New firmware for A7RII, A7SII

Sony has released new firmware 3.20 for the A7RII and 2.10 for A7SII to enable XAVCS video recording on SDHC (rather than the larger XC) cards. The European updater is, as usual, not on line when the US/Americas Sony site has got it all ready to go. They are the same software so it’s safe to use either.

Though nothing else is mentioned as improved, we note that lens compatibility is an active link in the list of inherited changes.

The link for A7RII is:

and for A7SII:

European support for A7RII is here:

and for the A7SII:

Firmware updates for RX10, RX100mkIII

From Sonyalpharumours (with the links all very neatly arranged, probably from Sony’s own sources) details of firmware updates for the RX10 and the RX100 MkIII. Surprise at our end about the RX100 update, since the camera has only been on the market a short while, and the internal batteries used to maintain the date (etc) usually have a seven to ten year life!

So, how on earth did they discover that a ‘low remaining life’ of this battery could cause problems? Time travel? Ah, that’s the answer – someone will have accidentally set the date to 2021, making the camera think its internal battery needed replacing because Sony will have put into the system a lockout which occurs at the end of the expected life for this component.

All those of you with Epson professional printers over five years old, who have managed to download a service manual, will know how this works. The printer is programmed to commit suicide and tell you that a certain service component needs replacing; the engineer’s manual tells the engineer to inform the owner that the printer has reached the end of its useful life. Another printer sale!

RX10 firmware download at Sony US, Sony Germany, Sony UK, Sony France, Sony Italy, Sony Spain, Sony Holland, Sony Belgium, Sony Austria, Sony Switzerland, Sony Norway, Sony Sweden, Sony Portugal. It adds following improvement:

Enables shooting 60p/30p/24p/120p movies in the XAVC S format that supports high bit rates  (1920×1080) 50p/25,(1280×720) 100p, (1920×1080) 60p/30p/24p, (1280×720) 120p
Note: When shooting a movie in the XAVC S format, ensure that an SDXC card of Class 10 or faster is used.

If you don’t use Windows, most of these links do not work – Sony Australia has a Mac OSX link.

RX100m3 firmware download at Sony US, Sony Germany, Sony UK, Sony France, Sony Italy, Sony Spain, Sony Holland, Sony Belgium, Sony Austria, Sony Switzerland, Sony Norway, Sony Sweden, Sony Portugal. It adds following improvement:

This update improves stability in rare cases where the unit does not turn due to low remaining life of the internal back-up battery (used to maintain the date and time)

Mixed up market – specced up compacts, dumbed down DSLRs

Canon has pulled off another change in the direction of DSLR development with the EOS 650D, but in the process seem to have accepted a blurring of the boundaries between consumer cameras and enthusiast gear. Sony has finally bowed to pressure and put raw image processing back into a compact, using a larger than normal sensor, doing the same in reverse.

To explain, neither of these cameras belong within Photoclubalpha – we don’t usually report on Sony Cyber-shot compacts, equally rarely on Canon’s latest competitor to the A57. But these two cameras are waymarkers. They show us where two strands of development are heading, and how they are converging.

Canon EOS 650D

650D with new 18-135mm STM lens, required stepper-motor technology for off-sensor video auto focus

The new points about the 650D (also known as the EOS Rebel T4i for that least rebellious of areas, the USA) are simple enough. It’s yet another 18 megapixel APS-C model in the series 500/550/600 rather than the more professional 50/60/7 body form. Maximum frame rate is 5fps. It has full 1080p HD, but only at 30fps maximum (720/60p) with a 5.5MB/sec data rate. Unlike previous models, this one can focus during video shooting, and may well do it better than a NEX.

It has a conventional 9-cross point phase detect AF module much improved over earlier versions, included a central double-cross f/2.8 sensitive point. When shooting video, hybrid AF combines normal wide area contrast-detection with a similar centrally located phase-detect pixel arrangement that offers much faster locking on before the CD takes over to fine tune and track moving subjects or faces.

No visible signs on the CMOS – but that sensor had a phase-detect central zone

So there are two AF systems, one of which remains live for video. To work properly it needs a new type of lens motor, called STM. This stepping motor appears to be not unlike the NEX system lenses, offering the necessary control for AF during video with silent action. Just two lenses initially have it, a pancake EF 40mm f/2.8 STM and a general purpose stabilised EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. If you know your Canon system terminology, you’ll spot that the 40mm is compatible with full frame DSLRs it’s not just an odd 64mm equivalent for the APS-C models.

With other lenses, the implication from Canon is that AF during movie shooting will not work. That includes the cheapest kit option, the 18-55mm. No matter what type of USM or micromotor AF drive. If you want video with AF, you need the new STM lenses.

The Canon phase-detect on sensor is purely a central patch, not an overall function like Nikon’s 1 system 71-point PD. But, like consumer cameras, Canon adds touch screen functions to the 650D. This is a response to consumer demand. You can still operate the camera with the rear screen completely reversed. I have to admit that the first thing I did with the NEX-5n was to disable the touch screen function, and never use it.

For a Canon, the 650D has a surprisingly limited battery range, as low as 180 shots per charge if live view, flash and image review functions are used in their worst-case scenario.

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100

A neat metal bodied almost Samsung-like compact, the RX100 has an 8.8 x 13.2mm sensor, the 1/1 or one-inch ‘1’ format already used by Nikon. It offers a stabilised Carl Zeiss 28-100mm equivalent lens which is very fast (f/1.8 at the wide end, f/4.9 tele) and may be of enthusiast-pro quality, and a 3″ rear screen where daylight viewing brightness is enhanced using white pixels as well as RGB.

The RX100 offers full HD movies at 28M bitrate – 1080/60p equal to NEX and Alpha. It also seems to get reasonable life from a small battery, 330 shots or 165 minutes of movie, and to have a decent 2.5fps conventional fps plus the popular Sony 10fps speed piority mode.

For most of us, the really big news is that for the first time since classic bridge camera models like the F-828 Sony has decided to provide raw image capture in a pocketable compact. No doubt the success of the Fuji X10, Canon G1X and others has been observed. It is fair to say that Sony could have put raw capture into far more compacts – they all have it hidden away away, an ability carefully locked out by firmware.

To date, we have felt that Sony wanted to protect the NEX and Alpha markets at any cost by omitting raw even from the best Cyber-shot models. The RX100 changes this perception. It leaves the expensive semi-pro hybrid video and still camera, the NEX VG-10, looking a bit sad with its JPEG-only still capture. After all, if compact owners do indeed want raw, surely VG-10 owners would be expected to want no less?

And that sensor is 20 megapixels. It’s twice the pixel count of the Nikon 1. There was a time something like happened in the past. Nikon made a camera called the D1 (then D1X) which had a 5-megapixel sensor, and then a sort of firmware and processing fix to make it halfway like a 10 megapixel sensor. It was revealed that the ‘rectangular pixels’ of the D1 were actually two pixels in a strip. When a different RGB topping and readout was applied to the same exact silicon, it became the Sony 10 megapixel sensor we saw in the Alpha 100 (and the Nikon D200). Nothing like that could possibly have happened with a Sony 20 megapixel sensor to make a Nikon 10 megapixel sensor, even though they both share the same unusual 8.8 x 13.2mm size.

And even though Nikon uses a whole stack of pixels on that sensor to perform phase-detection AF without any apparent loss of those pixels to the image – spread out over 71 points across the entire frame too. There’s no way, is there, they could ever have based that 10 megapixel PD-AF capable sensor on a Sony 20 megapixel original.

– David Kilpatrick

Master Photography Awards – merits video

You can now watch a low resolution, 33-minute video of the original HD1080p movie slide show produced from all the 550-plus merits awarded for the 2011 Master Photography Awards.

From these merits, the Awards of Excellence and the category winners, the International Master Photographer of the Year, the UK/European/World Portfolio winners, and the UK and Overseas Best Image of the Year have been chosen and will be unveiled at the awards dinner on Sunday October 9th.

The dinner takes place at the Hilton Newcastle-Gateshead hotel on the south bank of the Tyne. To attend the event, call MPA on (+44)(0)1325 356555 – dinner tickets are still available. There will be a Hasselblad Broncolor studio for hands-on demonstration during the day, and the awards will be shown as an exhibition of over 40 large display panels.

The music for the video is from the two CDs of royalty-free soundtrack for use by professional photographers in their own client presentations and DVD delivery, commissioned from an independent composer-producer and available from the MPA shop.

Sony ‘HowTo’ videos – a different level

Paul Genge of Sony UK noted my criticism of the Sony corporate videos. Well, what Sony were not publicizing so well was that Paul has been making some rather homespun but far more valuable and interesting videos – in fact, going beyond the usual remit of Sony staff to do stuff almost off the cuff.

I remember Paul telling me a few years ago that Sony was most cautious about any publicity material, especially its wording. Even short press releases had to be approved by a management meeting and looked over by the lawyers. That is not unusual with large corporations.

It’s also, back in the 1970s to 90s, what made Dick Bryant’s job with Minolta so remarkable – he had a roving brief and an expense account and he could travel pretty much anywhere in the world and publish any set of images he wanted (such as his exceptional treatment of Eugene Smith’s Minimata essay). He may have reported back to Osaka but he certainly had a degree of freedom, creative and fiscal, which very few representatives of corporations seem to have today.

Could Paul convince Sony that uncontrived, honest, genuine enthusiastic reporting and involvement with photographers merited a similar job today? Doing a Dick Bryant?

Here’s one example, Paul with our friend Gustav Kiburg on Inner Farne in July.

What you need to do, though, is visit Paul’s complete SonyHowTo YouTube collection (as I write this I think there are 27 short vids up, varying from wobbly and unpolished to pretty good – all well edited, with excellent use of inset illustrations and still photo examples).

Here’s the link:

So far Paul’s channel only has 44 subscribers (Sept 1st, I’ll bet that changes) and if you subscribe you can also ask to be notified by email of new vids. Also, you can chat with Paul on the comments sections, and you can probably request subjects to be covered. I think we should ask for – using the Alpha 99 and 500mm G lens…

– DK

Sony – please add gain control to A77 sound

When I had the Canon 60D and 600D cameras for the usual brief period of magazine review loan, one of the things I could have tested more thoroughly was the excellent implementation of sound input gain control. Since it worked, and worked really well, I had no need to. Any system with auto gain, in contrast, needs to be hauled out to big rock music gigs, into busy urban environments, stuck close to the speaker at public events and so on.

This is the screen from the Canon 600D, which is not an expensive camera. Being realistic, it and the 60D with their usefully articulated rear screens and 18 megapixel filesize are more than decent competition from some months ago for the forthcoming Alpha 77. At the moment it seems as if Sony has leapfrogged Canon, but when you actually look at the capabilities of the 60/600 for practical everyday work they remain competitive.

This audio control screen is one of the main reasons why. I read people, Sony users, on forums saying that lack of audio control is quite simply a deal-breaker. And I know why. I am an occasional musician and occasionally my wife will press the MOVIE button on an Alpha or NEX aimed at me. It’s a complete lottery as to whether than button is pressed during a quiet microsecond between notes, in dead silence, with a full PA sound level or whatever. When making a recording using one of these cameras, I will often ask the subject to speak or play a loud chord so that I can press MOVIE and get a low auto mic gain preset. The worst scenario is to press MOVIE in total silence because the auto gain will then try to boost the sound to pick up the birds outside the window and the floorboards creaking. And it will stay on that gain level for the entire take.

What this means in practice is that different takes have different gain levels. It would be even worse if the gain was dynamic during the take, varying with the level so that quiet moments suddenly get rewarded by an increase in hiss and irrelevant noises. There are plenty of camcorder devices which do that and they are unusable.

Auto gain – which applies to both the internal and external mic feeds for the Alpha 77, and also to the NEX models and earlier Alphas – is simply not acceptable as the only option in an age where users like to film concerts and gigs, live music, bands, parades, festivals and noisy events. Small condensor mics are very prone to clipping (distorting loud sounds) in what are known as ‘high sound pressure’ environments. That is, stuff which hurts your ears if you are a dog or under 30.

You can avoid high sound pressure clipping by using a top quality external plug-in mic, as you are never going to eliminate it with the internal mics. But you can only do so reliably if the camera offers manual control of audio level. Nikon’s cameras – even the expensive D3S – only offer three levels of sound gain and no ability to monitor or test the effect. Canon’s latest models have an exemplary interface with 22 visible dB (deciBel) levels and an even finer graded adjustment with a continuous Rec. Level scale. This applies to either the internal (mono, less satisfactory) mic or external stereo.

Although Canon’s official line is that the external mic socket is for mic only, not for line mixers, it is in fact compatible with any good quality line source you can control for volume level. The setup above is just an imaginary studio shot, not real recording, but shows two Behringer condensor mics routed through a Mackie Onyx Satellite twin mic preamp. I used the headphone output, with its controllable volume, to feed the Canon 600D. There did not appear to be any impedance issues but of course I started with the sound output at zero and used the Canon’s manual sound monitor to adjust it.

This is not advanced audio. This is basic home recording stuff. It’s well within the target owner bracket of the Alpha 77. Sony, if Canon can do this, so can you. Even just implementing three manually set High, Normal, Low fixed volume (gain) settings like Nikon would be a partial cure. Nikon’s solution is not total, and I sold my Nikon D5000 because of the terrible clipping which happened on any setting when trying to record amplified solo gigs. Even little 40W solo amps and a simple vocal and guitar would send the Nikon into a crackle of distorted mess. The Sony mics seems to be much better and do not clip so readily. They are stereo and I’d rate the sound quality from the internal mics on NEX and Alpha so far to be much better than Canon’s internal mono (the AVCHD recording standard helps too). But without proper control of sound, the Alpha 77 is hamstrung. It is indeed a deal-breaker for some buyers.

It can be fixed if the firmware allows access to that function.

The video area issue

While you are at it, fix the HD video framing screen marks on some earlier and current models – we hope it has been sorted in the new ones.

It’s simple enough. The Sony CMOS 14 megapixel sensor crops to 16:9 for panoramic shots (you can select yo shoot in this format if you want) and also crop to 16:9 for HD1080 video. But these two crops are not the same. The still 16:9 just trims a bit off the top and bottom of the image. The HD video format trims even more and also takes some off both ends, zooming in (in effect) on an overall sensor crop.

When you shoot normal 3:2 ratio 35mm shape shots, and press the MOVIE button, the resulting crop is so dramatic that you can cut someone’s head off in the movie having thought it was well within the frame for stills.

As you can see in the shot above, the NEX does display some faint corner crop marks to indicate the video frame. But no-one I have shown the camera to actually notices these crops at all, especially if other grids or marking are displayed. Setting the camera to 16:9 stills improves the position, the faint crop marks are now equally distant from all four corners but still unlikely to be clearly visible. It’s clear from forum comments and messages elsewhere that many owners have never spotted these marks at all. The frame corner markings are not easily seen against some subjects (example above, lower marks), and you need to know where they are in order to recognise them.

This issue is not present in the Alpha 55, where the movie is only cropped top and bottom, and slightly bolder frame crop marks are shown in the finder. Even so, two very clear lines which can be turned on or off would be a better indicator and help users frame video correctly before pressing the record button. If you set 16:9 still shooting on the A55, you can go into movie capture without any change to the image framing.

Note that the ends of the composition are cropped, as well as the top and bottom, when pressing MOVIE Record from the startpoint of a 3:2 format still shot on the NEX-3 and NEX-5 with their 14 megapixel sensors. When shooting HD video, note that frame corners for the 4:3 TV format (non-HD crop) are displayed.

In an ideal world, the HD movie would be the full 16:9 still size as on the A55, giving you the best use of wide-angle lenses. But that is probably not possible because of the way HD1080 is extracted from the overall sensor area of the NEX-3/5.

So, what we need is simple enough – a firmware option to display the HD Movie crop area far more distinctly on the EVF or rear LCD screen, whatever still shooting mode is being used. Ideally it should be a complete rectangle to show the actual area which will be active when you press MOVIE and record.

Like the audio control issue, this is a firmware fix and could also be applied to earlier models like the NEX-5. It’s probably a simpler fix than audio.

Of more concern is whether or not the 24 megapixel sensor behaves like the 14 megapixel (HD movies cropped all round) or like the 16 megapixel sensor (HD movies cropped top and bottom only). So far this has not been made clear by early testers or Sony sources. If it is a cropped HD, let’s hope that a very clear and obvious movie-frame preview can be added, or the MOVIE  button function changed so that one press activates the movie frame view, the next press starts record, the next press ends record. I would actually like to see a menu option where ending a recording does not exit movie mode, but leaves you able to press the movie button again to resume filming, and to end movie capture you need instead to press the shutter button (with or without a still capture).

– David Kilpatrick

Sony DEV-5 and DEV-3 digital HD filming binoculars

An invitation to a Sony event on August 15th seemed perfectly timed for the announcement of the Alpha 77 and 65, NEX-7 and NEX-5n. In fact, those cameras were launched in Greece on August 24th – and Photoclubalpha, as a very minor player in this business, was not on the guest list. Nor could we have attended if invited as the diary was already full that week (four days of the Master Photography Awards judging and their Fellowship and Associate annual admissions to be covered).

Wild geese – red-breasted geese, Branta ruficollis, fleeing the camera (©Shirley Kilpatrick, A580, Sigma 18-250mm OS)

However, when the invitation to an event at the London Wetland Centre was issued, with strict limits on the numbers able to register and some air of importance, we decided to do the 700 mile round trip, stay a couple of days for some stock photo shooting, and hope for the best. My mistake, one of our photo mag friends said he didn’t attend because he was tipped off it was not really for photo mags. Even so, most of those present seemed to be photo press not wildlife press…

The Wetland Centre, while a fairly poor location for photography due to the extreme distance the hides are from the wildlife, would have been a good place to launch an Alpha 77 and Alpha 65 (both equipped with improved GPS) and teamed up with the long-awaited 500mm f/4.5 Sony Apo G SSM.

Sadly, it all turned out to be a wild goose chase for Photclubalpha. The object being launched was the new Sony invention of 3D digital binoculars, the DEV-3 and DEV-5 models aimed at high end binocular users wanting to spend their £1300-£2000 on something novel. While impressive enough if you want an electronic viewfinder version of binoculars, they are almost useless to photographers as the still capture resolution is a mere 7.1 megapixels from a small EXMOR-R back illuminated sensor. JPEG only, no raw, no control of still capture settings beyond very basic adjustments.

Digital scoping

Sony took their lead on development, it seems, from digiscoping. Their research showed that serious bird watchers have been fixing compact digital cameras (and occasional DSLRs) to the end of high power spotting scopes to secure unfeasibly long focal length equivalents and capture acceptable frame-fillers of bird life from the distances bird life prefers to remain.

Their research also showed that bird watchers will spend £2000 without hesitation on a high end pair of binoculars.

Now I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that much of the appeal of digiscoping is exactly the same as the appeal of adaptors and alien lenses used on the NEX. One of Sony’s own Japanese executives at the event was wearing a NEX-5 with a Voigtländer adaptor and a 21mm f/4 Voigtländer lens in Leica M mount.

Digiscopers like their rigs of camera and scope because part of the challenge is to create a perfect digiscoping set up and discover the best cameras, scopes, eyepieces and adaptors for the job. Creating the equipment is part of the hobby. Also, the scope continues to have a purpose of its own as an optical device. It does not matter that the combo weighs 4.5kg and needs a tripod (even that is part of the Meccano-Lego factor, building your personal solution).

Paul Genge of Sony explained how much lighter the system will be than digiscoping – but omitted the fun of making your own digiscoping rig, which is half the point of it

The Sony Electronic HD video capable binoculars do one thing well, and only one thing. They capture HD1080p video at 50fps (60fps in the USA) with the option to use both sensors for 3D video, which is interlaced instead. With lens-based stabilisation counteracting complex rotational movements which may affect each of the two lenses reciprocally, they are a technical masterpiece.

Unfortunately, they don’t have the new high resolution EVF of the Alpha 77/65/NEX-7, but use one closer to the Alpha 55 in detail. Actually, they use two, fed by separate sensors, as a true binocular system with the eyepieces adjustable for interpupillary distance and dioptre settings. They can simulate using electronic screens a binocular view, with a 16:9 or 4:3 format (the sensor is actually 4:3 ratio, and cropped for HD).

This was not at the Wetland Centre (mother coot feeding chick) but at Kew Gardens, which actually put photographers much closer to wildlife more accustomed to humans at close quarters (©Shirley Kilpatrick, A580, Sigma 18-250mm)

But in my pocket was a Minox 6x16X monocular, and in Shirley’s bag a similar Minox 8x16X – lovely little Zeiss-optic metal devices intended for concerts and travel. So I was able to compare the view through the 10X DEV-3 with a simple, monocular, low-cost Minox optical image. There is simply no way ever that any serious nature-watcher would wish to observe the world through the electronic version. It is a world without the individual colours within the feathers of a bird; indeed, it doesn’t even have the individual feathers. Compared to looking through the electronic finder, the optical view was breathtaking in crystal clarity and brightness with exquisite detail enabling the identification and study of subjects.

Real birders use 20×30, 20×50, even up to 30X (Olympus zoom binoculars, for example). Some may choose stabilised binoculars, offered by Canon in specifications including an 18 x 50 with all-weather body. The stabilised view of the DEV-3 and DEV-5 is still a good feature and goes some way to make up for the lack of true image detail.

The zoom of these devices is not the same as the limited range of binocular zooming – and the same goes for focusing. They can focus down to 80cm and retain 3D video, due to the close spacing of the objective lenses; in 2D, macro shots close to the lens are possible, and indoors you can even shoot normal people and group shots though there’s no flash of course. In this sense the Sony invention goes beyond being a binocular, just as much as it falls short of being a true one.

If this looks familiar, the embedded front bit is basically a Sony Handycam TD10E lens and sensor assembly

That’s because all the DEV-3 and DEV-5 actually consist of is the front part of the Sony Handycam TD10E with some optical and design modifications, and a stereo viewing system bolted on the back. This £1300 camcorder offers a 17X zoom range but it’s hard to express that in the same terms as binocular magnification. Its recording is technically identical, the same bitrate and quality of 1080p or 3D 1080i, and its stills are the same 7.1 megapixel maximum. This was admitted by Paul Genge, Sony’s technical sales executive, when showing us the DEV-5.

Most oddly for the target markets of birding, wildlife, safaris, peeping toms, police, military, racegoers and suchlike the DEV models are not ruggedized or water and dust proof. They do accept an external microphone but it’s most unlikely any camera-mounted mic, even a special shotgun unidirectional type, will satisfy wildlife film makers.

Of course, the DEV-5 does include GPS and will record the location of filming but there’s no built-in magnetic compass so it does not tell the full story. The DEV-3, with its lower maximum zoom power, omits the GPS and that is reflected in the price (update – we are told by Paul that the interest shown since the launch is almost entirely in the higher end model with GPS – it provides valuable evidence to bird-spotters, and evidence appears to be what they value most).

Despite the two lenses, the DEV models do not capture 3D stills – only 3D video. Binocular experts will point out that the closely spaced objectives reduce the 3D impression given by long-range binos which have a wider front lens separation. This is vital for close focusing. You either must have adjustable front lens spacing for close-ups (difficult to achieve) or a very limited true stereoscopic effect.

No test

We were not allowed to take any footage with the DEV-5 or DEV-3 though Paul showed some tests of his own, taken during a week trying out the new product all round Britain (between visits to key dealers such as Park Cameras, who are selling them at the Bird Fair which opened on August 19th at Rutland Water, with a free extra chunky high power battery thrown in).

Report from this event, added September 8th – Paul Genge says it was a great success, with over one thousand visitors to the Sony stand trying the DEV models. Many of these visitors had tried digiscoping but had consistently poor results despite much investment in bits and pieces to get it working, and saw the DEV concept as a simple, elegant, nearly perfect solution to their problems.

Birdfair at Rutland Water on August 19th – the blueprint above turned into a real Sony DEV-3/5 booth. Park Cameras offered special deals as the first main distributor and took several orders, all for the DEV-5 model, on the day.

The results looked very impressive as HD movies.

However, there are a few functions which the DEV models could have included had they been designed from the ground up and not based on an existing camcorder. One is pre-shot capture, where the buffer is constantly recording a rolling second or two of video, to be included with the take when you press the button to film. This avoids missing the critical first part of movement of the subject which triggers your own reactions.

The second is slow-motion capture at reduced resolution; 50/60p is already capable of half-speed playback and the shutter speed control use in the DEV models favours better motion freezing than some camcorders which aim for purely cinematic shutter speeds (1/30-1/50th and so on). Had controls been added to force fast shutter speed capture that is very useful for analysing wildlife film frame by frame, or extracting a valuable still image. Had 720p at 100/120 frames per second been enabled, that enables quarter-speed playback of action.

Single-handed operation by Paul Genge – but he’s had a week of weight training before the event! They are actually pretty light, just rather large.

Finally, make no mistake these babies are big. They are not overly heavy, as they are mainly empty plastic shaped to look like a military device. But they are not especially travel friendly, or all that easy to pop under your jacket in a cloudburst.

The ultimate use

Shirley’s verdict was – these are just made for festivals and stadium gigs! The one use not mentioned in Sony’s presentation, and a very popular use for binoculars and camcorders alike, is to see stage performances better and record music. Those little Minox monoculars we carry everywhere with us now were bought some years ago, en-route to an R.E.M concert. And sure enough, from our vantage point in Stirling Castle, they were a good investment.

Now if the tiny Minox monocular happened to include a 1080p HD movie recorder – which it very easily could in terms of size, think of mobile phones, Sony Bloggie and the like – it would be an even better concert companion.

The Sony DEV digital binoculars might get in past some security staff but we reckon they will soon be recognised and banned from events.

Nothing new

The first time we discovered binoculars combined with a camera, we actually got to be the first UK journalists to write them up. This was the Nicnon binocular camera, in its final version around 1975 (it had existed in a cruder design from the late 1960s) – it worked fairly well, but didn’t give any more real magnification than a regular 35mm camera with a 165mm lens and had a useless fastest shutter speed of 1/250th, only barely short enough to avoid camera shake in every shot and never able to stop action.

Later on we tried the Tasco 110 binocular camera but the results were almost useless. Today, of course, we have pocket digicams with zoom lenses going to an equivalent of over 500mm and a resolution which matches 35mm not 110. These can even challenge the concept of the DEV-3 and DEV-5, though I doubt that anything made comes close to the HD video quality. In the end, something is new about the DEV-3 and DEV-5, and that is the HD video in a binocular form.

We can only wish Sony the best of luck with this product. Any serious wildlife watcher or bird spotter will need their regular optical binoculars and their regular tele-equipped DSLR in addition to the DEV-3 or DEV-5. Regardless of six hour battery life and other commendable features, they simply do not and can not replace the other key equipment used in the field, with the exception of digiscope rigs or tele-capable camcorders.

They will sell to wealthy gadget enthusiasts and garden birdwatchers with poor eyesight and big flat screen teles. Over 50s, get in an orderly queue now…

For us, our four-day venture to the former wastelands of Barnes was a wild goose chase (we did see a few). Life was enlivened by road closures due to Olympic ‘test run’ cyclists. This product is not really of any interest to our dedicated photographer readership, for £2000 an Alpha 65 and 70-400mm SSM G would be a better investment for everything except the 3D video. And the market murmur is that 3D has failed, yet again. It’s simply not selling.

Get the full PRESS RELEASE here.

– David & Shirley Kilpatrick


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