Digital Innovations
The Return Of 3D Photography

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Mission3-D's system for capturing three-dimensional images is as easy as it gets. You make an image at the left eye position, unlock the slide bar just below the camera, slide the camera to one of the three right eye positions, and click, you're done.
© 2003, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Just in time for the holidays, 3D is back and gone digital. Fresh on the heels of the blockbuster summer movie Spy Kids 3D, you can now make stereo photographs using the digital camera you already own. I've been a fan of 3D since the premiere of the 1952 film Bwana Devil starring the late Robert Stack. While 3D movies come and go, three-dimensional photography has never gone out of fashion. The New England Camera Club Council (www.neccc.org) has an annual competition for stereo images, and I enjoyed viewing this year's entrants when I spoke at their 2003 conference. What hasn't changed is that unless you use a camera specifically designed for capturing three-dimensional images, the way Shutterbug's Rick Sammon (www.ricksammon.com) does for his children's books, it's a pain in the butt to shoot 3D still photographs.

Making 3D
There's no secret about making 3D photographs: you make an image as seen by the left eye, then one by the right eye, and then--here's the hard part--use some kind of system to put them together. Mission3-D's (www.mission3-d.com) system is the best ever devised for making 3D prints, period. They use the anaglyphic system that requires the use of red and green eyeglasses to sort each eye's view. Starting with the boxes, I was impressed by the quality of all of the components of the system, and when compared to any first-class SLR system, it's as good as it gets.

The key is Mission3-D's 303 Adapter that mounts on a tripod and lets you attach a digital camera. To make a 3D photograph, you first capture a left-eyed image, then slide it to one of the detents for the right eye and capture the second image. Three right-eye settings are available, covering photographic situations including macro, portraits, and landscapes. One of Mission3-D's samples was a family portrait, so I decided to make a 3D portrait of my wife Mary, duly realizing she has to move somewhat while I unlock the slide bar, move the camera, lock it down, then make a second photograph. But it worked! I couldn't photograph a little child this way, but was amazed at how well the system worked by simply asking her to be as still as she could between shots.

Software's The Key
The key to making this work is the software and it's as easy to use as it gets. You can load images from a camera or from your hard drive. You then select one photograph for the left eye, one from the right, and click, you're done. Photographs can be converted into monochrome 3D and saved as BMP or JPEG formats. This is a Windows-only product. With a MSRP less than $150, the Photo3D 303 contains everything you need to get started and makes a perfect holiday gift.

Plug-Ins Of The Month
Oscar Rysdyk of The Imaging Factory (www.theimagingfactory.com) produces some of the most useful Photoshop compatible plug-ins out there. His latest plug-ins, Vignette and Squeeze, came from listening to customers' needs and ideas. Squeeze is Francis Sakamoto's (www.tele-scapes.com) idea and lets you bring natural objects in wide angle, rectilinear shots back into proportions. If there are people on the edges of a group shot made with a really wide angle lens, they tend to become somewhat distorted. For just $19.95, Squeeze brings them back into normal proportions. Vignette lets you add or remove luminance falloff, and includes the ability to profile a falloff pattern created in panoramic images. For photographers using the Hasselblad Xpan, this $39.95 digital filter is much less expensive than a $200 glass one. This plug-in also removes lens and telescope vignetting and uneven electronic flash patterns, and lets you add creative vignetting effects for portraits.

Don't Burn It, Toast It
Roxio's (www.roxio.com) Toast is the de facto standard for Mac OS CD and DVD recoding software. Toast 6 Titanium is also designed for people who are serious about backing up, and automatically backs up files and folders to CDs, DVDs, networks, or the web. To save space you can compress the data up to 50 percent on CDs or DVDs using a password and 128-bit encryption to protect it. I don't mess around with MP3s, but those who do will like that you can drag and drop any QuickTime audio or iTunes file into Toast's Universal Audio Converter to create audio CDs. Toast's funky Discus RE software lets you produce disc labels, case covers, and inserts with new artwork. Roxio's Motion Pictures software turns your still images into slide shows with pan and zoom effects, cross fades, and soundtracks by dragging and dropping any image file directly from your hard drive or iPhoto library to produce full screen QuickTime slide shows. You can also create videodiscs from your own DV camcorder content. You want Toast 6 Titanium; you need it; go get it.

I Love A Parade
People are always asking me what's the best software for making slide shows. That, my friends, is an easy one: it's Callisto's PhotoParade (www.photoparade.com). Making slide shows and screen savers with your own digital photos is just a matter of drag, click, and play! Start by collecting the images you want into a gallery, then select one of PhotoParade's themes that complement your photographs, and the software does the rest.

The program is available for Mac OS and runs under Classic mode in OS X as well as Microsoft Windows. I could not get the built-in music to run under Classic mode and had to import a few MP3s to make it work on my Power Macintosh G4, but it performed without a hitch under Windows XP, which also lets you produce Auto Run CDs. (You simply stick the disc in a Windows computer and your presentation launches, making it an ideal way to create promos for your photography.) Built-in tools let you brighten, sharpen, trim, rotate, and flip your photographs, but since PhotoParade never touches the original file, any changes do not affect the original. You can e-mail a show to friends (if they have broadband) or send a CD with a runtime version of the program. PhotoParade starts at $19.95, depending on the number of themes.

Bigger Card; Same Size Package
Always running out of space on your CompactFlash card? Lexar Media (www.lexarmedia.com) is shipping the world's first 4GB memory card. The card stores 600 images in raw mode made with a 6-megapixel professional camera, but anyone shooting lower resolution cameras could capture as many as 45,000 JPEG files. The actual number of images a 4GB card can store depends on the camera, resolution, and image file selection mode. The 4GB memory card is rated at 40x, is capable of a sustained minimum write speed of 6MB/s, and uses Lexar's Write Acceleration technology to achieve higher speeds in Write Acceleration-enabled cameras. Lexar's Media Image Rescue software is included free, letting you recover deleted and lost images, or permanently erase the card preventing future image recovery.

And now for the fine print: your camera must accept Type II (the thick ones) CompactFlash cards and support the FAT 32 system in order to be compatible with Lexar's 4GB card. FAT (File Allocation Table) keeps track of where each image is stored and is available in three versions, the most advanced being FAT 32, which supports memory cards up to 2TB (terabytes). As I write this, the following cameras support FAT 32: Canon PowerShot G3, G5, S45, S50; Canon EOS 10D, 1Ds; Kodak DCS 720x, 760, DCS Pro Back (all models), DCS Pro 14n (with Write Acceleration); Olympus E-1; and Pentax *ist D. Lexar tells me there's more to come.

Nothing New
Three-dimensional image making has been around almost as long as photography. The first 3D camera was produced by Wheatstone in 1832 and Mathew Brady and his band of intrepid photographers made stereo images during the Civil War. Bwana Devil, as much as it influenced me, was not the first 3D movie. That title belongs to 1922's The Power of Love, which used anaglyphic techniques, instead of the Polaroid 3D, sometimes called field-sequential 3D, method used in the Robert Stack film. (Film buffs may be interested to learn that 1996's The Ghost and the Darkness is based on that earlier film but the only thing they have in common is lions.)

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