Sony DEV-5 video binoculars pictures and hands-on

Are you a twitcher? What about an ornithologist? Or maybe you simply like to call yourself a birdwatcher? If that’s you then Sony has just launched the gadget that you’re going to be lusting after. Sod the iPhone or the latest tablet, you’ll want the DEV-5 or the DEV-3 (if your budget is tighter). 

So what are these new gadgets? Well in a “world’s first” Sony has announced the launch of digital binoculars with HD video recording, zoom, autofocus, SteadyShot, oh and 3D viewing and filming capability. 

Looking like something Luke Skywalker from Star Wars would use to search for droids, rather than to spot birds, Sony has done just about all it can to “gadgetise” the humble binoculars into something considerably more consumer electronic. 

The heart of the new gadget is of course a pair of binoculars. You look through them in the traditional sense and you hold the new models just like you would a regular set of binos. But instead of looking through a perfectly crafted piece of glass you now look onto two electronic viewfinders. 

This, as we found in our hands-on at the Wetlands Centre in Barnes, London, allows you do to a number of things, including view the image in 3D, record that image in 2D or 3D and enjoy both the optical (10x) and digital zoom (another 10x but only on the DEV-5). It also means you can playback and watch your footage in both 2D and 3D in the field to enjoy it there and then. 

When it comes to the processing side of the models, they use Sony's G Lens optics (f1.8 - f3.4) with Exmor R CMOS sensors and the BIONZ processor as found it the company's camcorder range. 

Still images (7 megapixels) and video (Full HD 1080p) are recorded on to a standard SD card, and there is an option to either connect Sony’s new 5-inch LCD launched earlier in the year to the hotshoe, or what’s more likely to be the case, a HD Ready TV thanks to the inclusion of a HDMI socket on the side.

In use the 1.2kg, £1700-2300, binos are very impressive allowing you to really get into the action even if the bird you are spying on is some distance away - as was our case at the Wetlands Centre. The addition of SteadyShot and autofocus makes a massive difference as the binos are constantly working to create video that isn’t jerky, but also so you don’t have to spend your time refocusing - handy if the bird is flying around. There were times when it got confused, but only when we were trying to look at something through reeds.

Watching 3D either in the binos or on the TV is just as good - if that’s your thing, however as with all 3D movie recording, you have to be careful what and how you record it as to not over cook the effect. 

Taking things one step further the DEV-5 model also includes GPS so it will geotag your images or video footage and that’s going to be massively helpful if you are tracking animals or birds and want to know exactly where you were when you snapped them rather than “well we were on holiday in Scotland”.

Downsides? Given the terrain and environments you’ll find yourself in using these video binoculars, or vinoculars if you will, we are surprised that they aren’t more rugged or more weatherproof. Sony informs us that they will withstand some splashes, but that you shouldn’t sit out in the rain using them. That’s not terrifically helpful if you’ve just spent the better half of a day climbing up a mountain to capture something you’ve waited months to see and then “him upstairs” decides to take a shower. 

Other possible annoyances are that you aren’t able to take still shots while you are recording a video. You can grab stills from the video afterwards but at the reduced megapixel count (around 2 megapixels). If Olympus can have a point and shoot camera that does it we are surprised Sony hasn’t been able to offer that feature here. 

As for battery life? We weren’t able to test that on our brief hands-on however Sony are claiming that it should be in the region of 3 hours if you are recording 2D and 2 hours 30 minutes if you are shooting 3D. Sony do offer an optional bigger battery that will double the battery life. 

It’s clear that whether you opt for the DEV-3 or the DEV-5 you are buying something that is incredibly niche and that will determine whether you think this is the best thing in the world or a complete waste of money. 

For those really into watching and capturing the wildlife they spy we can see they’ll be really excited by the two new models launched by Sony. Even though those price tags sound expensive the new models are considerably cheaper than a comparable rig if you include DSLR cameras, etc. From what we’ve seen at the Wetlands Centre the models work really well, but will they draw you away from a traditional DSLR with zoom lens?. 

The new models are available to pre-order from today and will be on sale at the end of October / early November just in time for you to put on your Christmas list.