Given the relative lack of 3D content, manufacturers have decided you should do it yourself. Enter a spate of cameras and camcorders that let you add to your 3D still and video collection. Will the Real 3D W3 fill the gap as we wait for some good programming to watch? Let’s check it out.
Features and Design
Everything old is new again – and that’s definitely the case with 3D photography. Sure, the technology has leaped light years ahead, but we remember an older relative who took 3D stereoscopic photos decades ago. Granted, you had to use a ViewMaster-type of handheld display to see the images, but it was a gee-whiz effect nonetheless. The film camera had two lenses and a carpenter-type bubble level to make sure you kept your horizons straight. Enter the very digital Real 3D W3, which also has two lenses, and two 10-megapixel CCDs, instead of film. Now you can see the 3D images on the 3.5-inch LCD screen or review them on a 3D HDTV such as the recently reviewed Sharp Quattron or other compatible sets.
The FujiFilm Real 3D W3 is a black, horizontal-bodied digicam with a sliding front panel that powers it on and off, and protects the lenses when shut down. When closed, there are some sculpted angles like FujiFilm’s Z series, which also have sliding front panels. It measures 4.9 by 2.6 by 1.1 inches, and weighs around 9 ounces fully loaded, making it a lot heftier than most compact cameras. There are just a few low-key decals, but some fireworks begin when you slide it open. A blue light turns on briefly, announcing the camera is 3D. Ingeniously, the same light doubles as a blinking self-timer lamp. Then there are logos that should be lost. Do we really need to know there’s a 75mm baseline length? That refers to the fact the lenses are 75mm apart, similar to human eyes. Far more important are two lenses themselves, two microphones and the flash. Don’t expect too much, as they are 3x optical zooms (35-105mm 35mm equivalent). The zoom doesn’t work when you capture 3D videos, either.
On the top is the shutter, surrounded by the zoom toggle switch, and on the left is the parallax control that lets you adjust the LCD’s 3D effect so it matches your eyesight. The widescreen 3.5-inch display is rated 1.1 megapixels. With this auto-stereoscopic display, you can check out your 3D creations without glasses. Cool stuff. But review them on steady ground, as we got a shot of vertigo tweaking the 3D effect. You can’t mess with people’s perspectives and perception and expect perfection. The screen handles most lighting situations fairly well.
To the right of the LCD is a mode dial and classic four-way controller with center OK button. The dial has loads of options including Auto, Advanced 3D, A2D (twin camera), Program, Aperture- and Shutter-Priority, Manual as well as two Scene modes of your choosing. Auto is your basic aim-and-forget setting, and you can switch between 2D and 3D by tapping a key on the lower right; a small blue cube lights, letting you know you’re shooting with another dimension. Advanced 3D gives you two options for shooting with a tripod, both using just the left lens. Interval 3D Shooting is for shooting distant subjects from a moving vehicle, while Individual 3D Shutter lets you combine two images together. Both take more time to master than they’re worth.
On the other hand, A2D (twin camera) is fun. With this, two shots are taken at the same time. In the tele-wide mode, you can zoom with the left lens while the right remains zoomed out, and you save two shots. The two-color option lets you capture images with standard, chrome or B&W “film stock,” and the last lets you pick two simultaneous ISO settings. Yes, it’s geeky to be sure, but something far beyond the ordinary, and one of the camera’s better attributes.
There’s also Program AE, Aperture- and Shutter-Priority as well as Manual. Realize your f/stops and shutter speed options are far from DSLR-like, but as least there’s something. You can also designate two scene modes to the dial out of 13 available. We used Natural+Flash and Anti-Blur. Unfortunately, this camera does not have any form of image stabilization, which is pretty amazing given that it costs around $450. You won’t find an autofocus assist lamp, either.
The four-way controller is fairly standard, offering options for the flash, self-timer, macro and a quick jolt of LCD brightness. Four keys surround the controller: Playback, Movie, 3D and Display/Back. The W3 takes 1280 x 720p videos at 24 fps using the 3D Stereo AVI format. Stills are JPEGs (2D) and MPO (3D), which is the standard file format for 3D photographs. Unfortunately, camera makers are still finalizing a 3D video format – it’s still early in the game, folks – so there were issues playing them back on 3D HDTVs. 2D videos are Motion JPEGs, so they played back OK.
On the right side is a small compartment for mini-HDMI and USB outs. On the bottom of the made-in-China camera is a metal tripod mount, and the compartment for the battery and SD card.
Fuji includes a wrist strap, battery rated a weak 150 shots, charger, USB cable and CD-ROM with MyFinePix software and 108-page owner’s manual as a PDF. A 28-page basic manual is also included.
Performance and Use
We had the Real 3D W3 with us during travels out West, and at home. Although a bit thicker than one of our favorite new compacts such as the Canon PowerShot S95, it’s easy toting around in your pocket. Subjects captured included the usual – scenics, snow storms, people, still lifes, and so on. Initially, the camera was set to Auto with maximum resolution (3648 x 2736 pixels, Fine) then other options on the dial were used.
As befitting a point-and-shoot, the W3 is easy to operate. The only options requiring some brain power included the A3D and A2D, which we’ll discuss shortly. As for handling, this is one camera where the praying mantis finger grip is a must. With two lenses, definitely keep your fingers away from the front. And without any image stabilization, holding your breath while remaining as still as possible while pressing the shutter makes a whole lot of sense.
Playing back 3D photos is done a couple of ways. The quickest is right on the 3.5-inch screen. Yes, you can see them and pass the camera around for some oohs and ahs, but the effect isn’t great since it’s relatively small. Auto-stereoscopic displays are kind of like the prints you’ve seen of the blinking Jesus. The effect is in the eye of the beholder. But it works. Another way is simply hooking the camera to a 3D HDTV via HDMI – and we just so happened to have two on hand (Sharp and Panasonic). We did this with active-shutter glasses in place. With the Sharp, we could see the 3D effects, but the menu didn’t appear on the camera’s LCD, so we were flying a little blind, which is pretty amazing sitting in front of a 60-inch HDTV. The same held true for the Panasonic. The latter set had an SD card slot, so we tried that method. Unfortunately, the 3D effect didn’t translate. Bummer. As we said, this is early in the 3D game, and without standards – especially for motion – this is a catch-as-catch-can situation. Early adopters, be alert.
We discovered 3D stills are very hit and miss. We took shots of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, and in some, there was a nice sense of depth of the tree backed by skyscrapers. Close-ups of branches did nothing. And the lack of an AF Assist lamp was very evident, as many shots were not super sharp. The same held true for people shots. Yes, there’s the impression of depth, but the images themselves weren’t great in Auto. We had better luck shooting with Program AE with more accurate colors, white balance and focus. We recommend you go this route, if you buy this camera.
One of the cool things about the W3 is the fact you can switch from 2D to 3D in all modes—just hit the “3D” button on the back. Still, your results are hit and miss in the 3D world. Still photographers will have to learn how to master 3D just as Hollywood directors are going to the same school for movies. Some of us will get A’s, while others will flunk. Our report card was very mixed. Don’t get us wrong – this is not just a FujiFilm thing. When we shot Sony cameras with 3D Sweep Panorama, results were uneven there too. As for 2D shots, the W3 did a solid job, but you wouldn’t buy it as an advanced point-and-shoot—especially at this price.
FujiFilm is to be commended for introducing a twin-lens, two-CCD 3D digicam. It’s a second-generation effort, and while improvements have been made, it’s hard justifying the price (we’ve seen it for $449 at legit online dealers). There will be a boatload of 3D still camera and camcorder announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January 2011. And from what we’ve seen under wraps, there’s no need to rush out and buy one. Just like HDTVs, 3D is an added feature – the same will hold true for cameras and camcorders. For us, the Real 3D W3 is too limited to give a wholehearted endorsement, even though we really liked the Advanced 2D options. Definitely check out the LCD at your local retailer. You may think it’s the coolest thing since visiting Pandora. We’ll stick to Planet Earth.
- Very nice auto stereoscopic display
- Twin CCDs, two lenses
- For adventurous shutterbugs
- Terrific Advanced 2D options
- No stabilization or AF assist lamp
- No zoom with 3D video