Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/09/14/sftws_spying_with_digital_binoculars_sony_dev_5/

I spy: Drug drops and foxy couples

The joys of snooping with digital binoculars

By Alistair Dabbs

Posted in Hardware, 14th September 2012 11:00 GMT

Something for the Weekend, Sir? When I was a child, mid-September was the time when the holiday photos turned up in the post from the developer. It seems I cannot shake this photographic jetlag in adulthood, as I have only just this week removed the SD card from my camera to look at what I shot in the south of France last month.

I’m not very skilled in photography. Some years ago, I briefly tried to re-invent myself as a roving reporter-with-camera because I knew how to snap moving objects for sports magazines. Although it still says ‘photojournalist’ on my Press Card to this very day, I abandoned it as a career because I was rubbish at snapping anything else. One day, I might mount an exhibition featuring hundreds of prints of the backs of people’s heads.

Sony DEV-5 3D binoculars

Sony 1, Skywalker 0

Naturally, I would expect my SD card of this year’s sojourn in the Pyrenean sun to contain shots of the family, usually with their backs turned. This time, however, I was armed with a loan from Sony of its DEV-5 digital recording binoculars. El Reg reported the release of this unusual product last year.

Digital binoculars, eh? At this point, dear reader, feel free to think up some light-hearted reference to Luke Skywalker and Sandpeople. It has been a long day and, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered.

Besides, the comparison is hopeless. Luke’s binoculars look like a 1960s Kodak Instamatic with a pair of gouged-out Sandperson’s eyes glued onto the bottom. No wonder one of those Sandy guys decided to teach him a lesson by shaking a stick harmlessly in the air and coughing backwards into an echo machine.

Sony’s DEV-5, on the other hand, looks very chunky and black-tech. At 219 x 155 x 88mm and weighing 1.2kg, these are no opera glasses. They could not be whipped out in time for baby Mo to blow out the candles on his birthday cake, nor would they fit into Luke’s handbag: these are binoculars for men, not for the illegitimate male twin offspring of a whinging teen snotrag and a Kenichi doll.

Sony DEV-5 3D binoculars

Image stabilisation and video capture on-board

Without going into too much boring detail, the DEV-5 has 10x optical and 20x digital zoom with SteadyShot, and can capture still images and HD video in both 2D and 3D. What is interesting, however, is that it’s quite easy to use because the auto settings nearly always do what you want without forcing you into Uncle Ernie mode (i.e. having to fiddle about).

Narcotics anonymous

For example, be stunned by the banality of me zooming into shadow at a wildlife park while the camera compensates in real time. I think this feature is clever and well implemented (note that I’ve downsampled the quality from the original).

Wildlife fans with cash to burn would probably love it but they’d have to be happy with chunky tech gear sitting on their battered old tripod. It might appeal to someone who thinks like Bill Oddie but looks like T2-era Arnie. I can also see how home movies featuring mountains and landscapes would be less wrist-slittingly dull when shown in 3D to reveal dramatic spatial depth, especially at HD and captured with quality lenses.

Nosy people and semi-professional snoopers might get a kick out of the DEV-5 too. Watch as I spy on a potential drug drop in the centre of Villefranche-de-Conflent before zooming back out to admire the scenery (again, downsampled from the original).

Just imagine if you could buy an off-the-shelf directional microphone to match this kind of distance. For me, filming my neighbours through the gap in their bedroom curtains could be just the beginning of a thoroughly rewarding (if potentially criminal) new hobby.

The weirdest thing, though, is the dislocating effect of seeing far-away things in the stereoscopic digital viewfinder. At first, it reminded me of that scene with the binoculars and cows from Top Secret

What it actually feels like, though, is a gigantic View-Master. Now that was a boy’s toy to reckon with. All I need to complete the illusion would be to use the DEV-5 to film an Adam West and Burt Ward cosplay party.

Sony DEV-5 3D binoculars with View-Master

Boys' toys – so little has changed

Ultimately, the Sony DEV-5 is a brilliant set of digital recording binoculars but not a terribly convenient camera for back-of-head specialists like me. It costs around £2,000.

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. As a child, his family owned a classic red View-Master but also a late 1950s heavy black Bakelite model. Along with campy Batman, his favourite discs featured an inconceivably sunny Disneyland.