After a year of rumors and prototypes, Fujifilm has officially announced its 3D camera, the FinePix Real 3D W1. The W1 takes digital three-dimensional photos and videos, and you can view them without goofy colored glasses. Fujifilm also announced its Real 3D V1 digital picture viewer, and a 3D photo-printing service.

Inventors have been trying to perfect 3D imagery for almost 200 years. From stereoscopes in the mid-1800s, to movie audiences wearing red-and-blue glasses and on to GAF Viewmaster toys, 3D photography and cinematography have managed to hang on as a niche market without ever achieving the huge popularity of their 2D counterparts. Fujifilm hopes that there is enough demand to make its digital version a success.

Most 3D systems work the same way our human eyes do, by viewing the same object from slightly different angles to create the perception of depth. This is known as the parallax effect, and recreating it mechanically typically requires a way to show a separate picture to each eye. Past methods have involved stereoscopes, colored or polarized glasses, and even separate tiny displays mounted in “virtual reality” goggles. The Fujifilm design takes the 3D apparatus off the viewer and puts it into the display device.

The FinePix Real 3D W1 camera looks pretty much like any other compact digital camera, except that it has two lenses on the front. The unit is essentially two cameras in a single body. Each 3x lens is equivalent to a 35 - 105mm lens on a 35mm camera, and has its own 10MP CCD sensor. These are coupled together with a new image processor that Fujifilm calls the “RP” (for “Real Photo”). The RP processor merges the left and right images into a single 3D image. This image is displayed live on the W1’s 2.8in. (7.1cm) 3D LCD screen, achieving the 3D effect without the need for special glasses. You can also upload and view your pictures and movies on the Real 3D V1 digital picture frame.

3D photos and videos

The Real 3D W1 offers two 3D modes. In Auto 3D mode, you simply compose your shot on the 3D display and press the shutter button. The camera simultaneously takes a picture through each lens, adjusting the color and exposure like any other point-and-shoot camera but also compositing the images into one image and adjusting the 3D effect. In Advanced 3D mode, you take two separate photos from two different angles, and then manually composite them into one 3D image in-camera. After you take the first image, it appears as a transparent overlay on the display to help you align and frame the second shot. Fujifilm says this mode is designed to enhance the 3D appearance of distant or close-up subjects like mountains or flowers. Advanced 3D mode also allows you to adjust the parallax, or perceived angle, of the 3D image so you can fine-tune the visual effect.

The Real 3D W1 also shoots 3D video. Like many compact cameras, the video specs are not that great. Fujifilm says the unit will shoot 640 x 480 pixels or 320 x 240 pixels at 30fps (frames per second) with stereo sound. The video might be low-res, but hey it’s in 3D!

Enhanced 2D shooting

The FinePix Real 3D W1 can take traditional 2D images as well. In addition to the usual scene modes and exposure controls Fujifilm has added specific features to take advantage of the two complete lens/sensor arrays in the camera. Dual Capture Shooting Mode lets you simultaneously take two shots at different settings, one through each lens. You can set separate exposure and color settings for each. For example, you can shoot one wide-angle image and one zoomed-in image at the same time or apply different scene modes to each photo.

Standalone 3D viewer

The FinePix Real 3D V1 is a digital picture frame-style viewer designed to complement the W1 camera. It is similar to many other digital picture frames on the market, featuring USB and wireless uploading, slideshow and video viewing, and so on. The key difference is that the V1 viewer has a 3D-capable LCD display (like the W1 camera itself), plus it is compatible with the camera’s CIPA MP format for 3D stills and the 3D-AVI format for movies.

Fujifilm says it will also be launching a service to print 3D still photos. These prints will use a plastic lenticular sheet with many parallel lens built in to create the 3D effect.

The Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1 camera and Real 3D V1 viewer will be available in September 2009. Pricing has not yet been announced.

For details visit Fujifilm’s Real 3D website.

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