The Sony DEV-30 vs Lumix FZ200 for bird photography

The Sony DEV-30 digital video binoculars in action

The Sony DEV-30 digital recording binoculars in action

I’d been given a pair of these new SONY DEV-30 digital recording binoculars by a friend of mine (yes, I have a very generous friend!)  and this was my first opportunity to take it out and see if  1) it was any good as a pair of binoculars to view our avian targets. 2) to see if the pictures captured by it were comparable to my trusty LUMIX FZ200 with 1.7x teleconverter  and 3) to see if the video capture was any good

1) How good was it as a pair of binoculars? A year ago, my very same friend had lent me his pair of the original SONY DEV-5 digital video binoculars to try and suffice to say that this original design was way off the was big, it was heavy, the image of birds through the viewfinder could only be described as poor and I could not take a single decent picture with it.  I think SONY had no choice but to improve it or else they would have had to junk the whole concept!  It was so big and looked like a missile launcher…so much so that as I was using it around the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, I was stopped by two SFPD policemen who were obviously wondering what I was doing with a weapon like binocular….

Back to the image quality of the DEV-30 as a pair of binos….I would say it is very good indeed, I was able to see detail and colour without having to focus (due to the rapid autofocus) and it zoomed to a 15x level which is better than most optical binos.  What was interesting was that at max zoom, the image was stable whereas when I use my 15×56 Leica binos, it’s impossible to hold it steady.  I guess the SONY must have image stabilisation built in.

My brother had a pair of Minox binos with him and I would say that the Dev-30 was superior in quality to the Minox and probably the equal or superior to most  reasonably priced binoculars.  However, when compared to the top quality optical binos like the Leica ultravid 10×42 or the equivalent Swarovski, it would lose out in terms of brightness, crispness and contrast.

Verdict: Not bad, acceptable

2) How good were the pictures compared with my trusty old Lumix FZ200 with a 1.7 x teleconverter ? Let’s look at a 2 pairs of pictures of the same subject taken from roughly the same position and see if you can figure which one is from which.

Picture 1Picture 1

Picture 2

And now for a second pair of pictures:

Picture 3

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 4

I’m sure you can see the difference quite clearly….Pictures 1 and 4 were from the DEV-30 and Pictures 2 and 3 were from the Lumix. Although the sizes of the birds were a bit of a giveaway, I couldn’t downsize the lumix images to the same size as the sony and I couldn’t crop and increase the size of the Sony captured birds because the image fall off was dramatic once I did so…it pixellated badly almost immediately.  I also noticed that when shooting against the light, it was almost impossible to get the right exposure on the Sony as it’s not possible (or at least I don’t yet know how to)to over expose a bit.

So overall, I would say that the picture taking ability of the dev-30 would not be good enough for any serious bird photography but it’s not bad if you only want to carry a pair of reasonable binoculars which can take some record shots in good light.

Verdict: Not up to the mark for serious photography, but better than nothing

3.  Is the video capture any good?  I had a bit of a sense of deja vu with video capture: those who like to take underwater pictures of marine fish with the normal submersible compact cameras will know that underwater pictures usually turn out blurry with colour casts and camera shake whereas underwater video recordings with these same compact cameras turn out beautiful footage.  It’s a little bit like that with this Dev-30 as far as the video capture goes; video images are much better than the still images. Why it should be so, I know not but it is.  For recording bird activity around nests, feeding on insects, in flight and bird song it was clearly capable.  An optical pair of binoculars cannot do any of these things of course!  I found it exceptionally good for filming butterflies…and would have loaded a clip of it on to this blog had I been allowed to….But then again so can almost all compact super zooms and DSLRs…except that they take better pictures than the dev-30

Verdict:  Good video capture capability 


Of course the SONY’s competition isn’t really a pair of quality binoculars or a compact superzoom camera/DSLR…it’s against the combination of a pair of binoculars AND a good camera which all take excellent pictures and record beautiful videos.  I currently travel with my Leica 10×32 or 10×42 binoculars which yields unbelievably clear and comfortable images  and my Lumix FZ200/teleconverter or a SonyAlpha55/70-200mm zom with teleconverter.  Whilst this combination of gear allows me to bird watch and take bird pictures/video with very good quality; it does weigh a whole lot more than the Sony Dev-30 and takes up a lot more space….not to mention the cost.

If quality of viewing/picture IQ and video is essential, stick with the traditional bino/camera combo. If you want to travel lightly and have the capability to do view/snap/record video and sound at a reasonable level but is much more convenient, then the Dev-30 is not a bad option…certainly far improved over the original dev-5.  Remember though that you are totally dependent on battery power for the Dev-30 and if you run out, you cannot even view that lifer!

the Sony Dev-30 next to my GalaxyS4 phone to show its compactness

the Sony Dev-30 next to my GalaxyS4 phone to show its compactness

Having been very disappointed with the first iteration of the digital recording binoculars, I confess I had some bias going into this brief review; but I have to say I have a grudging respect for this piece of equipment; it’s light, compact, allows viewing of fauna from afar, takes reasonable record shots whilst viewing (how many times have I put down my normal binoculars and raised my camera to the eye only to find that the bird has flown???) and allows you to record behaviour and sound in 3 -D?

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