The Horseman 3D; Is It The Most Convenient And Automated 35mm Stereo Camera Ever? Page 2

For stereo enthusiasts, one of the most fanatically-committed photographic breeds on the planet, the Horseman's specs raise a number of fascinating questions. First of all, what is the practical effect of having a stereo camera with lenses placed 34mm apart, exactly half the distance of typical human eye spacing (roughly 68mm) and the lens spacing of typical 35mm stereo cameras of the 1950s? The basic answer is that the parallax--the difference between what each eye sees, and ultimately what produces the three-dimensional effect--is reduced by half compared to typical stereo lens spacing. Therefore, for the same perceived depth, objects must be half as far away to get the same stereo effect.

The bottom line: The Horseman 3D will deliver its best stereo images with subjects in the 3-25-foot range, and especially in the 5-15-foot range, creating a bit of hypostereo (larger than life-size appearance) at these distances (see diagrams). Another result of the Horseman's design genesis is that the viewfinder frame line, which is the same as the 45mm frame line in the Xpan II, shows only about 90 percent horizontally and 80 percent vertically of what appears on film at less than half life-size (0.45x) magnification.

Surprisingly, neither of these compromises turns out to be a serious defect--in our extensive 20 36-exposure roll test of the Horseman 3D, it delivered outstanding and lifelike results in shooting many typical stereo subjects, including flowers, informal portraits, and wedding pictures. Indeed, the combination of Aperture-Priority autoexposure, built-in motor drive, and fast shutter speeds allowed us to shoot spontaneous action with confidence, something not always easy to do with a traditional stereo 35.

On the plus side, the Horseman 3D is very well-balanced for handheld shooting, fits nicely in the hands, and has well placed, logical controls that should make any film shooter feel at ease. The shutter release is smooth and predictable. Shutter noise is very low and the motor, while higher pitched, is quieter than average. We liked the fact that the shutter speed dial locks at the A (Aperture-Priority auto) setting and that the main Power/Shooting mode switch locks at the "off" setting.

We were slightly disappointed that a camera of this price and quality does not have a dedicated TTL flash system, but we must admit that the handful of flash pictures we shot with a simple automatic flash unit turned out very well. On the minus side, we didn't like the left-side-mounted tripod socket, and found the rangefinder patch a little too small for comfort. The secondary image is bright enough for focusing in low light, but its small size can be confusing with certain subjects, such as flowers. Since a reconfigured rangefinder is highly unlikely, perhaps they can add a slight tint to the rangefinder image to help improve the visual contrast. On the whole, the range/viewfinder is very good indeed--clear, contrasty, and reasonably bright.

Fortunately, the best thing about the Horseman 3D is the thing that matters most--lens quality. The 38mm f/2.8 lenses are modern Tessar-formula (four-element, three-group) optics labeled Super Horseman MC (for Multi-Coated) but they're actually made by Fuji. These lenses are simply superb, delivering crisp, beautifully-detailed images at all apertures and nice bokeh (out-of-focus image quality) at wider apertures. Don't be put off by the two-bladed, diamond-shaped diaphragms, a common feature of many stereo 35s. Theoretically they're not as good as multi-blade iris diaphragms, but this is a case of theory be damned. Practically speaking, the on-film results we got on Fujichrome Velvia 100 were outstanding at all shooting distances, even when shooting backlit subjects. The other significant advantage of the 3D: It's the only current 35mm stereo camera that's ideal for covering the intimate range in between macro (ultra-close-ups) and normal stereo shooting distances.

While practically anyone can shoot splendid and gratifying stereo pictures with the Horseman 3D, 35mm stereo photography is not for the faint of heart or wallet. Kodak and other big companies no longer supply low-cost cutting and mounting services for stereo slides. You can do-it-yourself of course, but then you need a good supply of mounts, cutters, viewers and/or projectors, and a source of expert advice. I got all of this, including expert mounting services, from long-time stereo guru Jon Golden at 3D Concepts, PO Box 715, Carlisle, MA 01741; (978) 371-5557; www.make3Dimages.com.

After analyzing my results, Golden agreed that the camera performs best in the 5-15-foot range, and noted that 24x30mm mounts were the largest that could be used and were only suitable "for situations where the foreground is 8-10 ft away since there is very little extra film chip information that allows for adjustment of the horizontal window setting." He mounted most of my stereo slides in 23x28mm European-size mounts, which he judged to be "the main choice except where cropping is needed or chosen." Golden is certainly a stickler, but he was sufficiently impressed with my results to sign on as a distributor of the Horseman 3D, which will have a street price of about $4500.

Hypostereo
Depth perception comes from a combination of depth clues (size differences of recognizable objects, shading, etc.) and parallax. Parallax is the apparent movement of a near point with respect to a far point from different viewpoints--in this case the left and right eyes--and is the basis of stereo vision. Diagram A illustrates this for a typical eye spacing of about 68mm, which is also the lens spacing of the stereo cameras from the 1950s. For the 34mm spacing of the Horseman lenses, and an object of a given distance, the parallax is reduced by half compared to typical eye spacing. For the same perceived depth the objects must be half as far away, as illustrated in Diagram B. For this reason, the Horseman will create its best 3D images for closer scenes (3-25 ft), creating a bit of hypostereo (larger than life-size appearance).

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