I attended the recent Createasphere Entertainment Technology Expo in New York, primarily to see up-to-date 3D technology. In fact, Createasphere used a photo of me examining a 3Ality Technica TS-5 mirror rig with Red cameras in their blog on the Expo. While I was there, I had a chance to see, and play with, three new professional 3D camcorders from Sony and JVC. These cameras had a lot in common yet they spanned a broad range in price points. All, however, were specifically targeted at professional 3D video content creation.
One feature all three cameras had in common was a 3.5-inch autostereoscopic 3D display as a viewfinder. While no one could or would confirm it, all three displays looked very similar to me. In particular, they had wide viewing angle and it was easy to find the sweet spot for 3D viewing. When the cameras were used in 2D mode, the display still looked good.
The second feature they shared was a fixed interaxial distance. While it was different for the 3 cameras, they were all less than or equal to the 65mm nominal interpupillary distance for the human eye. This low interaxial distance can give good 3D at short distances but minimizes the 3D for distant shots. Unlike the earlier Panasonic consumer-grade 3D camcorder, these units all have adjustable convergence.
The JVC GY-HMZ1U was actually shown at NAB earlier this year but was not yet shipping. According to JVC marketing communications manager David Walton, it will start shipping this month, at a price under $2000 which is down from the $2500 reported in May. While the price of the GY-HMZ1U is approaching the Prosumer price, it has professional features such as the ability to record with timecode. It has dual ¼" sensors and dual f/1.2 5x zoom lenses with optical stabilization. In addition to 3D video, the camera can also be used for 2D video, as well as 3D or 2D stills.
Sony was showing two professional 3D camcorders, the HXR-NX3D1 for about $3,500, shipping now, and the PMW-TD300 3D camcorder for about $33,000.
The HXR NX3D1 uses dual ¼" sensors and dual lenses with a 32mm fixed interaxial. The unit is very small-Bob Willox, director of 3D Business Development at Sony, referred to it as a "Palmcorder." Small or not, it has already been used for professional 3D acquisition, perhaps most notably by ESPN at the X-Games. One advantage of its small size is it minimizes the impact on the audience and "kills" very few seats compared to a full dual camera 3D rig. In 3D mode, the camera will record 1080i or in 2D mode it will record 1080p. Willox said this 2D/3D functionality is something strongly desired by the producers of 3D content, especially live content such as sports, because it allows them to reduce production costs by using the same camera and cameraman for both the 2D and 3D versions of a program.
The PMW-TD300 3D camcorder is a full-fledged professional unit suitable for studio and field use. It can be used on a tripod, shoulder held or used with a Steadicam. It has dual ½" camera modules, each containing 3 CMOS sensors. This unit also has a fixed interaxial distance of 45mm and adjustable convergence. The unit has dual-stream HD-SDI output as well as 2D/3D output via HDMI for viewing on consumer and other displays with HDMI inputs.
Willox said that one advantage of 3D camcorders compared to 3D rigs with two cameras is there is less need to "fix in post." This occurs because the two cameras and lenses come pre-aligned and pre-calibrated so the two images are aligned in x-y and rotation. While these errors can be easily fixed in post, it is better not to have the errors at all. Other errors like focus, depth of focus and exposure are harder or impossible to fix in post-production and must be avoided if at all possible.
These relatively accessible 3D cameras are likely to spread 3D content creation onto a much broader base, including to production people with relatively little experience in the production of 3D. These newcomers to 3D production would do well to learn about 3D before committing to a 3D production from a 3D training source such as Insight Media University.
One note: everybody at the Entertainment Technology Expo who was showing 3D video to attendees was using LCD panels and passive glasses. This included not only Sony and JVC, but also 3Ality Technica, who was there with their TS-5 mirror rig with Red cameras. Bye-bye active glasses, at least at trade shows.
An expanded version of this article with more details on these three cameras will be published in the upcoming Large Display Report. -Matthew Brennesholtz