Everybody seems to be talking about 3D these days. It's been around before and never really caught on, so is it just the latest passing fad or is 3D entertainment really here to stay this time? The film companies love it because 3D cinema movies are harder to pirate, and the TV manufacturers like it because it means they can flog us expensive new 3D plasma TVs for our living rooms. Panasonic has launched a 3D camcorder and a 3D lens for its G-Micro compact system camera range, but today I'm taking a look at Fujifilm's FinePix W3, a stereoscopic 3D compact camera that can not only shoot 3D still images and 3D HD video, it can even display them thanks to a unique 3D monitor that doesn't require the wearing of special glasses.
The W3 isn't Fujifilm's first 3D still camera; it launched the similar FinePix W1 last summer to a rather lukewarm reception, but apparently it sold well enough to justfy a sequel, so the new W3 adds 3D HD video recording with stereo audio to the formula, along with improvements to the 3D monitor. It still has the same basic configuration as the W1, with a sliding front panel concealing a pair of internal 3x zoom lenses, twin microphones and the built-in flash.
Unlike the Panasonic system which uses split images on a single sensor with relatively little parallax separation, the W3 is essentially two complete 10 megapixel, 3x zoom cameras in the same case, with a separation of approximately 7.5cm (3in) between the lenses, about the same as the distance between human eyes. Because of this it's a physically large and heavy camera compared to most compacts, measuring 124 x 65.9 x 27.8mm and weighing approximately 250g including battery and memory card.
Pictures and video shot on the W3 can be viewed in 3D on the camera's own monitor screen, on any suitable 3D TV, on an optional 3D digital picture frame (the Real 3D V1) that uses the same display technology as the camera's monitor, or by having the pictures printed by Fujifilm's special 3D printing service, which is available via Fujifilm's website.
The 3D printing technology is ingenious. No special glasses are needed since it uses a very fine-textured Fresnel lens surface on a thin plastic sheet to produce an autostereoscopic image. The 3D effect is surprisingly good, but not all subjects are suitable for printing. Only horizontal (landscape format) images will work in 3D, and the process also doesn't handle very fine detail, low light or extremes of distance particularly well. The prints are also expensive; 6x4 inch snapshot-sized prints are £3.99 each, with a £4.99 delivery charge. A home 3D printer has been developed and was shown at this year's Focus On Imaging camera show, but it is not available to the public, or at least not yet.