Within the last couple years, top camera manufacturers like Sony, JVC and Panasonic have introduced consumer-friendly 3D camcorders that built on the advances already achieved in consumer-based compact HD camcorders. These new 3D video cameras make it easy for hobbyists and professionals alike to capture and share memories with the same kind of youthful enthusiasm that awed viewers that were introduced to the first stereoscopic images more than 150 years ago.
3D Camcorder Basics
Some of the specs to consider when choosing a 3D camcorder are the onboard memory capacity, external memory, the type of 3D video created, size of the image sensors, the types of outputs it has, its optical zoom power and its shot-enhancing features. Most 3D camcorders are equipped with autostereoscopic LCD screens, so as long as you stay close to the screen, you won’t need 3D glasses to review your 3D footage. Depending on your needs, you’ll also want to give serious consideration to the quality of the HD image, keeping in mind that progressive 1080p video renders more vibrant images than interlaced 1080i HD. All of these factors will influence the final result you’ll see on your 3D video when you watch it on an SDTV, HDTV, 3D TV or computer.
In general, you should keep in mind that, because of the polarity involved in creating a stereoscopic image, most 3D camcorders work best in well-lit situations. There are exceptions however, which brings us to our first topic of discussion: lenses.
All 3D camcorders still rely on the same basic concept of stereoscopic lenses Sir Charles Wheatstone first introduced while delivering a paper about binocular vision to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts in 1838. In order to create three-dimensional video, all dedicated 3D camcorders use two lenses to record separate left and right images, with the main difference being in how the images are then processed. Some cameras, such as the affordable and ingeniously simple Vivitar DVR 790HD 3D Digital Video Recorder, capture video and convert it to an anaglyph image that has to be viewed with those familiar red and cyan glasses. On the other end of the spectrum, high-end camcorders like the JVC GS-TD1 Full HD 3D Camcorder can shoot 3D in both AVCHD and MVC (MultiView Coding) formats, making it easier to create videos that can be watched on side-by-side capable 3D TVs.
If you’re interested in a 3D HD camcorder that shoots primarily in 2D but also lets you shoot in 3D with an optional lens, Panasonic has several models you should consider. The Panasonic HX-X900M and X900K are both exceptional HD camcorders that not only shoot stunning 2D video in 1080/60p, but can also be equipped with the VW-CLT2 3D conversion lens (sold separately) for beautiful 3D video. The VW-CLT1 3D conversion lens fits a variety of Panasonic camcorder models (click the link to see the complete list). All of our Panasonic 3D-ready cameras are equipped with highly sensitive 3MOS sensors that are known for high-quality color, detail and gradation. The XMOS sensor used in Sony’s 3D camcorders also works well in low-light situations.
One of the more unique 3D camcorders you’ll find is the Sony Dev-5, which is basically a 3D digital camcorder shaped like binoculars. While they’re not true binoculars as such, the Sony Dev-5 camcorder does give you the ability to track an image easily, with the same kind of ease and comfort you might have in using binoculars. It records full HD video and can also capture 7.1MP or 5.3MP still shots.
As with non-3D HD camcorders, you’ll find that low light and zoom will quickly reveal the limits and strengths of the lenses you use. In general, shooting in 3D is best done in well-lit situations, near your subjects, with entry-level cameras used during daylight or with adequate illumination. Of course this also means that on some cameras, shooting with adequate light means that you won’t be able to see the camera’s LCD screen very clearly, in which case you might want to consider adding an optional LCD shade to your camera. You should also bear in mind that zooming in too far on an object will compromise the 3D effect, so if you expect to use the zoom a lot, be sure to look for cameras that offer higher optical zoom capability.
In addition to stereoscopic video, all of the 3D camcorders B&H offers record to solid-state memory, with some models offering a mix of options from built-in flash memory, to high-capacity SD cards, to a combination of both. When looking at different camcorders, keep in mind that some models have onboard memory for camera functions only, but that you will still need an SD/SDHC card for recording video. One such model is the affordable Aiptex iH3 Full HD 1080p Digital Camcorder. While the iH3 does have 128MB of internal flash memory, in order to record video and capture still images (of up to 5MB), you’ll still have to use a memory card. The iH3 accepts SD/SDHC memory cards up to 32GB in capacity, which is enough to capture 16 hours of video at full 1080p HD. Another entry-level camera you might want to consider is the DXG-5F9VK HD 1080p 3D Camcorder, which also uses memory cards up to 32GB and can capture 2MP and 5MP still images in 3D or 2D and 10MP images in 2D.
Several high-end 3D cameras can record video and still images either to a memory card or an internal flash drive. The Panasonic HC-X900M can record to 32GB of built-in memory or to SD/SDHC and SDXC memory cards. For more recording options, you can also go with a Sony HDR-TD10, which gives you multiple storage options ranging from the 64GB embedded flash memory, to Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Pro and more common SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. Sony’s newer HDR-TD20V model, however, only offers the option of recording to the onboard 64GB flash memory, which is enough to hold up to 25 hours of 2D and 5 hours of 3D HD video.
Shooting for 3D TV, for the Web or both
If you’re just planning on using your 3D camcorder to create anaglyphic videos that can be watched online with red/cyan glasses, you may not need much more than the Vivitar DVR 790HD. You can watch your DVR 790HD recordings either by connecting it to a 2D HDTV with an HDMI cable or you can use the AV output to watch your video in 3D on an SDTV. Since it captures anaglyph video, all you need is red/cyan glasses.
If you have a 3D HDTV, you should use a 3D camcorder that records in either the AVCHD and/or MVC (MP4) format. Sony and Panasonic developed AVCHD together, and you might find that editing 3D AVCHD video on your computer is a lot easier than the MVC format, which is still a bit more cutting edge and professional grade since MVC is the codec used in commercial Blu-ray Discs. If you do want to edit 3D MVC video and you’re using a Sony 3D camcorder, one of your best options is Sony’s Vegas Pro 11, which will help you take full advantage of the higher image quality that’s possible with MVC. Unlike AVCHD, MVC stores two full frames of 1080HD as a single 3D video file. Side by side formats generally have to rely on compromising resolution in order to combine the left and right images from each lens into a single frame.
When choosing a 3D camcorder, take some time to consider where you’re going to watch the video most often. If it’s mostly online, you might not need as much camera, and you should look for a camera that offers one-touch uploading to the Web. If you’re planning on watching a lot of 3D video on a fully compatible 3D HDTV, however, it would behoove you to invest a bit more in a camera that can be connected directly to your 3D HDTV with an HDMI cable. Inserting the memory card directly into your 3D HDTV is another option. No matter what type of 3D camcorder you choose, it should be supported on a tripod because the camera’s image stabilization might not be enough to keep your 3D videos crisp, clear and fun to watch.
A Brief Look at Professional Grade 3D Camcorders
If you’re looking for a 3D camcorder to use with a second unit on a 3D feature, or if you just want a top-of-the-line 3D camcorder for your documentaries, independent films or commercial productions, there are several options you should consider. If you’ve already used Sony’s professional XDCAMs, you might prefer the Sony PMW-TD300 3D Camcorder. It mounts on your shoulder and can capture left and right MPEG-2 images onto dual side-by-side cards that synchronize the 1920x1080 3D HD image. The camcorder is equipped with dual Exmor 3CMOS ½” full HD sensors, so you’ll get superior image quality in every shot.
If Panasonic is more your speed, you should look at the compact AG-3DA1 camcorder, which was developed as a full 1920x1080 HD 3D camcorder with dedicated twin HD lenses and dual 3MOS sensors (one for each lens). The AG-3DA1 records to SD/SDHC memory cards, and captures video in the AVCHD format in a variety of frame rates including 24p, 25p, 30p, 50i/p and 60i/p.
Watching Your Video on 3D HDTVs
Just as the quality of the 3D image has evolved, so too has the experience of watching a 3D movie. Recently, some manufacturers such as Miracube have introduced autostereoscopic 3D displays that don’t require the use of 3D glasses. Miracube’s C190X is a 19-inch monitor that displays 1280x1024 2D images and 640x1024 3D images. If you want 3D in HD, however, you may want to consider one of the models made by LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony or Toshiba. 3D HDTVs made by these manufacturers range in size from 40 inches for the Samsung UN40ES6580 40" Class Slim LED HDTV to an 80-inch wonder in the Sharp LC-80LE844U 80" AQUOS Quattron Smart 3D LED TV. Just as with 2D HDTVs, you have the option of LED or plasma displays, and you should definitely go into a store and test them to see which type of display suits you best, and would work best in the room in which you will install the TV. Most plasma TVs have a 600Hz subfield processing speed, which tends to deliver fine performance and sharper imaging than older LCD screens. 3D LED TVs also have faster processors, though different manufacturers have varying proprietary processors that deliver crisp clear HD pictures with everything from 120HZ, as in the ClearScan 120Hz processor used in Toshiba’s new 47L6200U 47" Class 1080p 3D LED HD TV, to the 960Hz Motionflow XR processor used in Sony’s KDL46HX850 46" BRAVIA Internet TV.
With the plethora of 3D TV sizes, models and processor speeds available, you’re sure to find one that meets your needs and is compatible with your camcorder. In addition to size, processor speed and type, some other options you might want to look for in a 3D TV include Wi-Fi capability, Skype readiness, and the number and types of connection options available on the unit, such as HDMI, USB and Ethernet ports. You may also want to double-check that you have a 3D Blu-ray Disc player that is compatible with the types of 3D discs you burn.
Most 3D TVs come at least one pair of 3D glasses, while manufacturers such as LG include up to 6 pairs. Depending on the type of 3D TV you purchase, you’ll need to buy either active or passive 3D glasses for everyone who’ll be watching. Active 3D glasses, such as the Panasonic VIERA Active Shutter 3D Eyewear, are battery powered and designed with an active shutter that receives a signal directly from the 3D TV. That signal cycles 120 times per second and coordinates with a dimming of either the left or right lens in the 3D glasses in conjunction with the frame on the screen in order to create the immersive 3D sensation.
The other type of 3D glasses you’ll find are passive, such as the LG Electronics AG-F210 LG Cinema 3D Glasses , which rely on the kind of polarized lenses you may have used when you first saw a film like Avatar in 3D. LG also offers clip-on type passive 3D glasses that can be used with prescription glasses. Another type of passive 3D glasses is the red/blue Anaglyph kind that GoPro provides to watch 3D videos shot with a GoPro 3D System on a computer or Anaglyph compatible 3D TV. In general, passive 3D glasses are less expensive and lighter than active models, though some viewers claim to experience a more immersive 3D experience through the active 3D glasses.
No matter which type of 3D glasses you use, if you want to recreate a 3D theatre-like experience at home, your best option is to watch 3D HD videos on a 3D Blu-ray player connected to a 3D TV.