If you hadn't guessed already, 3D is the buzzword of the moment and likely to be the buzzword for some time to come. But with your TV begging to be replaced with a 3D model, should you be changing your camera too? We got an early glimpse ahead of the official launch of the new 3D capable camera from Fujifilm to find out.
The W3 is the latest model in the company's FinePix Real 3D range, replacing the W1 launched in 2009. What happened to the W2? We aren't sure either, but the new model is called the W3, presumably playing on the 3D element that the camera offers.
What you get this time is very similar to what you got last time. Two 10-megapixel CCD sensors, and two lenses, both of which feature 3x optical zoom (35-105mm equiv), which necessitates some extra bulk although Fujifilm is offering a thinner design this time around.
The design sees the cameras spaced ever so slightly further apart to better replicate your eyes, but unless you are looking at the two models side-by-side you aren't going to notice. Fujifilm says this means better performance, and at this stage, based on our brief play, we will have to take its word on that one.
It's worth pointing out though that you shouldn't expect the "more consumer friendly" design to be slim and small - the W3 is anything but - but then it is packing two camera lenses and a large 3.5-inch screen around the back.
While the front and the core camera specs haven't changed much, the rear of the camera has. The design has been simplified, with the control mechanism brought into line with the other cameras in the FinePix range. That means out; are the array of complicated and confusing buttons either side of the screen, and in; are standard dials that Fujifilm owners will recognise.
The 3.5-inch screen itself is a lenticular offering - an increase from 2.8 inches - and this surprisingly makes a big difference. The lenticular bit, like the yet to be released Nintendo 3DS, allows you to see 3D images without the need to wear 3D glasses - as long as you find the sweet spot. Fujifilm says this is 1.5x brighter and 1.8x better at creating deeper images on which to gaze upon. In practice that means that you'll be able to view the photos you've taken as well as see them live in 3D, as you take them, without the need to plug into a computer or 3D-Ready television. In fact, for the majority of people, we suspect that is exactly how they will be viewed initially.
To improve the viewing experience the W3, like the W1, comes with parallax control, which can be altered plus or minus in both shooting and playback modes via a toggle on the top left shoulder, in order 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.
The technology is very simple to use, but very clever, with the camera doing all the work to give you that all important 3D experience. The downside of course is that to benefit from the 3D viewing opportunity you have to have your head, and therefore eyes, in exactly the right spot to make it work, something that when taking a picture might take a bit of practice. Shooting in the optional 2D mode will render the lenticular elements of the screen void and you can use the W3 like a standard camera, albeit one that has two lenses.
The dials are easy to use and straightforward enough to understand, with the system offering a fairly simple menu and explanation of scene modes when you cycle through the options. For speed there is a dedicated 2D/3D button to turn the main feature off.
When it comes to seeing your pictures on something other than the camera, there are plenty of options. You can export your images by connecting the camera to a computer via USB, whipping out the SD card, or plugging it into a 3D-Ready TV with the help of a HDMI 1.4 cable. But remember, you will need a 3D-Ready device to view them on if you've shot in 3D.
The camera features an HDMI mini slot so you'll need to get a dedicated cable for the job, and when you go to watch it on a 3D television you'll need to wear your 3D glasses to see the effect. You can of course shoot in the more traditional side-by-side mode, but then you have to learn how to cross your eyes - not something we fancied in our 2-hour demo of the new model.
New to the W3 is a 3D Real Photo HD processor. We tested the 3D playback of both still and moving images on a Panasonic 3D Ready television and the quality was very good, with colours well balanced and detail fairly crisp even though they were pre-production samples.
As for video you'll get 720p 3D capable playback for your money - a first for a compact. This is up from the W1 that was able to capture at a maximum resolution of 680 x 480 at 30fps (both in 2D and 3D).
Other new features include a hyper-stereo mode that allows you, as the name suggests, to create a picture by taking two shots further apart for a greater depth 3D image.
But it's not all about 3D, having two lenses in a 2D world is helpful too you know. The camera offers a series of modes to try and benefit from the extra hardware that most cameras don't have. These include the ability to shoot tele and wide at the same time; 2-colour simultaneous shooting, that lets you take two shots with different colour tones; and twin-sensitivity simultaneous shooting, that means you can shoot the same shot with high and low sensitivity.
While most will see the W3 as very niche, like the W1, there is no denying that the world of 3D has come on leaps and bounds since 2009. That means that there is a lot more supporting hardware, with the chance to actually view some of the footage you've got rather than just relying on Fujifilm's own digital photoframe and the odd monitor to make the most of your new shots.
Combine that with Fujifilm's own 3D printing (actual paper) service that is now launching in the UK and promising faster delivery times than the current Japanese offering, and the idea of shooting in 3D isn't so niche or mad as it once was 12 months ago.
That, of course, doesn't mean you won't be in the minority with this camera, but if you've already gone for a 3D television, like the idea of shooting 3D stills or movies and are one to be ahead of the pack, this will certainly show your friends you are just that.
On our first outing this looks fun, whether or not it's enough to impress and catch on, especially with its bulky exterior, is still to be decided and is something we will have to wait for our full review to find out