Once in a while, a product comes along that makes you wish you were a bird watcher, an opera enthusiast, or someone in a galaxy far, far away from what you're looking at. And that's because the product in question is a pair of futuristic binoculars, and using them makes you feel like Luke Skywalker scoping out Sand People on Tattooine.
The Sony DEV-5 digital binoculars are - along with their little brother the DEV-3 - the "world's first digital binoculars with HD video recording," according to the company, and the devices' imaging capabilities go beyond that. In addition to 1080p high-definition recording at both 60 frames per second and 24 fps, the binoculars capture 3D still images and 3D video.
Viewing content in 3D with the Sony DEV-5 binoculars while shooting or playing it back doesn't require glasses, because the stereographic effect is created by viewing separate channels for the left and right eyes through the binoculars' eyepieces.
Both the Sony DEV-5 and the DEV-3 offer twin 10X-optical-zoom Sony G lenses (F1.9 to F3.4) with optical stabilization, backed by a pair of backside-illuminated CMOS sensors optimized for low-light situations. In still-image mode, the binoculars capture 7.1-megapixel still images in 4:3 aspect ratio or 5.3-megapixel stills in 16:9 aspect ratio; the 2D images are shot through one of the two lenses.
A removable storage slot accepts both SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and Sony's Memory Stick format, and both pairs of binoculars offer HDMI output to an HDTV or 3DTV for playing back footage and images. The main difference between the two models comes down to a few extra features and accessories accompanying the Sony DEV-5: It provides geotagging features (thanks to a built-in GPS receiver); an enhanced digital zoom that reaches a simulated 20X telephoto; and a carrying case, strap, and eye cups.
I spent a little hands-on time with the Sony DEV-5 digital recording binoculars, and the process of recording video with them - especially in 3D mode - is about as immersive an experience as you can imagine while shooting video. Though the binoculars' eyepieces are fixed in place, you can adjust the interpupillary distance of images seen through them via a control wheel, which comes in handy for adjusting the "3D-ness" of images while you're shooting.
They're a bit larger than a typical pair of binoculars, and even though they're lighter than they look, operating them requires both hands. A toggle on the top of the camera handles zooming the binoculars - and the autofocus system worked without a hitch throughout the zoom range in my hands-on time. The binoculars also have manual focus controls, which a manual adjustment wheel underneath the eyepieces governs. Both models also have a mic-in port and a shoe on the top of the binoculars that accepts an external microphone; and an omnidirectional, two-channel Dolby microphone is built into the unit.
Though a pair of video/3D-shooting binoculars falls on the "niche device" side of the fence, the effect of viewing a scene with both eyes through the viewfinder, encompassing your entire field of vision, would be a welcome addition to mainstream 3D cameras of the future. A few 3D-capable camcorders currently have glasses-free 3D displays, but peering into a 3D image with both eyes as you're filming it is another experience entirely.