As noted yesterday, the consumer 3D camera space seems to be dwindling as there are broad hints or outright statements that some of the consumer 3D cameras are no more or are likely to fade away in 2013.
But the situation is a bit more nuanced than how that first sounds.
First, 3D is far from dead. Its in everything but no one makes a big deal out of it anymore. It just “is”.
Next, the Fujifilm bridge cameras, the HS50EXR and the SL1000 both have the Fujifilm W3’s “cha cha” mode built in. That is, the W3 has an advanced 3D mode where the camera can take separate left and right images, and you can move the camera as little or as much as you want to change the stereobase. The W3 than aligns the photos in camera and outputs that to an MPO file. The software for this feature was basically ported from the W3 implementation into these new cameras. Thus, some of the W3 feature set lives on and 3D is still a component of the camera line.
Update: We would prefer to see some upgraded 3D integrated camera tech – new sensors with upgraded dynamic range, improved optics and on some cameras, better video. Sadly, that is not happening right now – except for the Sony TD30 and the Samsung NX300. A lot of us shoot stereo shots with two cameras – but convenience, physical size, synchronization, etc all leave room for the integrated 3D camera.
SL1000: (click on any photo for a larger image)
All of the Sony NEX cameras have a “3D Panorama” feature. This is a video feature that let’s you record a slow pan and then it creates a 3D video sequence using the frame offset method. If you are not familiar with this idea, here’s a brief explanation. When we pan the camera, we create a 30 fps sequence of images. We can create a fake 3D from a panned video sequence by taking the original track as the left image and then offsetting by 1 or 2 frames and taking the offset sequence as the right sequence. This creates two sequences – one for the left, and the other for the right eye. Think of it as if you were moving your head from side to side. At one point you capture one eye’s image, but a moment later, your eye has moved a bit further, and we pretend that is the right image. This really works, by the way. I do it all the time.
The Sony WX80 is a new camera that has built-in Wi-Fi and appears to support a 3D “cha cha” mode for still subjects. Unfortunately, the rep was not familiar with the feature in this new camera but it was there on the menu.
Sony has upgraded the TD20 3D video camera to the TD30 model. This appears to return to a 30mm stereobase and lowers the price to US$999. I tried to interpret the specs – it looks like it has a 20 MP sensor which can be used to create high resolution 3D stills as well. I’m not positive on the 3D stills resolution but my interpretation is that these are high res 3D images.
My sense is that the camera makers first tried to have relatively low priced 3D cameras that would appeal to the less sophisticated photographer. These include the W3, the 3D1, the Sony Bloggie 3D, the Z100 and perhaps some others. They did a good job of providing ease of use, but each was also lacking on some key features. The W3’s video capability was weak. The 3D1’s weakness was a 2D display instead of a 3D glass free LCD panel. The Sony Bloggie 3D’s key advantage was low cost, but 8 GB internal RAM and internal battery. The Z100 has its own quirks. In other words, these were compromises – all great little cameras but compromised in terms of appealing to a more sophisticated photographer.
There may have been a mismatch between the product and the customer – these are great cameras for the lower end consumer. But the lower end consumer was not the early adopter. Instead, it was more sophisticated shooters – those of who spend $500 to $1000 on mirrorless and DSLR type cameras and prefer fewer compromises.
The Sony TD10/20/30 is a high priced camera that tries to avoid compromises to yield great 3D video image quality. This is a camera that targeted a more discerning and more advanced amateur or semi-professional audience. And note that Sony has not discontinued this product but continues to refine it – and even lower the price! This suggests they’ve done a bit better match of customers to features and price.
An issue for all the 4k TV sellers is – where does one get 4k content? There isn’t any 4k content now and there is no convenient way to deliver it to the end user. I understand that if you buy the Sony 84″ 4k monitor (price of a nice car), Sony gives you a hard drive filled with 4k movies.
However, Sony has also taken their 2k to 4k image upscaling technology used in their Cinema 4k digital theater projection system and has no coalesced into a new 4k display (I did not get a price). This was demo’d next to a conventional 2k display showing the input to the 4k display. The 4k display upscaled this and did a superb job, in real time, of interpolation, sharpening, color grading, contrast adjustment and noise reduction – it really looked good.
A related issue is where do you get 3D content?
Samsung has added 3D content over the Internet to their TV explorer. The menu has both Youtube and Explore 3D channel, delivered over the Internet:
In addition, Netflix announced that, depending on your ISP, streaming 3D movies will be available to regular Netflix subscribers.
The message: 3D content is coming.
My own belief is that 3D content is going to come over the Internet and may surprise people.
At some point – days or a week or two from now – I hope to write down some thoughts on the business of 3D and what’s gone right and wrong, and what may transpire in the near future to grow this market. Many technologies, business activities, content and consumer demand are slowly coming together to catalyse the 3D market.