The MAGPiX B350 combines a pair of 8x21 binoculars with a built in camera allowing you to see a magnified view of the subject and then use the digital camera's 5x telephoto lens to capture the action. All for just 90!
Main features of the MAGPiX B350
- Resolution Hi (VGA) 640x480 Lo (QVGA) 320x240
- 8Mb built-in memory
- 52 images in Hi Res
- 209 images in Lo Res
- 33mm lens (equiv to 230mm on a 35mm camera)
- f/4 aperture
- Records JPG images
- USB interface
- Weighs 230g
- 115 x 90 x 55mm dimensions
- Uses 2 AAA 1.5v batteries
- Requires 48Mb for Windows 98 and 64Mb for Win XP
|On the initial straight-out-of-box inspection this looks like a very useful bit of kit. I'd previously handled the Pentax Digibinos and here, for a third of the price, is a pair that looks and feels like traditional compact roof prism binoculars. The spec is 8x21, 8x magnification with a 21mm rear objective lens. The binoculars are the same size as conventional ones. They have rubberised coating so you get a good grip and the eye cups fold for spectacle wearers. There's the usual centre focus wheel and right eyepiece dioptre adjustment so you can balance your eyes for a comfortable view. The view is okay. Pretty much like any budget roof prism binocs, sharp in the middle and vignette towards the edges with plenty of fringing and distortion, but overall a decent view and smooth focusing.
The bit that makes them different is the under carriage, in the form of a 640x480pixel digital camera. In terms of handling this does get in the way of your thumbs when holding the binoculars, but it doesn't make them much more cumbersome. Result! Well, yes, if the camera performs!
There are two buttons on the top, one to switch the camera on, select the resolution (Hi or Low) and the self timer, the other to take a photo. A small LCD indicates how many pictures you have left and the resolution you have selected. The shutter button is tiny and the only indication you have to say a photo has been taken is a little bleep followed by one to say the photo is processed and the camera is ready to take another shot. This delay is about six seconds so don't expect to shoot sequences.
|The image on the right shows the field of view given by the binoculars and the full image is the area recorded by the CMOS chip.
|The binoculars offer a close focus of about five metres so you can get a good close up of birds. This is what many of the retailers that sell these suggest the combi is good for. And without reading the instructions I began taking the first test pictures. It wasn't until I started reviewing the out-of-focus shots that I discovered (from the instruction book) that the closest focus of the camera is about 12 metres. Back to the drawing board...or garden!
One of the first photos. Close enough for a sharp binocular view but not for the camera!
|Here's the detail you get when magnifying a photo of a bird that was taken on the Hi resolution setting and at a distance of about 45ft. Could be used to turn into a cross stitch pattern I suppose.
|The camera has a fixed focus and, according to the instructions (I'm reading them now!), autoexposure so you don't have to worry about anything (well not until you see the results!). The manual suggests a top speed of 1/8000sec and recommends you go out and photograph a helicopter in flight to stop its blades mid air. The book is badly translated, but does cover everything to help you use the camera and software, with a troubleshooter should things go wrong.
Typical sunny day and the exposure is awful no detail in the highlights and shadows as black as coal!
|And as there's no option to adjust the exposure, photographing birds in trees will be a disaster...unless the birds happen to have a lighting system rigged up or carry a reflector with them!
Getting your wonderful photos into the computer
|Loading the software is easy it comes on a CD along with Ulead's PhotoExpress 4.0 image-editing program. If you have another program, such as Photoshop, you can install the plug-in and open pictures from within your own program. Go to File>Import> MAGPIX B350 and it will display all the photos. You can then select the ones you want to download and they open up in your program.
|On Windows XP the camera is detected as a video camera when the USB lead is plugged in and you can control it from the computer taking pictures that appear in the Dual-Mode DSC(2770) #3 window as shown on the right. The quality is set to the low setting and you have a magnification and close focus issues to contend with. Probably why there's no mention of this feature in the instructions.
People criticised the Pentax digibinos for being a pair of 100 binoculars and a 100 camera combined with a 300 price tag. And here's a pair of 10 binoculars with a 40 camera and a 100 price tag! Still, shelling out 100 is better than 300. My view is that this is more of a gimmick than a practically useful tool. We're now at a stage where two million pixel cameras can be bought for around 120 and the cropped image from one of them would be just as good (if not better), but you can also use the camera to produce good 4x6photos and you usually have an LCD screen to view the pictures you've just taken.
I was very disappointed with the quality of pictures and was surprised to read a review in one of the newsstand digital imaging magazines where this camera was given an 80% rating with the comment "with plenty of light around, the pictures it takes show just how good VGA stills can be". There were no results to back up the comment though!
Positive points of the MAGPiX B350 are
Solidly built binoculars
Easy to use
Negative points are:
Poor close focus
Picture quality disappointing
No exposure control