James Cameron did it, Harry Potter did it and a whole mess of animated movies did it. Now you can start creating your very own stereoscopic 3-D masterpieces with the latest cameras coming down the pike.
The principle is simple — we humans see the world in three dimensions, sensing depth and distance instinctively, because we have two eyes. Since the eyes are set apart slightly, each gets a slightly different view of any given object. The brain then puts those images together.
A 3-D camcorder necessarily works in a similar way. Two lenses record their slightly different views and the firmware behind the image sensors combines them into a single 3-D video. As with any type of gadget, there’s a range of prices and capabilities; you can easily spend over a thousand bucks, but fairly cheap models are just starting to come onto the market now.
Topping out our high-end field with an MSRP of $1,699.95, the JVC Everio GS-TD1B looks a bit like Luke Skywalker’s electronic binoculars. No attempt is made to downplay the pair of lenses on the front; in fact, they’re ringed by a silver oval just about the exact shape of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Since it records two simultaneous streams of 1080p video, just about everything it does works in 2-D as well as 3-D.
Everything it does is quite a bit, too. Optical image stabilization? Got it. 5X optical zoom in 3-D, 10X in 2-D. The lenses spec in at F1.2, which camera geeks will tell you enables great low-light performance — essential for your eye-popping horror movie. JVC even tried to invent a word, biphonic, for its 3-D sound recording technology. Unfortunately, biphonic already refers to the musical construction of a single droning tone underneath a melody; presumably the camcorder can record plenty of sounds other than that.
The Everio’s 3.5-inch touch screen displays 3-D without the need for glasses, and included software helps you edit and output 2-D or 3-D DVDs or Blu-ray discs. 64GB of built-in memory and an SDXC slot provide storage space for hours and hours of recording.
For a little less money, you can combine one of Panasonic’s several 3-D-compatible camcorders with their VW-CLT1 lens, available for as little as $200. The exact capabilities vary with your model of camcorder, but the lens itself records two images, each at 960 x 1080. That’ half the width of full HD, but you get the full width back by playing in the modern side-by-side 3-D method.
For the really cheap, there are a couple options under $300. The Sony Bloggie 3D does full HD in the compressed MP4 format for $249.99. The 2.4-inch screen doesn’t require glasses, and a mini HDMI connector outputs to a 3-D-capable television easily. The pair of F2.8 lenses can’t compete with the JVC Everio, but for 1/6 the cost, who’s complaining? The focus here is sharing home movies, and the built-in software uploads old-fashioned red-and-blue video to YouTube, Facebook and more.
You can go even cheaper with Aiptek or Viewsonic camcorders with many of the same features as the Bloggie, but they only support 720p 3-D. Besides that, you hold them vertically like a Flip camcorder, so the dual lenses end up looking a bit too Johnny Five to be taken seriously by your subjects.
Next week: video is great and all, but 3-D still photos are awesome too. Choose brand new equipment or learn to create 3-D pictures with your old camera and free software.