Sony's imaging wing has been on a roll lately, with the brilliant NEX-7 and equally impressive Alpha A77 DSLR simply blowing us away with brand new features and excellent image quality. But these $2,000 digital binoculars? Yeah, we're not so sure. We went hands-on with a pre-production sample of the 3D binocs, which replace the traditional optical finders with a pair of high-res LCD EVFs. But when you consider that high-end binoculars are a joy to use because of their excellent optical viewfinders, swapping in an electronic version puts the DEV-3 ($1,400) and DEV-5 ($2,000) in a completely new category -- if an excellent (and traditional) viewing experience is what you're after, these "cost-competitive" optics really won't hit the spot. Jump past the break for our impressions.

Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars hands-on

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The single sample that Sony had on hand certainly isn't ready to take home. They're rather large, with a durable plastic construction, and are a bit too heavy to wear comfortably around your neck. Several other curiosities make it clear that these still have a long way to go before they hit the production line -- the power slider is reversed, for example, so we needed to flip it to off to power the binoculars on. We weren't permitted to snap photos or video since image quality is not yet final, but both the DEV-3 and -5 are theoretically capable of capturing 7.1 megapixel stills and 1080p 3D video. Since you'll be peeping at your subject through a pair of EVFs, the binocs offer a unique "glasses-free" method of 3D viewing, since they deliver a different image directly to each eye -- even slightly different than what the company offers with its HMZ-T1.

Looking through the DEV-5 more closely resembles the experience you'll have looking your camera's EVF than what you'll see with a traditional pair of binoculars. This digital version offers autofocus, and while sharp, subjects don't appear nearly as crisp or realistic as they do with the optical equivalent. So are these digital binoculars a complete failure? No, we wouldn't say that, but it's without question that their target market is likely to be very small -- negligible, even, when compared to that of nearly every other Sony product.

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