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For Bird Watcher's Digest, September 2011

by Michael and Diane Porter

Michael and Diane Porter wrote the following review, which appeared in the September, 2011, Bird Watcher's Digest. It discusses the necessary design principles of a binocular-camera. It also gives an in-depth look at the Bushnell Image-View SyncFocus binocular-camera.

How good are the pictures?

ComparisonThe example picture shown, of an eastern bluebird on a birdhouse, was taken on a sunny day, 32 feet away, hand held while sitting in a chair. It’s the original jpeg, just as it came from the camera, without any extra processing.

The camera was set for the highest resolution and best quality compression. We shot many test pictures, and this is a typical example of what you can expect. We chose a hand-held shot as our example because that’s how we expect a binocular-camera to be used—as a small portable device, not mounted on a tripod.

There are three images. On the top is the full frame shot. Bottom left is a detail of the wings from the same image. In contrast, the picture at the bottom right was shot with a Canon 7D and a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens. The Canon lens was zoomed to its full 400mm. It was also shot hand held, the same day and time, at the same distance.

SyncFocus & Canon 7D

Of course making a $225 camera-binocular compete with a $3400 camera and lens outfit is grossly unfair. It’s an apples-to-watermelons comparison. It’s meant to discourage unrealistic expectations one may have from the professional bird photos we’re used to seeing. Note that the Canon 7D’s lens has image stabilization, while the binocular-camera does not.

Even though the binocular-camera’s image is soft, the bird is clearly identifiable. A beginning birder could sit down with a field guide and easily ID this bird. Or e-mail a friend. Could you sell this to a calendar publisher? No. But you could still have a lot of fun reviewing your day’s adventures. Considering its moderate price, and that these are hand-held shots, the little Bushnell camera-binocular works pretty well.

It also does video. It can shoot as high as 640 x 480 resolution, and its Instant Replay feature is useful for capturing the behavior of a bird. However, don’t expect it to deliver dedicated camcorder quality video.

Why aren't the pictures better?

You can’t expect a camera this small and inexpensive to do professional bird photography. Birds are small, far away, and usually in motion.

To get great bird photos, you need long telephoto lenses with very high magnification. High magnification requires you to shoot at fast shutter speeds, or the image will be soft and blurry. A camera and lens small enough to fit into a binocular-camera won’t suffice.

To understand why, we need to understand something about digital camera sensors.

NEXT: The heart of the camera

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