by Jim Dusen/SUNY Brockport ret.
The stereoscopic photos shown with this article are anaglyphs. Each photo is comprised of two images of the same subject, each from the different perspective of the left and right camera lenses. The two views are superimposed and are assigned red or cyan, which are chromatically opposite. When viewed with the red/cyan glasses only the left (red) eye sees the left (cyan) image and the right (cyan) eye sees the right (red) image. The color matching of the image will help determine the amount of ghosting of what you view.
In the beginning God created Man, Woman and a whole slew of other creatures. And for a great many of them He gave them two eyes and stereoscopic vision. OK, spiders have eight. So why the two eyes? It’s to give the View Master Company a reason for being, of course!
When I was a little kid the world of 3D opened up to me with the gift of a View Master and some of those circular reels of photos. Wow! Suddenly what we take for granted as natural vision was captured in a little box with two eye pieces! View Master could take you around the world in life like three dimensional photographs.
But why all the fuss? I mean most of us have natural depth perception thanks to our off set eyes that capture the scene in front of them from slightly different angles, which our brains then fuse together. That’s part of our natural life and we tend to take it for granted. But what we don’t expect is to view our three dimensional world inside a small box or on the flat surface of 3D view card or a projection screen. Suddenly we are amazed to see depth where we don’t think it should be.
Way back in 280 AD Euclid figured out that the dissimilar images received by the brain from our two eyes resulted in the perception of depth. The first 3D drawings were done by Giovanni Battista della Porta around 1600. In 1833 British scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the first stereoscope. Because it was shortly before the first photographs he used the instrument to view drawings and took advantage of photography when it did become available. Just before the Civil War Oliver Wendell Holmes developed the hand held stereo viewer that became standard parlor entertainment in homes through the first part of the 20th century. And in 1939 William Gruber took advantage of Kodak color transparency film to invent the View Master, making it a hit at the New York World’s Fair. And speaking of stereoscopic drawings, Salvador Dali did some cool 3D paintings and currently Ray Zone produces great 3D comic books.
I remember going over to an aunt’s home to look through her collection of cardboard Keystone stereoviews through an old wooden viewer. But it wasn’t until about 1980 that I got serious about creating my own. During my first year at the College at Brockport I used our RB67 with a Polaroid back to produce my first 3D photos. I had an old wooden tripod with a large platform to rest the camera. I went outside and framed up a building, firing off the first shot. Then I pulled out the film, waited for the development time and peeled it apart. Next, I moved the camera about three and a half inches (the distance between most people’s eyeballs) to the right and repeated the process. Back in the studio I cut some matte board into the shape and size of the Keystones viewcards. Trimming down the Polaroid prints I lined them up on the cards and mounted them. When I put the card onto the rail of an old wooden viewer I was now looking at my first 3D photo!
Later on I purchased two Kodak 126 Instamatic cameras, loaded them with color print film, taped them together and hit both shutters at the same time to produce stereo prints with the viewer. Going around with two cameras wrapped together with duct tape certainly made me look professional!
The invention of Kodachrome 35mm film was an inspiration for Seton Rothwite of the David White Company of Milwaukee to develop the first 35mm stereo camera system including viewers and projectors. David White was, and continues to be, a well known surveying equipment company. The Stereo Realist camera sold from 1947 until 1971. The image format is slightly vertical, called 5P, for the amount of sprocket holes across the width. This results in 29 stereo pairs on a 36 exposure roll. It was the best selling 3D camera ever, opening the stereo world to snap shooters around the world.
In the late 80s I decided I was serious enough about 3D photography to want a Stereo Realist. I became aware that 3D photography was used in support of instruction at Brockport many years before I worked there. In 1992 I was given a box of about 800 stereo slide mounts by a psychology professor who was cleaning out an old darkroom. With a bunch of mounts I certainly needed a camera to start putting them to use. So, just in time for the 1992 Park City, Utah symposium I tested out my new camera and did my first extensive shooting around Utah’s National Parks.
I never got much information on the professor who used stereo photography at the college. Later on a vintage stereo projector showed up in another building. But I do know that Keystone and other companies made educational stereo view cards. I saw a few of them at Brockport but many had been thrown out before I arrived at the college. With the Realist I would shoot a few events for myself, especially outdoor commencements and home coming parades. And my 3D slide presentations to campus groups were always popular.
The RBT Stereo Camera, made in Germany by RBT- Raumbildrechnik GmbH was the ultimate camera for me. The model I purchased, costing $4,000, was made to order. It consists of two Nikon SLRs which are modified to assemble one stereo camera. It’s a full frame SLR with zoom lens. David Klutho, noted Sports Illustrated photographer has used RBT cameras among others to photograph amazing action shots at the Olympics. Pick up his book “In Your Face 3D”. Better yet, he’d make a great presenter at a future symposium for 3D or 2D sports photography!
But it was only a matter of time before digital started getting into the stereo field. Most cameras were actually two mounted side by side on a rail, electronically cabled to work as one. But a few years ago Fujifilm became the first major camera company to make a dedicated digital 3D camera, the W1, and last year the improved W3 made its way into my hands. There have been 3D digitals by other makers to follow but none can really be taken seriously compared to the Fuji.
OK, so what do you do with these cameras? Well, for film I purchased some stereo projectors, the first one a TDC 116 vintage machine and the last one a custom built four lens, Brackett projector. With them I have entertained photography groups regionally and as far away as the Oregon Symposium. People are always amazed at what they see through those polarized glasses.
Digital is a little different since the equipment to project is not in my budget right now and I am waiting for newer technology and lower costs to develop. For now one of the best pairings would be to use the Fuji W3 with one of the new large screen HD 3D TVs. LG is getting some of the best reviews for their current models. The Fuji camera is formatted for HD stills and video. Two things I see which is holding things back is that most people at this point, like myself, have already bought a big screen and don’t want to turn around and spend more just for 3D. These new TVs need more 3D content available to purchase, rent or view by cable or satellite. A friend, Tim Pastore, was recently hired to lead 3D television program development for a joint venture of Discovery, Sony and IMAX. And finally, although the Fuji W3 camera is a natural to have with a 3D big screen, I’ve never see them bundled or promoted together.
If I were still working at the college I would be arguing for Admissions to have a 3D large screen in a viewing room for visitors to see a campus tour, especially on those rainy and snowy days when you just don’t want to walk them around campus. Oh yes, the glasses are getting better, the passive technology ones about the same as you wear in the theatre, no more ridiculous than some of the sunglasses I see around. What a great assignment it would be to build up a library of college 3D content! A good reason to bring me back for special assignment?
At some of the large research universities 3D is being used, mostly in the sciences and medicine. The Mars rovers have been equipped with 3D cameras both to facilitate their navigation and to help scientists interpret the images sent back home. In a college Geology class we used stereoscopic aerial views of land formations and close ups of mineral specimens.
Stereoscopic movies have been with us for quite some time. In the 1950s we had 3D films like the “Creature From The Black Lagoon” and “The House of Wax” and even Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”. Now there’s great digitally projected films like “The Polar Express”, “Avatar” and most recently “Hugo”.
Both stereoscopic technology and artistry continue to become more refined. As someone who will always love to create two dimensional, “flat”, photographic prints, I also look forward to advances in other dimensions! (Start up the Star Trek theme!)