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Review of the Fujifilm W3 stereo 3D camera

The FujiFilm FinePix W3 is the successor camera to the W1, the world’s first dedicated digital stereoscopic (3D) camera. The W1 was released in September 2009 to mixed reviews. The W3 followed in 2010 with many improvements.

In January 2011 I finally got around to buying one. But first I should state a few things:

I know quite a lot about stereo 3D and have been waiting for years for a camera like this to appear. There have been many negative and misleading reviews of the W1 and W3 written by people who don't understand stereoscopic photography. I do, so my opinions are informed.

This is not a ‘techie’ review. You can find detailed technical specifications for the camera elsewhere (see links below). This is a practical, pragmatic ‘first impressions’ review from a professional photographer who is experienced in both 2D and 3D.

The user manual and camera specifications cover every feature of the camera including those it shares with conventional 2D digital cameras. Here I'm going to focus mainly on the features specific to the stereo 3D.

first photo taken on the Fuji Finepix W3 camera
The Fuji's lenticular LCD display shows two pictures which can be seen by tilting the camera first one way and then the other. By holding the camera in front of your eyes in the 'sweet spot', left and right views magically merge into a superb stereo 3D image.

Initial appraisal
My initial reaction to using the camera is... Overwhelming. After quickly looking at the manual, charging up the battery and figuring out how to switch it on, I took the first photo, filename DSCF0001.MPO, of my 9 year old daughter. When I saw her face on the screen in 3D, with that indescribable sense of depth and volume, like a magic mirror or window, I was overwhelmed. The picture quality seemed good, the flash was well exposed, it was well in focus, the image crisp and detailed... It was exciting. A dream come true.

I have tried taking stereo 3D photos of my daughter before - with the Loreo stereo film camera, with the 50 year old Wirgin and Realist, a twin camera rig with two compact digital cameras mounted side by side, with the Loreo 'lens in a cap' beamsplitter.

The picture quality of the W3 is much better any of the methods I've tried before.

I have a long history of trying – and failing – with stereo photography – failing to achieve the quality I want.

I first experimented with stereoscopic photos in 1981, taking two photos with my first serious camera, the Fujica STX1 film SLR - not very satisfactory. Custom-made twin camera rigs have been available but they are expensive and mostly use film. They are not very portable and moved away from film 10 years ago. I’m lazy, I need digital.

And so for 30 years I’ve been waiting for a newly manufactured, purpose-built, usable stereoscopic camera.

And now the W3 has arrived! But does it live up to expectations? I can't answer that question yet.

For me, the main benefit of a dedicated digital stereoscopic camera like this one, is that the two photos are exactly aligned and synchronised, precisely exposed and focused with identical colour quality and focal length, and you can see the stereo photo immediately after you've taken it! Wow! Unlike a twin-camera rig, you can put it in your shirt pocket and it doesn't attract any attention.

I do have two criticisms, see below.

And for an inclusive price of just £239 from eBay (trader: Digigood), it is also affordable.

But when subjected to further and more intensive use, will the Fuji Finepix W3 camera prove to have the image quality and usability that I need? I will address that question in a follow-up article.

From early 2011 I will start to photograph extensively in stereo 3D, in addition to conventional 'flat' 2D photography and I will be using the Fuji W3 as well as other camera set-ups.

For now though, based purely on first impressions, I would say this camera is definitely worth buying. Make sure you buy from a discounted seller, mostly likely via eBay. In early 2011, £240 is OK. £400 is too much.

In the meantime, here are a few observations and tips which new users might find helpful.

Size and weight: Some silly reviewers complain the camera is big and heavy. It weighs just over half a pound (250 grams) still much smaller and lighter than a digital SLR. It is basically two cameras in one. Of course it's going to be a little bit heavier than a regular compact!

MPO file format: The Fuji saves stereo 3D images in the MPO file format (multi-picture). If you have a 3D television, you can plug the camera into the screen using an HDMI cable. Another option is to import the MPO files directly into the excellent p2gStereoStage viewer. More information here:

Exporting JPEGs: You can also set the camera to save a JPEG copy, but it will only be the left hand image.

Criticism number 1: Why couldn't the JPEG copy be of both left and right images?

To view and manipulate images on your computer, you can use the Finepix Studio software included on the CD but...

Criticism number 2: FinePix studio is only for the PC, not the Mac.

If you are a Mac user, you will need to download Mac3DViewer and purchase a licence key (15 US dollars). The stereo images can then be opened, exported as JPEG copies and prepared for viewing in a wide variety of viewing methods.

Image quality: Using lenses found in smaller compact cameras, it's clear that the image quality is not going to be as good as from a higher spec camera. More glass equals more detail and quality. We must make allowances for that.

Holding the camera: Keep your fingers away from the two lenses, which are located in the upper corners of the front of the camera.

Multi-functional 2D: The camera also functions as a conventional 'flat' or 2D (monoscopic) camera, making innovative use of the two lenses. For instance it is able to take two shots at different settings, for instance, one wide angle one zoom, one colour, one black and white. Whilst these features are fun to experiment with, they are secondary to its stereoscopic functionality.

Orientation: In 3D mode, the camera can only be used in landscape orientation. This should be obvious as the camera mimics our two eyes, which are arranged side by side, not one on top of the other, but I have actually read people complaining that it can only be used in landscape mode.

Aspect ratio: The default aspect ratio is 15x9 HD but in 3x2 or 4x3 the vertical pixel is slightly higher. Some reviewers have complained the resolution isn’t high enough. At the highest setting this is a 10.17 effective megapixel camera. But if you take into account it is taking two photos simultaneously, then it could be classed as a 20.34 megapixel camera!

Multi-functional 3D: The camera allows you to take sequential stereo photos, i.e. one after the other from say 3 feet or one metre apart, or greater. You would use this feature to take large scale subjects such as cityscapes or landscapes. You can set it to take two photos at a set time interval or two photos with two presses of the shutter. The camera uses the left hand lens. It then processes the two images and presents them as stereo 3D images.

Parallax: This is a feature unique to the stereoscopic 3D medium. When viewing a stereo photo you are looking at two separate photos overlaid onto each other and viewing them using separate eyes. Often it is necessary to shift the alignment of the two photos to the right or the left, for instance if the subject was very close to the camera. The W3 allows you to set the parallax both at capture and playback. The information is stored in the Exif data of the MPO file.

Lenticular screen: The camera uses a very impressive lenticular LCD monitor, enabling you to see the image without glasses. Novelty postcards and posters using lenticular screens have been around for years, but the image quality of the W3 is far better quality. It would appear FujiFilm is using some advanced proprietary technology to achieve such fine resolution.

Prints: You can have stereo 3D lenticular prints made using the service set up by Fuji. I’ll review this later.

Switching on the camera: Please note, there is no ‘on/off’ button. To switch on the camera,slide down the lens cover on the front of the camera!

That's all I have to say at the moment. A follow-up article will appear in due course.

Now is the starting point of my long-postponed journey into the world of Stereo 3D Photographic Art. Keep watching to see where it takes me!

p2gStereoStage a versatile and excellently designed viewing system for stereo 3D photos and videos. The site contains many demo videos and slide shows, including mine!

The website of Barry Aldous one of the UK's leading stereoscopic 3D photographers. He has made impressive slide shows and videos featuring his local area of Ramsbottom, north of Manchester.

W3 page on the FujiFilm website

Info and tech specs for the W3 on www.dpreview.com

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2011-01-16

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