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September 23, 2004

Instant Replay images come up short with camera-binoculars from Bushnell

The idea behind Bushnell Corp.'s Instant Replay sounds great: high-quality binoculars equipped to shoot digital photos or streaming video.

Who wouldn't want to grab solid footage of great athletes without having to lay out the money for field-level seats or wrestle with a zoom lens?

But the Instant Replay is not the easy solution.

The binoculars feature eight-fold magnification and, at a pound and a half, are relatively easy to hold, though the hand strap will be uncomfortably loose for most users. Unlike regular binoculars, the unit doesn't bend to fit the user's face. It can be adjusted horizontally, however, and is comfortable.

The Instant Replay comes with a built-in 2.1-megapixel digital camera and the ability to record video at 15 frames per second for up to 30 seconds. It ships with a 16-megabyte compact flash card.

A flip-up LCD screen allows you to see what you're shooting, and the onboard software lets you cycle through images and delete those you don't want.

Despite the great binocular capability, the camera is using its own lens, which has nowhere near the same magnification. It is hard to focus, and you are better off using the LCD screen to adjust the sharpness of images and video.

I took Instant Replay to a baseball game. From the upper deck, I could see batters' expressions, but the photos and video appeared to be shot from only a few rows in front of me.

The unit is bulky and requires a very steady hand when pressing the shutter. It does come with a place to attach a tripod, which is probably the only way to get sharp images.

And for a product being marketed to sports fans and meant for action shots, it has a very slow shutter. Every time I tried to get an image of the pitcher, either I missed the ball entirely or got a blurry image. My wife, a professional photographer, got similar results.

Instant Replay, which retails for $600, comes with its own USB cord and software to download to your computer.

David Twiddy/Associated Press

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