The ImageTech 3D fx camera is part of a family of “lenticular” 3D cameras that were part of a future that never arrived. At one time they were touted as the next great revolution in photography, but high camera costs and high processing fees proved to be too prohibitive for most hobbyists, so they died a slow death. That’s great for us though because that means you can get them cheaply, and with a bit of time and a bit of software, you can still get some pretty cool results.
The ImageTech 3D fx is one of several lenticular 3D cameras sold under the ImageTech brand. The Kalimar 3D was a clone of this camera. Other, more well known lenticular 3D cameras are the Nimslo and the Nishika. All lenticular 3D cameras incorporate multiple lenses to produce multiple images taken simultaneously from slightly different angles. Producing the final lenticular print requires special processing whereby the individual images are sliced up into very thin vertical strips which are then interlaced and covered with a sheet of plastic that has long vertical lenses in it. These lenses focus on different images depending on the viewing angle. When you tilt the lenticular picture back and forth, left and right, you see the original images one at a time which causes the illusion of 3D. Lenticular 3D cameras incorporated from two to five lenses. More lenses allowed for smoother 3D animation in the final image. Also, greater separation between the lenses means more parallax. Parallax is the difference between what two different lenses see. The greater the parallax, the greater the illusion of depth. More lenses meant better 3D, but it also meant fewer pictures per roll of film. Most lenticular cameras were very simple – utilizing fixed focus lenses, a fixed aperture, and a fixed shutter speed. The ImageTech 3D fx had was introduced in 1996. It was designed around the use of 400 ASA film and has a reminder on the back of the camera that for best results you should always use the flash and always use 400 ASA film. It incorporated three plastic 27mm lenses, a fixed aperture of ƒ/9.5, and a fixed shutter speed of 1/100″. The specs say that the close focusing distance is 1.2m, but I’ve taken pictures closer than that which came out fine. I think the close focusing distance is more like 1m or even slightly less which is good because the 3D effect is more pronounced with close subjects. Because of the multiple frames being exposed per shot, you can only fit 24 shot on a 36 exposure roll or 16 shots on a 24 exposure roll.
The format of the individual frames is half-frame! Half-frame is the original 35mm frame format that was first used when 35mm film was developed to for use in films. The first 35mm film were run vertically through a movie camera exposing frames that are half as large as a standard 35mm frame in landscape format. Later, the film was used sideways in cameras with a frame that was twice as large, but again in landscape format. Even later, many manufacturers went back to using “half-frame” in 35mm still cameras so that you could shoot twice as many pictures per roll of film. Most half-frame cameras take pictures in portrait mode unless you hold them sideways. A couple of interesting recent half-frame cameras are the SuperHeadz Golden Half and the Lomography Diana MINI. Interestingly, all modern lenticular 3D stereoscopic cameras, starting with the Nimso and including the 3D fx, use the half-frame format for the individual frames. That means that if you crop out one of the images and tilt it sideways, you get the original 35mm movie aspect ratio.
The ImageTech 3D fx has a few very interesting features. First, it has very wide-angle lenses. One of the problems with half-frame cameras is that a smaller frame size means that the same size lens is narrower than with a full size 35mm frame. This makes framing more difficult and means that you can fit less in the picture. Good wide-angle lenses are difficult to design, so most half-frames made a compromise and ended up with lenses that were just a bit too telephoto. The ImageTech is a fairly modern half-frame using plastic aspherical lenses. 27mm is a very good focal length for half-frame cameras. The Nimslo had a 30mm (slightly longer) lens. Another interesting feature of the 3D fx is that it uses only three lenses. The Nimso used four which cut the number of pictures per roll in half (half-frame, remember?). The 3D fx uses three, so you only decrease the number of pictures per roll by 1/3. The 3D fx has a reasonably close focus of at least 1m, maybe even less. This is important because with such a small spacing between the lenses the 3D effect will only be noticeable with close objects. The Nimso had a close focusing distance of 2m. The ImageTech can be fooled into doing multiple exposures. It also has a built-in flash which means that you can use it indoors and out.
Using the 3D fx
Using the 3D fx is straightforward enough. Just load the film and start shooting. Nothing tricky here. The counter resets automatically when you open the back of the camera and loading is simple. Because this is a true point and shoot camera, you don’t have to worry about focusing, setting the aperture, or the shutter speed. The flash is always on.
So, what happens if we just load up the camera with film, shoot some pictures, and get the film processed?
Here are some examples of what you get if you just shoot the film, get it processed, and scan in the three half-fame sets with a film scanner:
There are a few things to notice. First, you see that there are three images. Each pair of images is a cross-eye stereograph. If you can cross your eyes to see stereo images (I can.), then you will see that there are actually three stereo images here – one using images one and two, one using images two and three, and one using images one and three. The parallax between images one and three is greater than the others. It’s possible to use any of these with a free program called StereoPhoto Maker to create 3D walleye, cross-eye, anaglyphs, and wobble GIFs. There is also a web page where you can upload two images and it will create the wobble GIFs for you with “morphed” intermediate frames to make it look smoother.
Another thing you might notice is the awesome vignetting! You’ll be able to see it more in some of th other pictures I’ll be sharing, but take my word for it – this camera vignettes like crazy. Even if you’re not interested in messing with the 3D stuff, you might be interested in just cropping out the middle image and treating it like a standard half-frame image with a reasonable field of view and very natural vignetting.
Also, notice the half-frame format. There are three images, but each one is in the standard half-frame format which is a portrait aspect ratio. That makes this camera a great choice for taking pictures of people – 3D or not.
You will be able to get the film processed at any mini-lab or “drugstore”, but they will not be able to cut, scan, or print your pictures. Certainly they will not be able to give you lenticular prints or even process the triptychs for you. At the time of this writing, it looks like there is only one place in the world where you can get lenticular processing – Snap 3D in Canada ( http://www.snap3d.com/ ). The processing is expensive, but they can do it all from two lens to four lens, and they specifically mention ImageTech cameras. You can send them your film and they will develop it for you and create the lenticular prints for you.
If you choose to have a mini-lab do just the developing (like I do), you will have to scan the negatives and do the post processing yourself. The best tools to use are SetereoPhoto Maker if you want to do anaglyphs and Ulead GIF animator if you want to create wobble GIFs. Ulead GIF animator will cost you money, but it’s worth it. You will also need a film scanner to be able to scan non-standard frame sizes. I use an Epson Perfection v500 Photo Scanner and it does everything I need.
OK. So, you’ve managed to get one of these cameras from ebay. What can you do to make things really interesting? First, let’s talk about the most straight-forward thing. We’ve got three images and we don’t want to wait for lenticular processing. We really want to show off our work on the internet anyway. So, what can we do? We can start with the idea of a 3D wobble GIF and extend it. A 3D wobble GIF creates the illusion of 3D by alternating between the left and right images of a stereogram. It’s interesting for a few reasons. First, you don’t need any special glasses or monitors to experience it. Also, it’s the only form of stereogram that a one-eyed person can appreciate. (This is true. Check it out. Close one eye and try it.) Most wobble GIFs use two images, but we have three. That’s 33.3% more stereo information. It also makes for smoother animation an a more realistic illusion. Here are some triple-image wobble GIF stereograms I created using Ulead GIF animator:
Another interesting trick is to use it as a half-frame camera. This trick is a bit complicated, but here’s the gist. You can cover up two of the lenses so that you’re only exposing one half-frame at a time. Then, you can trick the camera into resetting the shutter so that you only advance the film every third frame. This lets you shoot three single pictures using each of the three lenses individually. This lets you fit twice as many pictures on each roll of film and gives you the nice half-frame aspect ratio along with some awesome vignetting. So here’s what I did:
- Hold the camera sideways and cover the bottom two lenses with my fingers.
- Take a picture.
- Hold down the rewind button and lever while I turn the film advance wheel to cock the shutter.
- Hold the camera sideways and cover the top and bottom lenses with my fingers.
- Take the middle picture.
- Hold down the rewind button and lever while I turn the film advance wheel to cock the shutter.
- Take the bottom picture.
- Advance the film as usual.
That gave me the following results. This is a scan of the negative so that you can see the half-frame pictures as they show up on the negative:
Here is an example of an individual half-frame shots:
Notice the traditional half-frame portrait format. Notice the natural vignetting at the corners.
You can use the same technique to prevent the film from advancing while you reset the shutter to do multiple exposures which you can also animate like this:
You can also get some interesting results by cutting out the baffles that prevent the images from overlapping. That will give you results like this:
If you cover the lenses with different colored filters, you will get results like this:
If you cover the two outside lenses, then you will only get the center image extending as far as it can across a larger than average 35mm frame. The interesting thing about this is that the 27mm lens actually gives you a wide angle image because it’s not cropped by the baffles. My first attempt at doing this had lots of light leaks and yielded images like this:
Later, I did a better job of removing all the little plastic bits between the lenses inside the camera and covering all the holes that were left. That yielded results like this:
Using the double-exposure trick yields images like this:
You can also use the stick-on Jelly lenses which fit on the lens perfectly. Here’s what I got using the Jelly macro lens:
I think the pictures are a better summary than anything I could add. If you have the ability to scan your own film, this is a great little camera that gives you lots of creative options.