Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1 digital camera

We first saw Fujifilm's 3D concept camera at Photokina 2008 and struggled to take it seriously. There are so many questions and seemingly so few answers. Now the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1 has come to fruition. But can we now take the first 3D production camera seriously, or is it still just a little too niche?

Out of the box it is a big beast. Measuring 123.6 x 68 x 25.6mm and weighing 260g, it’s a far cry from the majority of compact models out there. This isn't just Fujifilm being lazy: it features two 10-megapixel CCD sensors, and two lenses, both of which feature 3x optical zoom (35-105mm equiv), which necessitates some extra bulk. It also gives you a base line length of 77mm to create that stereoscopic effect.

It could perhaps be smaller but as a first generation device it can be forgiven. Certainly you'll be able to slip it into a coat pocket (if not your jeans pocket) and it is smaller than your average homemade dual-camera rig.

The exterior is finished in glossy black plastic and given that the front features a slider to reveal the lenses and power the W1 on, it will permanently be covered in fingerprints. We'd prefer a matte finish, but this doesn't detract from usability per se.

Working around the body, you'll find the shutter and zoom controls on the top as standard, accompanied by an Infrared port. The right-hand side features a flip-open hatch (of reassuring quality) which reveals the DC input for charging and the AV connector. A bottom hatch opens to reveal the bay for the battery (good for about 200 shots, as you'll do plenty of previewing) and SD/SDHC card.

The back of the W1 sees a 2.8-inch 260k-dot display, giving you a 100% field of view. It is in a 4:3 aspect, as are the images produced by default, although there is a 3:2 option and images may also change width as you alter parallax in 3D shooting modes.

Flanking the screen are the main controls. These are ranged across six rocker switches and are perhaps the greatest oddity of all. A course finish is applied to them so they don't feel great in use. The middle left-hand button gives you parallax control, which can be altered plus or minus in both shooting and playback modes to get the best results. An Auto parallax option is available, but minor adjustments will give a better final image on the camera's display.

Other major controls worth mentioning include a 2D/3D button. This will let you jump between 2D and 3D both in shooting and image viewing (although you can only view images shot in 2D in 2D obviously). Shooting in 2D uses only the left-hand lens, unless you step into the advanced 2D shooting modes.

Other controls are divided between the buttons for some direct functions – like flash control – and the various menus. It will take some time to get used to what you'll find where as it isn't the most intuitive menu system. You'll also have to read the manual to really understand what your options are here, as plain experimentation may just lead to frustrating ends.

Power the W1 on and you are greeted with 3D-ish menus, which is where you might want to flip to 2D whilst you concentrate on the information. Shooting modes range from Auto, through the usual scene selections, manual, aperture priority and program mode. The latter three modes give you control over things like ISO, white balance and shutter speed and aperture (max F/3.7) accordingly.

These are fairly regular options and do give you some degree of creative control. You might find that using some of these elements in 3D mode is a little daunting at first, but in the standard 2D mode they work as they would on most other cameras. The really interesting shooting modes, however, lurk in the further two options.

3D Advanced shooting contains two further shooting modes: Interval 3D Shooting and Individual Shutter 3D. These revert to using the left-hand lens only and take two shots to be combined. Interval lets you select a time lapse between the two, so if you are moving past a distant object you'll get your shots for your 3D image. Individual Shutter takes two shots on two presses of the shutter button.

These options give you much more control over creating 3D images. Essentially, these advanced modes replicate the sort of thing you'd do with a normal camera and post-processing software to create a 3D image.

Advanced 2D shooting modes give you the choice of using one lens zoomed, with one at the wide angle, or one in a different colour set (e.g., one colour, one black and white) or with different ISO settings. However, in practice, by the time you have selected these options, you might as well have just changed the relevant settings and taken two shots.

Writing to the memory card is a little slow, we found it typically to be around 3 seconds for a daylight Auto 3D shot to a class 4 4GB SDHC hard. That may not be an issue for 3D photographers where composition of a shot requires more consideration than standard 2D photography. That said, 2D shot writing is also a little slow, but a continuous mode will give you up to 40 shots in succession.

Snapping 3D images is great fun and the W1 gives you plenty of scope to explore 3D photography. But there is a slight stumbling block at the moment: viewing your images.

Sure, the screen on the back gives you an instant viewing option, but beyond this you might find yourself too far ahead of the curve. Fujifilm also sell the V1 viewer (£370) which will act as a photo frame for showing off your images, but it's an expensive option. Fujifilm will also be offering an option to print your images, but that currently requires them to be printed in Japan and sent to you (at a yet-to-be-determined price for the UK).

Beyond that, if you are not equipped with a 3D monitor or Nvidia's 3D Vision, then you'll need to consider how you'll be viewing these beautiful 3D images. Your 3D images are output in MPO format, so you'll need someway of viewing these files. We used StereoPhoto Maker, which is both free and relatively simple to use and will allow you to create versions of your images that can be easily shared as a JPEG, either in as anaglyph or as a cross-eye picture (or other alternatives).

The FinePix W1 also supports video capture, at a maximum resolution of 680 x 480 at 30fps (both in 2D and 3D). It features stereo mics and stereo speakers and the sound audio quality is actually pretty good. Video is nice and clear and is output as a stereo AVI. StereoMovie Maker (again a free download) will allow you to convert your original 3D file back into something less high-tech, like an anaglyph or side-by-side video file for sharing elsewhere, such as on YouTube.

The W1 will record a JPG image file alongside your MPO if you wish, meaning you have the choice of a conventional image. You can, of course, whip a single image out of the MPO too after the matter using software. As a 10-megapixel compact camera, the quality is reasonably good, with plenty of detail in shots, even if it does get a little choppy at 100% views.

Colours are realistically represented and overall the exposure seems to be good. The flash (which has the usual slow sync, red eye reduction, etc, options) boosts otherwise pretty good low light performance, aided by well suppressed noise up to ISO 800; the ISO 1600 has noticeable noise, but is still usable.

High contrast shots seem to be handled without excessive fringing and the W1 also manages to grab definition out of dull grey skies, not something that every compact can boast.

Flipping over to 3D gives things a bit of a colour punch with 3D bringing a richness to images that can feed your desire to explore 3D further. Image composition is easy in Auto mode, but favours scenes with plenty of depth: macro 3D photography through the Adv. 3D shooting mode is not for the feint-hearted (see the spider anaglyph test shot using macro Individual Shutter 3D).

Verdict

For those who are already addicted to 3D content creation, be it video or still, the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1 is a dream come true. It takes a lot of the hassle out of 3D image creation, but doesn’t limit you to auto-only features. It's a shame, then, that there isn't anything supplied in the box to handle the software conversions you'll probably find yourself doing. Fujifilm have muttered previously that software should be coming, but no sign of it yet.

Mac users are also left a little in the cold, with both the applications mentioned in this review having Windows versions only.

So is this the 3D answer we've all been waiting for? Well perhaps not. As a camera we'd welcome a slimmer, more compact model and the menus could certainly do with some revision. The construction materials don't really impress for a camera that will set you back £430. The FinePix W1 is punching into entry-level DSLR territory at that price.

Traditionalists will continue to say that 3D isn't needed, but the W1 provides a strong opposing argument: 3D is an art form just as conventional photography is. The first thing you'll find is just how much fun you can have with the W1. It's all about experimentation in a field that is going to see an explosion over the next few years.

You can either be at the forefront and dive in now, or bide your time until second and third generation devices arrive. It is currently niche, certainly, and won't break into the mainstream for as long as viewing your results presents a problem. But once we all have 3DTVs in our lounge, you'll remember the W1 for the innovative camera it is.