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3-D Photography (Stereoscopy)

I have long been fascinated by stereoscopy (aka 3-D photography), but I only recently got into the production of it. 

The recently renewed and extended interest was inspired in large part by my purchase and love of the Sony NEX-5 camera (see DP Review's exhaustive Sony NEX-5 review). I bought the camera in part because of my fascination with its panorama and 3-D panorama capabilities, and the degree to which photos can become immersive.  The feeling one can get from looking at panormas as well as 3-D photographs is eerily like being there as your brain believes the depth, and automatically fills in the spaces behind the protruding shapes with the expectations that things actually exist where you cannot see them.

Introduction to Stereoscopy

What most people don't realize is how many options there are for viewing a 3-D digital photo.  Using the fantastic and free Stereo Photo Maker viewer you can take a 3-D file (all popular formats, including side-by-side JPG, JPS, and the new MPO) and select the viewing method that works best for you.  The viewing options include using the traditional multi-colored (usually red and cyan) anaglyph glasses that everyone has used at some point, the use of parallel glasses (which lets your eyes merge two side-by-side photos into one), free/cross-eyed viewing (where you use no glasses and just cross your eyes, this method is not easy for everyone, I haven't mastered it), and other more exotic options including support for specific 3-D monitors, lenticular overlays, etc.

While I love my camera's ability to do native 3-D panoramas, the method they use has limitations.  To create the 3-D panorama you set the appropriate mode and then sweep the camera in a horizontal arc until it tells you to stop (I think it aptures about 270 degrees, at the widest setting).  The camera then quickly stitches these photos together using its embedded software and generates the 3-D MPO file.  While brilliant, the act of stitching these photos together introduces a few problems.  If the scene you are capturing has any motion between the overlapping stitched shots, you'll see odd ghosting, see the same person multiple times, etc.  And while the stitching is itself done very, very well, you will likely notice subtle tell-tale peculiarities.  And the act of capturing the 3-D panorama is not a subtle one, anyone nearby will know something unusual is happening as the camera snaps away loudly as you move it through space for those long five seconds; if you are unlucky, or unpracticed, the camera will tell you that you were moving too fast or too slowly and make you try again.  I wanted a solution to let my camera take instant, non-stitched-together 3-D photos.  And I found that solution in the Loreo line of lenses

But first, let's talk about how you can view yours or other people's 3-D content.

Anaglyph Viewing (red/cyan glasses)

These are the glasses, often disposable, that you often get free to view a 3-D movie on TV or to look at some magazine advertisement in 3-D.  I just picked up a dozen or so carboard and plastic sets for free at an Armani Exchange store running a gimmicky marketing event.  But, you can buy a nice pair for about $2 on Amazon.

  With these glasses you can see the image of my dog, Osita, in 3-D.    

The great thing about this method is that it's the most easily accessible, and it lets you see images in 3-D as big as your computer display.  The problem is that by layering the images and by using color as the medium for isolating one image for each eye the original image loses resolution and some color fidelity.  Some images which happen to be free of problem colors will will look great, others won't.

Parallel Viewing

The best method for cheap, easy, universal viewing of 3-D images is to use parallel glasses.  You can buy a cheap, disposable Loreo Pixi Viewer for about $3.50.

The huge advantage with this method is the clarity and color fidelity is unaltered, you can't get a better looking stereoscopic effect.  The problem is that the method requires placing two images side-by-side, so the size of the image you see in 3-D will be limited to half the width of your display.  Further, many glasses, such as the Loreo Pixie Viewer are tuned to work at a certain distance from the image, and images which aren't fully in the field of view at that distance won't work; so don't expect to to maximize the viewer on your big screen monitor.  See the Pokescope for an example of a great set of parallel glasses which can be adjusted to work with any image size.

The above can be viewed with parallel glasses.

3-D TVs / Monitors

Another option is to view your 3-D photos on a HDTV, monitor, laptop, or portable viewer. 

Quite a few 3-D HDTVs have come out this year and I recently bought one of them, the Sony Bravia HX800 which can display 3-D content with shutter glasses.  While I love the TV, its ability to display my 3-D photos has so far not impressed me.  While the TV can display 2-D photos natively via a USB memory stick, it is incapable of displaying 3-D photos via USB stick.  The only way to display your 3-D images is by connecting your camera directly to the screen via HDMI.  You are then left with a draining battery and a disappointingly primitive viewer, you can go next and previous, choose between 2-D or 3-D display, and you can enlarge a photo but not pan when you've enlarged it.  And the image displayed doesn't feel real, doesn't feel it has much depth or the sharp/crispness of reality; I'm not sure exactly what the explanation is.  If you have a Sony PlayStation 3 you can also view your 3-D photos with it instead of your camera.  You will first need to download the free PlayMemories viewer from the PlayStation Store.  You will then plug in a USB stick with your MPO formatted 3-D files (use Stereo Photo Maker to convert the images to this format). PlayMemories frustratingly cannot  play the images directly from the USB stick; it will need to copy the files from the stick onto the hard drive.  The benefit of this approach is that I don't run down my camera's short-lived battery and the PlayMemories interface is a slight improvement, allowing zooming and panning (and organization of photos by date, which is better than the camera, but still not better than by folders).  The images still lack the punch of using two side-by-side images and parallel glasses.

A few new 3-D laptops are out which are a nice portable option for viewing your 3-D images soon after you taken them.  I'm particularly excited by the HP Envy 17" 3-D laptop that just came out.

One very interesting option that's supposed to come out soon is the Aiptek Portable 3-D Display which uses a lenticular display, meaning you won't need to wear glasses to see the images displayed in 3-D.  The 3-D effect is created by the lenticular overlay which allows the display to contain alternating columns of pixels for each eye and the lenticular ridges present your right eye with the right eye's columns of pixels, and your left eye with the left eye's columns of pixels.  The effect is often good, but I have yet to see a great demonstration of the technology.  The viewing angle where the effect works is very narrow, and the images are lower resolution than they could be because the display is wasting 50% of it's pixels.

If you have a standalone PC you can buy a suitable video card and a suitable 120 Hz 3-D capable monitor, to achieve results similar to a 3-D HDTV.

The big hurdle to effective 3-D reality in an electronic displays is delivering separate, pristine images to each eye, and sadly no technology has yet managed to do that flawlessly.

3-D Content Online

YouTube in 3-D

YouTube has quite a lot of 3-D videos and if the users uploaded the file in the proper format you can choose which viewing method you want (anaglyph, parallel, etc.).  Check out the YouTube collection of 3-D videos!


There are several very active 3-D groups on Flickr.  Check out the Anaglyph group , the Comin' At Ya group, and the Loreo group.

Let me know about your favorite online sites for viewing 3-D photos and video.

Turn Your Camera into a 3-D Camera with a Loreo Lens

While there are some interesting 3-D camera entering the market, notably the Fuji FinePix W1, you don't have to buy a new camera to take 3-D photos, you just need to buy a new lens!  If your camera uses interchangeable lenses you can just buy a Loreo lens and begin taking your own 3-D photos. 

The Loreo lenses work by replacing your one lens with two integrated lenses and splitting your dcurrent igital frame into two halves, one half for each lens.  The down side of this approach is that you effectively lose half the horizontal resolution of your camera, turning your 12 MP camera into a 6 MP camera.  Losing resolution is a sacrifice, to be sure, but well worth it if you passionately love your particular camera and its particular capabilities, as I do.  The resulting side-by-side image can be viewed with parallel glasses or converted to any of the other common formats with Stereo Photo Maker.

Loreo has two 3-D lenses, a macro lens for shooting subjects closer than 3 ft and a traditional lens for shooting subjects further away than 5 ft away.  These ranges can be a bit of a problem, or at least will require you to plan your shots carefully, as objects between 3 ft and 5 ft are out of the range of both lenses.  Also, the traditional lens is effectively an 80mm lens, which zooms in on subjects more than you might expect or want, thus even though you can shoot objects as near as 5 ft you'll probably not fit enough of the subject in at that distance.   

Both lenses are manual focus and manual aperture.  The focus is critical but relatively straight forward and forgiving, the focus slide only has a handful of stops.  It is important to note that the focus adjustment also adjusts the parallax (or angle) of how the two lenses converge.  Get it completely wrong and worse than blurry pictures you'll have pictures that you won't be able to synthesize into a 3-D image (the image will instead be painful to look at).  The aperture options are few, and I generally leave mine wide open since I have been shooting mostly under light conditions where I need the fastest setting to avoid blurriness.  The lenses are fantastic, but their light requirements and the distance they require from your subject make them less than ideal for shooting an intimate, indoor dinner party.

The Loreo lenses aren't the best option for point-and-shoot people looking for the simplest solution to capture their world in 3-D, the Fuji FinePix W1 is probably the best go to camera for that now.  But, if you're an artist, an enthusiast, or unwilling to give up on your current beloved camera, these things are amazing and fun!

I bought my lenses and some additional supplies from eBay seller 3dwalt and was extremely pleased with his level of support in picking the right items and shipping it all right away.


If your camera is like mine, you may need an adapter to attach these lenses.  Loreo does not make lenses that attach directly to the E-mount body of the Sony NEX-5.  To use the Loreo lenses I chose to buy Loreo lenses suitable for a Canon EOS mount and then buy a Canon EOS to Sony E-mount adapter; I bought mine from Rainbow Imaging for $24.99 and it does just what it's supposed to.

Traditional Lens

The Loreo 9005: 3-D Lens in a Cap is the lens you'll likely use the most, it's perfect for capturing large scenes and subjects at a bit of a distance.  You can get one of these lenses for about $170.

And now a photo of it mounted on my tiny little NEX-5.


The lens with the adapter more than triple the size of my camera! 

Macro Lens

If you are likely to be taking pictures of objects closer than 33 inches (but farther away than 9 inches), you'll need the Loreo 9006: 3-D Macro Lens in a Cap.  The lens sells for about $125.

Here's what it looks like on my camera, thankfully a bit less unwieldy than the traditional lens, if only it had a bit larger range! 🙂

Shooting the world with my Loreo lenses is a blast, but it can be a labor of love.  I am still very much learning the art of using these lenses to achieve the best results.  I am still learning to judge distance better for quick focusing, learning to better manually control my camera's ISO setting in low light, to ensure that I avoid both blurriness and noisiness.  And I am still learning to choose my shots to ensure my distance from the subjects is good and to compose my scenes to ensure the 3-D effect contributes to the immersive nature of the shot.

My Photos So Far

I've only just begun, but here are a few examples of the photos I've taken.  Stereo Photo Maker can export your photos with a Flash-based viewer that lets users choose how they want to view your 3-D photos.  Enjoy!

You can also see my other 3-D related posts.


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