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Technomorphosis – Sony DEV-5K mini review

Most of us like to watch some kind of live sports or other events and the fact is that almost without exception a good pair of binoculars will immerse you far deeper into the action than with the naked eye alone.  So whether your preference is Football, Rugby, Cricket, Golf, Cycling, Motorsports, Train Spotting or Bird Watching (the possibilities are endless) a good pair of ‘bins’ will greatly enhance your viewing experience and should be high on your wish list…  But what if you’d like to record the event on video and perhaps take a few still images too?  The mere thought of trolling around with a pair of binoculars and a camcorder and a stills camera scares me, let alone my friends and family, so is there a better solution?

Enter the DEV-5K binoculars

Most binoculars are optical devices.  Some do have zoom lenses and high-end sets (such as Canon’s superb IS range) feature optical image stabilisation. There are even a few cheap and nasty looking digital binoculars from the Far East which feature video recording and still image capture.

But the DEV-5K are a potential game-changing device because they are effectively a robust professional grade full HD 2D / 3D camcorder morphed with a pair of state of the art binoculars. They can also capture still images at up to 7MP, meaning that they are a genuine 3-in-1 device. Recording is performed onto either SDHC or MS Pro Duo media cards.

When used in their most basic form as a pair of binoculars they have a 10x Optical (20x Digital) variable speed motorised zoom that’s easily operated using a small rocker located by the natural resting place of your right index finger when in use.  It only takes a few seconds to zoom from wide to telephoto, making it really easy to locate your subject and crash zoom in for a close up view before it’s too late – Far easier than hunting around trying to find your subject with a powerful set of fixed magnification bins.  Focusing can be done manually but there is full automatic focus, so you can literally point and zoom letting the binoculars handle everything else other than stopping and starting the recording.

Here’s a sample image demonstrating the power of the DEV-5K’s zoom (This still image was captured on the DEV-5K and the close-up is using the binoculars’ 20x maximum digital zoom:

Sony DEV-5K zoom range illustration

Sony’s latest generation of camcorders feature amazingly good image stabilisation, a feature that has been incorporated in the DEV-5K. The stabilisation is so good that even at full telephoto with the digital 20x zoom it’s possible to comfortably view pretty much anything without any shake.  It’s without a doubt the best image stabilisation I have ever witnessed on a pair of binoculars, making them a worthwhile purchase for this feature alone…

The eyepiece separation can be easily adjusted and each eyepiece can be independently focused to ensure optimum comfort and image quality.  A pair of soft rubber eyecups are provided, preventing extraneous light from entering the eyepieces during use.

But you’re probably not reading theIris because you’re interested in binoculars?  You’re almost certainly looking for technology that can be applied to add value to your business of making motion pictures?  Presuming that’s the case then keep reading because the real talent of the DEV-5K is its ability to record moving images in full HD 3D or 2D without anyone realising what you’re up to, a feat that is achieved because they look like a flashy pair of bins rather than a conventional camcorder!

So with the DEV-5K you can shoot stealthily but are the images it produces any good and how does it handle?

In a nutshell the pictures are excellent and on a par with the HXR-NX3D1E 3D camcorder on which the DEV-5K is fundamentally based.  Where the 3D1E has a flip-out 3D lenticular (no glasses) viewfinder and a monocular (2D) viewfinder the DEV-5K has (surprise, surprise) a binocular LCD viewfinder only.  The viewfinder is fantastic and I found that where a lenticular viewfinder induces nausea and a headache after 10-15 minutes use I was able to use the DEV-5K with no such ill effects. The 3D image in the viewfinder is excellent too, far better than any of the glasses-free displays.  I’d actually go so far as to say that if the HDMI socket could accept a 3D input from another live source the DEV-5K would be well worth its money for use just as a 3D location viewfinder…  On the subject of viewfinders, the lack of a flip-out viewfinder is probably the biggest omission on the binoculars as it stops them from being used in anything other than, er, binocular mode!  But fear not, there is a shoe on the top and you could therefore easily add a third party external LCD viewfinder if you want to be able to tripod mount or use the DEV-5K handheld or perhaps resting on the ground for low angle shots…

On initial power-up the DEV-5K defaults to 2D mode in which you can point and shoot video or still photos.  A mode button allows you to switch between the stills or video mode and whilst this is easily selected it’s worth noting that the camera effectively software reboots when you do this, inducing a rather frustrating delay of about 3 seconds in which you can’t see or capture anything… Switching between these modes is therefore best kept to a bare minimum!

When in stills mode the binoculars can capture a variety of resolutions up to a maximum 7.1 Mega Pixels in a 4:3 aspect ratio.  I set the camera up to capture the best image quality and whilst the images are undoubtedly fantastic for a pair of binoculars, they are obviously quite highly compressed as there is noticeable JPEG compression artifacting and what appears to be an 8 bit colour palette that induces mild stepping on graduations.  My feeling is that the quality of a less compressed full HD frame grab from footage acquired at 50p / AVCHD 28Mb/s is probably just as good and it saves the fuss of having to switch mode too.

Here are some sample still images from the DEV-5K:

Sony DEV-5K sample image of boat on beach
Backlit harbor scene from Sony DEV-5K
Image of Coconut palm taken with DEV-5K
DEV-5K sunset image @ 1:1 pixel ratio
DEV-5K image taken in low light conditions at sunset

(It’s important to note that in 3D mode you can only record at a maximum frame rate of 50i, so if you are looking for the highest resolution 2D images and best slow motion capabilities and don’t need 3D then you should shoot in 2D at 50 / 60p)

Since the whole point of binoculars is that the dual lenses and viewfinders deliver a 3D image, it’s the 3D capability of the binoculars that should deliver the biggest ‘wow’.

To shoot (or view) in 3D mode you have to enter the setup menu of the DEV-5K and switch it to 3D. There’s no quick way to do this as there are no user programmable buttons you can preset.  You also have to set the viewing mode to 3D if you want to view 3D in the EVF’s – This feature sounds odd but I guess it allows you to shoot 3D using a 2D viewfinder if you’re shooting for sustained periods and want to minimise the possibility of eye strain.

On initial 3D use you’re prompted to take the camera through its auto 3D alignment process which involves panning the binoculars across a variety of objects at different distances from the lens and pressing the ‘select’ button when prompted to do so.  You’re then good to go!

The bins have manual focus and convergence capabilities (as well as a host of other manual controls) which can be selected in the menu system and then controlled via the DEV-5K’s ‘focus’ roller, but for the purposes of this mini review I set the DEV-5K to automatic convergence mode in conjunction with maximum 3D recording quality (AVCHD 1920×1080/50i, 24Mb/s).

In 3D video mode the DEV-5K excels.  It took me only a few moments to acclimatise to the 3D display and thereafter it was by far the most enjoyable method of 3D acquisition I have experienced to date – Point and shoot simplicity with great results you can see in full 3D as you shoot.

The image stabilisation is so good that you can shoot action sports like a football match handheld with close-up shots and minimal shake.  Shooting with binoculars works really well, the NEX-5K seeming more stable than a camcorder thanks to being firmly held in both hands and being in contact with two eye sockets instead of one!

In twilight the binoculars’ sensitivity is surprisingly good, its 2 x 1/4″ Exmor-R CMOS sensors delivering impressive images that seem to be of a similar brightness to viewing the scene with the naked eye.  Auto focus slows as light levels drop, so I switched to manual focus which is easy to operate just as with a pair of conventional bins.  As light levels fall further towards darkness gain is automatically increased with images becoming fairly noisy in the final stages.  Once maximum gain is reached the binoculars’ performance falls off sharply.

When it comes to sound there’s a good in-built stereo microphone on the DEV-5K and for those who need more there’s also a 3.5mm external microphone input socket too, although if you load the DEV-5K up with accessories it won’t look like a pair of bins for long!

The DEV-5K is supplied with a soft carry case and an interchangeable rechargeable battery and stand-alone charger.  For me one battery charge gave over a week of intermittent use during which time I filled a couple of 16GB media cards. Impressive stuff.

So during my limited time with the DEV-5K I captured a range of video and still images to give you a visual idea of its raw capabilities. Enjoy!

Here’s a list of the things I like and dislike the most about the DEV-5K:

Probably the best binoculars ever
Superb image stabilisation
Fantastic 3D viewfinder
Stealthy shooting
Great build quality

Don’t Like:
Fiddly mode switching
Still image quality could be better
No progressive scan 3D
Wish they were a bit smaller

In summary:
Amazing.  To try a DEV-5K is to want one. I did, I do and I will!


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