Sony now lets you take 3D videos and stills on the cheap with a compact, easy-to-use MPEG-4 camera. Is it worth spending extra to enter the next dimension?
The Flip may be heading for extinction, but we have to hand it to the short-lived company — it designed pocket-sized, practically button- and control-free camcorders that were drop-dead simple to use. Turn them on, frame your shot, press record and you’re done. We’ve had issues with the The Flip and its 10,000 copycats simply because they don’t have optical zooms or take photos or videos befitting a 50-inch flat-panel HDTV. But, hey, that’s just us.
Sony still dominates the market of what we call full-featured camcorders like the HDR-CX130 that take videos made for HDTVs. Yet even this mainstay of traditional camcorders saw the writing on the wall and introduced Flip knockoffs several years ago with their Bloggie line-up. Bloggies follow The Flip gestalt with minimal buttons and ease of use — as you can see by the accompanying photos.
What separates the Bloggie 3D (MHS-FS3) from hundreds of Flip wannabes is its two lenses for 3D videos and stills. For the record, Sony isn’t the first MPEG-4 3D camcorder out there, but it’s clearly the most well-known brand (Aiptek and Viewsonic are among the others). The two f/2.8 fixed-focus lenses on the Bloggie 3D equal 47mm in 16:9 mode and 41mm in 4:3. Beyond the lenses, you won’t see too much other than an LED light, two subtle logos and a nicely textured surface (it’s only available in black).
The rear has a 2.4-inch auto-stereoscopic LCD rated 230K pixels that lets you see your 3D videos and stills without glasses. The screen is dark — definitely not the greatest — and the 3D effects aren’t knockouts. It’s not nearly as good as the LCD of the JVC GS-TD1 but that fully-featured 3D camcorder costs five times as much. Looking at the Bloggie 3D horizontally, the way you should shoot 3D images, you’ll find three buttons on the right side of the screen. Text and icons appear opposite them, and you’ll choose your options (2D/3D shooting, menu, playback and so on) by pressing them. It’s a simple as can be. To the right is a red dot record button surrounded by a four-way controller for other basic options such as the self-timer, turning on the light and adjusting the 4x digital zoom in 2D (there’s no zooming in 3D).
Held horizontally, the top of the Bloggie 3D has stereo mics, a three-pinhole speaker, as well as power and shutter buttons. On the bottom of the made-in-China camcorder is a compartment for the USB arm, which pops up via a nearby switch. Next to it is a mini HDMI out and eyelets for the wrist strap, while on the right side is a tripod mount. There’s no card slot, as it has 8GB of memory which is good for 80 minutes of best-quality video. The compact camcorder measures 2.25 x 4.37 x .68 (W x H x D in inches) and tips the scales at 4.4 ounces.
This is one tiny box, as you’ll find little else beyond the camcorder. There are two small instruction booklets, a USB cable, wrist strap and a warranty card. We plugged the Bloggie 3D into our PC’s USB port, charged the battery, installed the built-in software and were good to go.
You gotta love the size and form factor of the Bloggie 3D. It’s smaller and lighter than our Droid smartphone, so it was easy carrying it everywhere. The camcorder starts up in about three seconds, then you’ll encounter one of its biggest drawbacks — the 2.4-inch auto-stereoscopic screen. One can’t expect miracles for a $250 camera, but we’d like to see more defined 3D effects. You can adjust it, yet the overall effect was weak no matter what we tried. What’s worse is the fact the screen is very dark when you’re in 3D mode. This can be good in bright sunshine, but we definitely had to squint while framing our shots. The screen brightens a bit when you depress the shutter half way, but it’s not super bright or distinct. Fortunately, in 2D, the LCD is much brighter and we had no issues using it.
We used the Bloggie 3D over the course of a few weeks capturing 2D and 3D scenes. As we’ve noted, we’re still in the learning stage of what makes good 3D. At a recent press event with producers and execs from ESPN 3D, they stressed the same thing. They too were learning where to position cameras, how to pan, cut and so on. This made us feel better, but here’s one thing we’ve learned: Your main subject for stills should be between eight to 15 feet away like the silvery statue of Andy Warhol in Manhattan (you can see the 2D version). As for videos, that is still a work in progress.
Taking stills or videos is still as simple as can be, artistic considerations aside. The Bloggie 3D, like The Flip, is easy to use, with barely a reason to crack open the manual, which is supplied as a PDF. Since this really is a point-and-shoot, the camera handles all adjustments. Frame your shot, press the shutter half way and it fires when a green dot appears. Occasionally, the Bloggie 3D didn’t grab focus quickly but moving it slightly did the trick. What did you expect — the 39-point focusing system of the Nikon D7000?
The $249 Bloggie 3D has a 5-megapixel CMOS sensor, so your maximum still quality is 5 megapixels in 2D, just like most cellphones. It drops to 2 megapixels in 3D mode (MPO files). Videos can be captured at several frame rates, with 1080p at 30 fps the max, down to 270p for quick uploads; all use MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression. When we were done, we connected the camera to a 55-inch Sony Bravia 3D HDTV to check out our efforts. Donning the active shutter glasses, it was not a pleasant experience. Perhaps we were asking too much for a 5-megapixel camera to capture images that could be displayed on a large flat-panel HDTV. But we did ask, and the quality was poor with noise galore. Colors didn’t even have the pop and sharpness delivered by decent digicams such as a Sony WX9 which costs even less!
For one of our tests, we recorded buses rumbling down 34th Street in Manhattan near the Empire State Building. The 3D effect in the video was very uneven. The 3D stills were off the mark as well, even with a total Sony system (shooting on Sony camera and displaying on a Sony TV). We just couldn’t get the photos to sync properly, and we tried many different subjects.
Results were far better — as least in 2D — after we downloaded everything to a HP dv6000 laptop running Vista Ultimate. Picture quality on a 15-inch screen versus a 55 made a tremendous improvement. Noise was far less “in your face” and colors held their own. Clearly the Bloggie 3D should be used as it’s really intended — as a Flip-style camera geared for sharing on YouTube, Facebook, Flickr or whatever site is your portal to the outside world rather than in your living room on the big screen.
We’re still not fans of Flip-type cameras. We feel you’re compromising too much on the picture and video side of the equation, especially compared to the cheaper, competing Sony WX9 digicam, for example. And the 3D portion of the Bloggie 3D isn’t ready for prime time. Yeah, we know all about the pluses of quick image uploads, but if that’s your game, just use your cellphone. If you care even a teensy bit about quality, there are tons of other options.
- Compact, lightweight, simple to use
- 3D/2D stills and video
- 2.4-inch auto-stereoscopic LCD
- Poor 3D quality
- Screen very dark in 3D
- For online sharing only