|Getting Started in Digital Camera 3D-Photography
One User's Report
|© by David Starkman (Culver City/CA, USA)|
Recently I got started in stereo digital 3D-Photography with a pair of Sony DSC P43 4.1 megapixel cameras that have been electrically synchronized for both on/off and shutter firing functions. They are neatly mounted on a very accurate aluminum frame, one camera right side up, and one upside down. With slotted tripod screw channels this allows for 3 easy- to-set lens bases as follows: Close: 54mm (2 1/8"), (cameras closest together), Medium: 70mm (2.75") (one camera moved to outer position), Distant: 85mm (3.35") (both cameras moved to outer positions).
This rig has been created by Jacob van Ekeren in Holland, who has been well known in recent years for the excellent custom 3-D slide viewers that he has been making. His viewers, and his new digital camera 3-D rigs (there are several different camera models available) are marketed in the USA by 3D Concepts ( http://www.make3dimages.com). Outside the USA they may be purchased by contacting Jacob directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For many years I've watched my partner, Susan Pinsky, enjoy the benefits of 2-D digital camera photography, but have personally been holding out on doing more than just dabble in digital photography until I could make or find a 3-D digital rig that would satisfy my basic requirements. (More on those basic requirements later). I'm pleased to say that with the acquisition of this rig my search has ended (at least for now).
How did I find these cameras? Interested in learning more about digital 3D-Photography, I was pleased to find that at the National Stereoscopic Association annual convention last July in Portland, Oregon there was a Digital 3-D workshop. I attended this workshop, which ended up lasting about 3 hours, and learned a lot about how other people have been doing digital 3-D.
After a lot of talk about the basic requirements needed, the bottom line of the workshop was that the best system (they claimed) is a rig that uses 2 Sony digital cameras (Such as the DSC-V1 or DSC-V3 models) that have LANC output connectors, and a LANC/Shepherd "box" which basically synchronizes turning the cameras on, firing the shutters, and synchronized zoom. An LCD display indicates the number of milliseconds that the shutters will fire within each other on the two cameras. However, the box does not actually synchronize the cameras, but by synchronizing turning the cameras ON at the same time, the shutter firing will be in close synch, and the display will indicate the degree of synch. If it is not close enough, one powers the cameras off and on again for better synch. The purpose of this article is not to explain this system, as full details are available at the following web site: http://pages.sbcglobal.net/rcrock/lancshep.
Because the Sony cameras that have the LANC jacks are "higher end" cameras one would assume that these would the most professional and highest quality currently available for digital 3-D. However, the LANC controller does not assure or control synch, so the higher end cameras offered by van Ekeren offer an attractive alternative. The main advantage of the LANC controller system is that of not requiring ANY modification of the cameras themselves, and it allows zooming in synch. Instructions note that shutter synch can drift, and zoom should be reset after a number of repetitions. For the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) fans, this possibly offers an attractive combination. (More on DIY later).
The LANC-connected cameras did NOT satisfy a couple of my personal basic requirements (at least for MY first digital 3-D camera rig). These are: 1) simplicity, and 2) compactness (which includes light in weight). (See the cover of 2004 Stereo World Vol. 30, No. 4 to see exactly the sort of rig that I did not want!).
However, I learned a lot from this workshop, which helped me to decide to order the Sony P43 rig, which was on display as a prototype at the NSA convention in Portland. I learned that one of the key features in synching two digital cameras is to have them power on simultaneously. The second feature is to fire simultaneously. Some test photos of moving subjects, taken with the prototypes, convinced me that the P43 rig would satisfy me.
By direct wiring, the Sony P43 3D rig is connected to achieve just these two features only - without the use of a separate electronic box. (The only visible modification is the addition of synch wires to the cameras). My experience so far is that the synch has been so good that having a display to tell you how far out of synch the cameras are is simply not necessary.
Without a separate synch box, and with a compact aluminum frame to hold the two cameras, this rig also satisfied my requirement of compactness and lightness. The P43 cameras have turned out to be quite simple to use. By use of a wide multi-pattern sampling area for focus and exposure, I have found that the image matching of two otherwise completely separate cameras is simply excellent when the cameras are left in their full auto modes (in keeping with the simplicity requirement). The basic P43 cameras themselves are relatively low cost, so the final rig, while a bit more than double the price of the cameras alone, is still reasonable, and well worth the cost (in my opinion) of the electrical and mechanical work done to create the completed camera assembly.
I won't explain all of the features of the Sony P43 camera, as these can be looked up doing a Google search on that camera model. For more details on all of the 3-D models available contact 3D Concepts (USA) or Jacob van Ekeren (for the rest of the world).
(Note - for those of you who find the P43 too basic, or want more Megapixels, Jacob offers several other models based on more sophisticated, and more expensive, cameras, the Sony P100 and P150. Check out the Dutch website http://home.hetnet.nl/~wolkers1960/3digitaal/index.html for more details. If you paste the URL into the Alta Vista translations page, it will be translated into English - almost.)
Once I got the cameras I found that, as a beginner in this digital world, there were a number of things that I had to learn just to get started. In this I was helped greatly by a series of articles by Paul Richard that appeared in the last several issues of the "Stereoscopic Society Journal of 3-D Imaging" (available from http://www.stereoscopicsociety.org.uk ).
First, Paul explains how he built a rig that mechanically synchs two simple digital cameras. I've seen Paul's rigs at the Stereoscopic Society's annual convention, and they are quite amazing. They are also quite beyond my mechanical skills as a Do-It-Yourself constructor. I don't really recommend this method, however, if you want to take on the job of mechanically synchronizing two digital cameras, Issue Number 163 of the "Stereoscopic Society Journal of 3-D Imaging" covers this in detail. Four consecutive issues from Number 162 to 165 (Autumn 2003 to Summer 2004) contain a complete series of articles by Mr. Richard for the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) digital 3-D enthusiast.
Paul's writings in issue Number 164, pages 27 to 30, dealt with the subject of what to do with the separate right and left digital image files, once you have them. At first I thought that some of his suggestions seemed a little bit complicated, but I could not come up with something simpler, so I have used his methods, and am pleased enough to want to pass along the basic ideas for you to take advantage of.
First, within the My Documents/My Pictures folder of your computer (PC is assumed - if you have a Mac, you can modify this to whatever folder you normally put pictures in) create a subfolder file named "Stereo Incoming". Within that folder make another subfolder named "Template". Within the template folder create 4 folders named: _Right, _Left, _Merged, and _Edited.
These will all be used later, when you have taken right and left digital stereo photos, and need a place to logically store the files.
When you have shot pictures with the digital 3-D rig, and are ready to upload them, note that you still have separate right and left memory cards for the image files.
Before uploading the image files, you first have to create folders to put the files into. This is where Paul's article proved invaluable in getting organized in this regard. Without organization and the use of folders it becomes very difficult to keep track of where your images are!
Paul suggested using the date, but I prefer a combination of description and date for each folder. For this example I'll pretend this is a group of family pictures and will use the name Family12004. (for Family photos shot in 12/2004 - you get the idea!).
First I create the Family12004 subfolder folder in the My Documents/My Pictures/Stereo Incoming folder. Then I go to the Template folder that is in the same Stereo Incoming folder and highlight and copy the 4 file names that have been left there. Then I go back to the Family12004 folder and paste the 4 folder names into it. Then it's back to the name of the Family12004 folder and highlight and copy the name Family12004 and then open the Family12004 where there are now the 4 folders labeled _Right, _Left, _Merged, and _Edited. By highlighting each name until it is white in its name box (it takes 3 clicks on each name) I then paste the filename in front of each of the 4 template names, so I end up with 4 subfolders named as follows: Family12004_Right, Family12004_Left, Family12004_Merged, and Family12004_Edited.
As I previously stated, this may seem a bit complicated, but once you've done it a few times it is actually quite quick and easy to do, and helps keep the files organized for 3-D work.
Once these folders have been created, you are ready to upload the images from the memory cards. I highly recommend getting a low-cost memory card reader, rather than uploading through the camera connecting cables. It just seems a lot simpler. The latest model computers all seem to have multi-format card readers built-in, too!
I start with the right memory card, as these images are right side up, and it is easier to view the thumbnails and decide on selecting image groups if there are more than one folder name group of images on a single card. For this example, I will upload all the images on the right card to Family12004_Right.
Once this is done I repeat the process and upload all of the images from the left card to Family12004_Left.
One can choose to use the Copy or Move features. I normally MOVE the files, as this removes them from the card, leaving it emptied for putting back into the camera for more shooting.
Now I have the sets of right and left image files stored in their respective folders.
The next step is what to do with the files once you have stored them!
To combine the Left and Right files I open one of the wonderful programs that have been created for the manipulation of digital 3-D images. Many of these are available as free downloads, and can be found at http://www.stereoscopy.com/downloads .
I have to admit that I have several of these programs, as each has different features that I like. Once of the best of the free PC programs is Stereo PhotoMaker (SPM), available at http://stereo.jpn.org/eng/ and described on the web site as follows:
StereoPhoto Maker (be sure to get the LATEST Version! - 2.22 as of this writing)
StereoPhoto Maker (SPM) is one of the best freeware Stereo-Photo Editing programs around and functions both as a versatile stereo image editor and stereo image viewer. It is supportive and friendly to most stereo viewing methods (Freeviewing [Parallel-eyed or Cross-eyed], Anaglyphic [color anaglyphs or grayscale anaglyphs], Liquid Crystal Shutter Glasses [Interlacing or Page Flipping]). Position, Angle, Size and Darkness of the left-right image can be adjusted very easily. Other functions: Zoom In/Out (operated with mouse wheel), Left-Right Image swap, Trimming, Resize, Print etc.... Requires Windows 98SE, 2000, Me or XP. Both Japanese and German Versions are also available.
MOST IMPORTANT. Thanks to the responsiveness of the author Masuji SUTO, the latest version of SPM supports INVERTING the Left image as you import the separate Right and Left image files into the program. Since the Left camera is mounted upside down in this configuration, this simplifies the alignment process considerably!
All of the other programs I use are available from the Stereoscopy.com download page, except for Pokescope Pro, which is available at http://www.pokescope.com (and is NOT free).
I will not do a step-by-step tutorial on using any of the 3-D image editing programs. Each one has it's own help files and tutorials. The advantage of these programs is the way that they easily let you open your left and right image files and then align them, set the stereo window (the convergence point of the images), crop them as a pair, and do various manipulations (such as adjust brightness, rotate not level images, match image size, fix height errors, etc. - only if needed of course!).
Once you have cropped and adjusted the stereo pair to your liking, these programs offer a choice of how you want to save them, such as anaglyphs, or side-by-side pairs. Another option is to save the separate right and left image files, and this is where the "_Merged" folder is used. For example, let's say that I have just finished cropping and aligning the first Test Picture. In StereoPhoto Maker, if I choose the Save Left/Right Image option it will take the name I give the image and create separate files with this name and _l and _r extensions for the left and right images. These separate Left & Right image files located together are handy to have for doing later work with the images, and makes it easier to find and use them with the 3-D editing programs. For this example I put the named L/R pairs into the Test12004_Merged folder. (Theoretically, once you have saved ALL of the Left/Right images that you want to keep into the Merged folder one could consider deleting the original separate Left and Right folders to save space.)
The 3-D editing programs also allow you to save the manipulated image pairs as an anaglyph or side-by-side stereo pair, and, in this case, I would save them to the Test12004_Edited folder, as ready-to-view images.
Naming your images can be a great descriptive help. For example, I use NAMEanag.jpg for anglyphs, NAMEsv4x6.jpg for 4" x 6" side-by-side print stereoviews, and NAMEsv5x7.jpg for classic 3.5" x 7" stereoviews printed on 5" x 7" paper (and trimmed after getting them back from the lab).
Most of these programs seem to be one-author programs, and being updated with some regularity as feedback from users comes in. (So check periodically for updates on whatever ones you are using.)
Pokescope Pro has one feature I like that I have not yet found in the other programs. It has attractive templates for easily making side-by-side pairs on standard 4" x 6" print paper, or classic 3.5" x 7" cards (with a choice of straight or curved tops) printed on 5" x 7" paper. Again, I won't do a tutorial on this, as full information may be found at http://www.pokescope.com . However, I will show an example of a curved top classic stereo card that I was able to create in just a few minutes with this program.
Once the print files are adjusted and sized for the size prints that you want, they may be copied onto a CD, or back onto a memory card, for taking to a lab that does prints from digital files. As an example, at my local Costco lab, I'm getting 4" x 6" prints for $0.19 each, and 5" x 7" prints (that I trim to 3.5" x 7" later) for about $0.60 each.
As of this writing I have not yet converted any of my digital images into slides, but I have seen slides made from digital image files at our local stereo club, and at the Stereoscopic Society.
Unless you own an expensive film recorder, the only way to get slides from digital files is to send them (by email attachment) to a service bureau such as http://www.colorslide.com or http://www.slides.com . The web sites of these companies explains the process of getting slides made from digital files.
If 3-D slides are your main goal, you may want to pass on digital 3D-Photography for the moment, as the cost is around $2.50 per slide, and that's 2 slides for each stereo pair! If you'd be happy with on-screen viewing, and mostly anaglyph or side-by-side prints, with occasional slides, then digital 3-D has a lot of advantages to offer!
Rigs like the ones being made by Jacob van Ekeren, and those using the LANC Shepherd box now make this an easy possibility.
We can only hope that in the not-too-distant future that one of the big camera manufacturers might consider making a true all-in-one digital 3-D camera. Unlike a 3-D film camera, a 3-D digital camera would be much simpler and cheaper to construct.
With a number of 3-D image editing programs available, it would be easy to envision one that is dedicated to a sequential Left/Right series of pictures from a single 3-D digital camera, and which could automatically convert them for viewing as anglyphs or prints with just a click or two!
As digital flat photography is rapidly replacing traditional film photography, it may be just a matter of time until we see a similar revolution in 3-D imaging.
Just as I was completing this article I was made aware of a superb online article by John Hart that was just posted at http://www.crystalcanyons.net/Pages/3DGuidebook/Digital3D.shtm
This article covers many of the same topics that I have, and in much more technical detail. John has taken the DIY route using the LANC Shepherd controller, and a beautifully self-made aluminum bracket. For those of you who want more camera features, and have DIY constructing skills, this article will tell you all you need to know.
John Hart's article also includes a great ILLUSTRATED tutorial on using StereoPhoto Maker, as well as other useful tips on processing your stereo digital images, and concludes with what you can do with all of those stereo images once you have taken and processed them with SPM.
Another last-minute bonus! When I got these digital cameras my only thought was to create still 3D pictures. However, the cameras are also capable of taking MPEG videos. I didn't consider this, as I assumed that preparing them to view would be difficult. Thanks to Masuji SUTO, the latest version of StereoMovie Maker (SMM), available from the same website as StereoPhoto Maker, will support Inverting the left camera movie. This program will allow you to import Left and Right MPEG or AVI files, align them, and then play them back in several formats, including side-by-side, anaglyph, or interlaced. Then you can store the final movie as an AVI file that can be viewed easily on any computer. (Warning! These take up a lot of memory!).
With the cost of digital equipment dropping, and the power and capabilities increasing daily, this offers a fun and EASY way to create 3-D images without the processing and mounting obstacles of making 3-D slides or traditional trim-and-paste stereo cards!
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