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After years of mere trickles, a deluge of 3D surged through NAB 2010. Steven Bradford shows you some of the cameras that really shined.
I've been shooting 3D video for nearly as long as I've been attending NAB. For most of those 25 years -- ok, all of those years -- I've always felt like 3D was some kind of clandestine activity, like I needed a secret handshake to be enter the forlorn (but not officially forbidden) 3D video booth. Sometimes I found the lone 3D video vendor in some dark corner of the convention center, back with the defibrillators and CO2 refills for the refreshment stands. Until this year. What a difference a blockbuster makes! 3D everywhere!
My mission this year was to check out the 3D camera offerings, and I wasn't disappointed in the volume of cameras that were shown. It all boiled down to three general types of 3d cameras: Completely integrated cameras are most similar to the 2D camcorders we us now, with the lenses, processing electronics and recording all in one package for quick operation. From the sides or rear, you might not even be able to tell that it is a twin lens camera. Because it is all one piece, it's not possible to swap out cameras or lenses.
Side-by-Side Rigs have two cameras mounted next to each other, emulating the position of our eyes. Although this seems the most logical mounting scheme, in practice it is difficult to get cameras that can be mounted even as close together as our eyes are. Even if the camera and lens is tiny enough, we often need to bring the center point of cameras even closer together for some shots, specifically close-ups. Thus the need for the next category:
Mirror Rigs use a beam splitter mirror, similar to a teleprompter mirror, except that the prompter is replaced with another camera identical to the main camera. The second camera might be pointed up into the mirror, or down, or even from the side. The great advantage is that practically any width camera or lens combination can work with a mirror rig. Operationally, it is possible to decrease the inter-axial (the distance between the centers of the lenses) all the way down to zero.
The disadvantage is that Mirror Rigs are considerably larger than Side-by-Side rigs. They can be much larger than 35mm film cameras and may even be as big, if not bigger than color television camera from 50 years ago. Yet they are the favored all-around 3D rig because of their flexibility. Almost any size lens or camera can conceivably be fitted to a mirror rig. Note that some Side-by-Side Rigs and Mirror Rigs use motion control-type motors to adjust the camera positions and lens settings. Others are essentially mounting platforms, and the meticulous positioning between setups must be done manually.
So, now that we've set the scene, let's meet the players...
3ality's rigs have been a major presence for both feature film and event 3D broadcasts for a few years now. They were shown in several booths with cameras from Sony, Ikegami, Panasonic, Red, etc. Their side-by-side and mirror rigs can handle just about any 3D filming situation, but their TS-5 "miniature" beam splitter got my attention. It's "only" 22 pounds without camera and lenses. That's a lot more than Panasonic's 3D camcorder (later in this article), but this is a much more capable system, able to shoot close or far, with several different cameras and lens combinations. With small cameras, it can be hand held, Steadicam, or remote crane mounted. It comes with software control of all the positioning and alignment of the cameras. The operator can set up shots that change zoom and focus and inter-axial during the shot. The TS-5 should be very popular with film and broadcast vets new to 3D who are accustomed to the larger weights of 2D 35mm and EFP cameras.
3ality rig with a pair of Ikegami HDL-51 cameras. All photos by Steven Bradford with noted exceptions.