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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?"

" they're like Luke Skywalker's binoculars, as seen in Episode IV?"

This was the reaction I got from friends every time I explained Sony's new DEV-50 Digital Recording Binoculars. And it's an accurate description. Sony has reconceived a familiar recreational accessory by taking a passive optical instrument and turning it into an active digital video device. The DEV-50 even sort of resembles the boxy, button-studded gizmo that helped Luke to scan the horizon for his AWOL R2 unit.

Remaking something simple as a digital gadget is an obvious motive for creating a new product and it's sometimes a risky one. Who wouldn't love to have a functional version of that Star Wars prop? Something that doesn't simply magnify what you see, but enhances the viewing experience?

While gutting something old that works to turn it into something new and digital isn't automatically a win, and the DEV-50 stumbles in a side-by-side, feature-for-feature comparison with conventional binoculars, you're still left with an attractive, easy-to-use product.

Big idea
Instead of a pair of metal tubes packed with lenses, the DEV-50 binoculars is a pair of 1080p HD camcorders joined together. Two sets of power zoom lenses (offering up to 12x magnification) focus light onto two image sensors, which then drive two 1024-by-768 OLED digital viewfinders. Buttons to control the zoom and other features fall naturally underneath your fingers.

Although they function like conventional binoculars (hold them up to your face and get a closeup view of something far away in stereo vision), the similarity quickly ends. The power zoom lets you find and lock in on the object of your interest quickly, without any of the desperate sweeping that fixed-magnification binoculars demand. Once you've found the bird that had caught your attention, optical image stabilization keeps the frame relatively steady as you observe, and a fast automatic focus feature means you won't have to continue to hunt for sharp edges as your subject moves.

The DEV-50 also surpasses conventional binoculars in low light, thanks to a special high-gain viewing mode. The high-gain mode isn't true night vision but it's good enough that you won't need to give up and call it a day when the sun slips under the horizon; the increase in digital noise, while noticeable, is acceptable.

It stands to reason that if you're looking at something through binoculars, then that thing is probably interesting enough that you'd want a record of it. And so we arrive at the DEV-50's most tantalizing feature: capture. A button under your left index finger starts and stops the recording of full 1080p HD video. A button under your right hand snaps a 20 megapixel photo. The DEV-50 can automatically geotag all of your images, thanks to its built-in GPS receiver.


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