Panasonic debuted its VW-CLT1 3D camcorder lens in 2010, but it's now available to buy separately and can be used with a selection of models from the brand's new product lineup. We managed to get some hands-on time with the new lens at Panasonic's 2011 product showcase.
The VW-CLT1 lens can be used with a selection of Panasonic camcorders including the HDC-SD900, HDC-TM900 and HDC-SD800 and it can also be paired up with the SD90 using the included adaptor ring. Until recently, the lens was only available when bought as part of a package with the HDC-SDT750 - the world's first consumer 3D camcorder and it's only now that the the VW-CLT1 can be bought separately and used with a selection of models.The dual lenses inside the device record right-eye and left-eye images simultaneously to produce three-dimensional footage.
Measuring 78 x 59 x 97mm, the lens is relatively compact and shouldn't be too much trouble to cart around. It comes with screw-on lens caps for both ends which is perhaps preferable to lens cover that can simply be popped off, as it's less likely to fall off in your bag. We found that attaching the lens to a camcorder was child's play - you simply turn the recessed dial to the right to unlock the mechanism, fit the two tiny plastic pins onto the corresponding holes on the front of the camcorder and turn the dial to the left to lock it. And don't worry if you're having a moment of madness and can't remember your left from right - the words 'lock' and 'unlock' and clearly written on either side of the dial so that the process is completely foolproof.
We fitted the lens to the HDC-TM900 camcorder, which immediately brings up a message that asks you to calibrate the settings for 3D viewing if you haven't already done so. There's a small control panel hidden a flap on the top of the lens for tweaking the settings. We found that the entire setup process was very easy indeed although we didn't find shooting quite as fuss-free.
At 195g, the lens isn't exactly heavy, but when attached to a relatively lightweight camcorder, we found that it felt quite unbalanced. Attaching something to the front of the product is always going to add some extra bulk but with most interchangable lens stills cameras, it seems that more thought has been put into the design and weighting of the camera to counteract this. However, impressive as it is, the 3D lens seems a bit more like an afterthought in terms of the camcorder's design. We found that we had to adjust the velcro strap that goes around the hand and make it really quite tight to stop the camcorder from tipping forwards. Any kind of long-term filming is likely to give you arm-ache, so a tripod is probably in order.
Despite this slight drawback, seeing the 3D lens in action is very impressive indeed. It has a filming range of 1m to infinity, but what's really important is the 1.5m convergence point. This means that anything that's 1.5m away from the lens will appear flat on your 3D image, while objects in front of that point will appear to be protruding from the image and anything behind it will produce the illusion of depth.
The footage that we saw from the 3D lens was displayed on one of Panasonic's 3D plasma panels (naturally), and after donning our active shutter specs the three-dimensional effect looked great, although the resolution appeared to be slightly lower than what you're get from 2D footage. The 3D lens tends to work best on scenes where there's obvious perspective (such as a corrider), or on movement towards the camera as well as scenes that have lot of obvious layers of depth, such as a football crowd. The most important point seems to be keeping anything that's in front of the convergence point well framed. If an object is too close to the camera so that its edges go off the side of the image, this looks very confusing to the eyes, as does anything that's connected to the ground - for example, it's someone is standing in front of the convergence point.
Overall, we were very impressed with the results, we just hope that the next version of the lens is a little bit lighter, or that the relevant camcorders are weighted to compensate.
The camcorders are due to launch later by the end of February, but the VW-CLT1 is available now for £280.99 on Panasonic's own website. However, you can find it online for as little as £240.