Smoke and mirrors" never had much of a positive connotation but, sans the smoke, Sony is looking to a unique mirror technology to get beyond some of the core image capture problems with recording 3D. The company is about to announce at CEATEC, Japan’s Autumnal version of our Winter CES, a new single lens 3D camera technology. They claim its "capable of recording natural and smooth 3D images of even fast-moving subject matter [by combining] a newly developed optical system for single lens 3D camera which captures the left and right images simultaneously, together with existing high frame rate (HFR) recording technology to realize 240fps 3D filming." They plan to demonstrate a prototype of said device in Chiba City, Japan, on October 6th.
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The single lens system splits the incoming light into two optical paths with pick-up sensors (CMOS) for left and right eye. This approach removes the zoom and focus issues of "existing half-mirror 3D camera systems" that use two separate lenses for the left and right eyes-the company claims (see the diagram below).
Here’s how Sony describes the problem with existing dual lens 3D systems: "The sensitivity of the human eye, particularly to differences in the size and rotational movement of dual images, as well as any vertical misalignment or difference in image quality, has meant that complex technology has been required to ensure that each camera lens is closely coordinated and there are no discrepancies in the optical axis, image size, and focus. …The introduction of a single lens system resolves any issues that may occur as a result of having different optical characteristics for each eye."
For Sony, using mirrors in place of a second camera means "there is no difference in time between when the left and right eye images are captured." Sony claims "…it is possible for natural and smooth 3D images to be captured, even of scenes involving fast motion."
In addition to this single lens technology, it’s this 240fps 3D that gets Sony beyond human visual acuity, the company claims, citing "optical tests" showing that speed "represents the limit of human visual perception." Beyond this, Sony says, it’s difficult for humans to detect motion artifacts (i.e. motion blur and judder).
In dual-camera rigs, the distance between the lens and the toe-in is often adjusted based upon the depth of field desired and the distance of objects for the camera. Sony claims their new single-lens camera does not allow and indeed, does not need these adjustments to achieve "depth of the 3D image." Frankly, we are a little skeptical of this claim. We suspect the camera will have advantages in certain types of 3D capture, but it is not likely to be the best choice for all 3D shots.
The next question to ask is when will a 3D "consumer model" follow? Only Sony can answer that one - and maybe they will say more at CEATEC. Expect 3D to be a hot topic at CEATEC this year, as it has been all fall. - Steve Sechrist