Which 3D cameras to use?

You can shoot 3D using one camera, paired cameras or by using specially built 3D integrated cameras. This section is a brief summary of the concepts – the details of the different camera scenarios are described in the Guide to 3D Still Photography, at right.


The most complete solution for processing your 3D photos is StereoPhoto Maker, created by Matsuji Sudo, and available for free download. How to use this software is also described in Guide to 3D Still Photography.

Another option is to use the PhereoShop program available at Phereo.com (free and paid versions available). Phereo is a web site that hosts 3D still photos for sharing online (much like Flickr does for 2D still photos). Phereo is unique in that uploaded 3D photos can be viewed in multiple ways depending on the needs of the viewer. That means they can be viewed using colored filter glasses (e.g. red/cyan glasses), viewed on a full color 3D monitor, or viewed using some “no glasses needed” methods including cross-eyed format or the “wiggle” method.

One Camera

For shooting 3D still photos – of still subjects – you can experiment with 3D by taking a photo and then moving your camera a slight amount left or right to take a 2nd photo. The two photos can then be combined into a single stereo photo using StereoPhoto Maker software (free download but it runs only in Windows – but see note below).

When sliding the camera left or right, keep track of which photo is going to be the “left” and which is going to be the “right”. This will make processing simpler.

The distance the camera is moved between shots is known as the interaxial distance. For example, human eyes are spaced about 2 1/2 inches apart (65 cm). When shooting 3D, we may choose to space the left and right shots either less or more than this, depending on the nature of the scene.  Very close subjects may look best with very small movements – 1/2 inch (1 cm) or even less. Distant objects, such as mountains, may look best with the lens separation measured in feet (or meters). You can experiment and develop a feel for the relative lens spacing, although smartphone calculators to help select an optimal setting are available. Please consult Guide to 3D Still Photography for more information.

Two Cameras

By mounting two identical cameras on a rail (as simple as a piece of flat wood with holes drilled for 1/4-20 bolts to screw into the cameras’ tripod mounts), you can set up dual cameras for 3D. For relatively static subjects, you can use your fingers to trip the shutter buttons on both cameras are nearly the same time. This method can work well except for faster moving subjects – if the cameras are not synchronized, the fast moving subject will appear in slightly different locations in the left and right images.

An alternatives, besides using an integrated 3D camera, is to use pairs of certain Canon cameras (lower end models, mostly, like the Powershot line) combined with a special version of CHDK called StereoData Maker (or SDM). Using a modified USB cable, SDM software enables synchronization of two Canon cameras. (Note – CHDK is a “hack” for Canon cameras. I have installed it on one Canon camera and it works great. SDM is a modified version of CHDK – you only need install SDM, not both CHDK and SDM.)

SDM works mostly with older Canon cameras; some are still available new but many are available at fantastic prices on the used market.

Integrated 3D Cameras

Until very recently, some excellent all-in-one 3D cameras were made by Fujifilm and Panasonic, respectively. The Fujifilm W1 and its successor the W3, and the Panasonic Lumix 3D1. Unfortunately, the entire camera market has been seeing tough times as smart phones gradually replace the low end compact camera market. Camera makers have responded by eliminating product lines that were selling in lower quantities, and that meant that both Fujifilm and Panasonic have discontinued their integrated 3D still cameras.

At the time of this writing, a year after the products were discontinued, you can still find many new and used cameras on EBay, Amazon and even on Craigslist.

There are also some integrated 3D video cameras, but at the consumer level, many of these have also been discontinued for the same reason.

Using StereoPhoto Maker on Mac OS X

StereoPhoto Maker is a Windows application. It can be run on Mac OS X systems using any of the following methods (instructions not provided here though):

  1. Use the Mac OS X software “Wineskin Winery” to wrap the Windows executable file with the WINdows Emulator (WINE). The resulting file encapsulates the Windows .exe program file inside a Windows “emulator” (think “simulator” if you prefer) that enables some Windows programs to run directly on Mac OS X (really). I have StereoPhoto Maker running as a WINE-enabled app on my Macbook.
  2. Use Parallels or VMWare to create a “virtual machine” on Mac OS X and load a licensed copy of Windows into the virtual machine. This works well.
  3. Use Apple Boot Camp to create a dual boot Mac system that enables starting the Mac in OS X or in Windows, and then run StereoPhoto Maker in Windows.

You are on your own if you choose this approach, especially with Wineskin Winery. I had to dig around a bit to get SPM running in Winery but it was not too bad at all.

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