBay for £15, and the difference was palpable, the Sonys’ biggest flaws being a lack of contrast and noise at high zoom levels. This seriously hampers identification of distant subjects and it gets even more difficult in twilight.

That’s not all, though. The field of view, or the width of image captured and presented to the eye is narrower than even mid-priced optical binoculars. At 10x, Sony quotes the real field of view at a mere 3.8º; even a £36 pair of Viking Standard 10x50s offer a 7º field of view.

Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars

All of which leaves this intriguing product in a difficult place. On the one hand the zoom and image stabilisation makes them very flexible, and it’s a boon to be able to record stills and HD footage of what you’re watching without having to look away. That alone could make the difference between capturing a fleeting moment and missing it altogether.

On the other, the quality of image through the twin EVFs isn’t that great, and they’re not much use as a standard camcorder. You can add a screen at extra cost via the accessory shoe, but at 1.3kg the DEV-5 are simply too heavy to be held in one hand. And if none of this puts you off, maybe the sky-high price will: at £1,295, you could buy a top quality optical pair with ED glass, plus a superb 2D camcorder and have enough change left over for a trip to the Norfolk Broads. For this reason, we can’t recommend them.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,041
Price inc VAT £1,249
Performance 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 2
Overall rating 3

Specifications

Camcorder HD standard 1080p
Camcorder maximum video resolution 1920 x 1080
Camera megapixel rating 7.1mp
Camcorder recording format AVCHD
Accessory shoe? yes
Camera optical zoom range 12x
Camera optical image stabilisation yes
Screen size N/A
Touchscreen no
Viewfinder? yes
Built-in flash? no
Light? no
Number of sensors 2

Audio

Internal mic type Stereo
External mic socket? yes
Quoted battery life 360mins

Dimensions

Dimensions width 166
Dimensions depth 270
Dimensions height 165
Dimensions 166 x 270 x 165mm (WDH)
Weight 1.300kg

Storage

Integrated memory 0.0GB
Camcorder internal storage type N/A
Memory card support SD/Memory Stick Pro Duo

Outputs

Data connection USB
Composite video output? yes
Component video output? yes

Accessories

Remote control? no
Dock? no