The 3D revolution seems inevitable. Analysts predict a massive take up of 3D TVs, as much as 45 per cent of all models sold by 2014, and 3D theatrical releases continue to rake in healthy box-office revenues. Both studios and PPV operators are licking their lips and fast-tracking their 3D propositions.
But what if the future of 3D in the home doesn’t lie with the likes of Hollywood or Sky? What if 3D is destined to be something you make yourself, to share on a communal level - holiday photographs or videos of the kids growing up?
Having spent some time with Panasonic’s remarkable HDC-SDT750 3D camcorder, we’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something altogether more compelling about the 3D experience when it becomes personal.
It looks like the consumer electronics industry may be starting to think along the same lines. In addition to this debut consumer camcorder, Panasonic is also touting its first digital cameras compatible with a 3D lens, the Micro Four Thirds format Lumix GH2 and GF2. Others are also getting in on the act. FujiFilm has its own second-generation 3D snapper, the REAL 3D W3, and Sony has made a tentative move with a 3D Sweep Panorama mode on its WX5 and TX9 Cyber-Shots. Are we witnessing the tip of a DIY 3D iceberg?
The HDC-SDT750 is the offspring of a marriage between the brand’s 18,000 euro AG-3DA1 (used to shoot the French Open earlier this year), and the altogether more modest HDC-STD700. Like the prosumer 3DA1, it records 3D in a side-by-side format. This means image resolution is not high-def, instead the 1920 x 1080 frame is split in two to create a stereoscopic pairing. But without its bolt-on conversion lens and 3D gubbins, it’s basically an £800 (or less) AVCHD 2D camcorder.
We were impressed with the handling of the camcorder, sans conversion lens. Weighing 375g (without battery), it sits very comfortably in the hand. At the heart of the SDT750 is a high-performance 3MOS imager, comprising a trio of 3.05-megapixel panels. Allied to some impressive noise reduction circuitry and Leica Dicomar lens, this makes it a surprisingly good performer in less than ideal light levels.
High-def footage (shot at 1080/50p) looks extremely vibrant. Recordings are rich in detail with excellent stability and negligible noise. Naturally, you can also use the camera for digital stills. Its effective comparable camera resolution is 7.59 megapixels when shooting 16:9. The SDT750 records onto SD, SDHC and high-capacity SDXC cards.
The good news is you don’t need to be James Cameron to get decent results. An extremely forgiving Intelligent Auto (iA) system ensures your footage is always crisp, while the latest generation of Panasonic’s HYBRID O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) technology makes even a stroll around the park look like a steadycam show-reel. Of course, if you do hanker to take the camera off auto pilot, there’s a variety of manual modes and scene specific options to explore.
Unfortunately, much of this sophistication goes out the window when you bolt on the twin-lens 3D converter. You no longer have access to the electronic zoom or manual ring control, the zoom mic, iA system or face detection. There’s also a significant trade off in resolution. The balance of the camcorder also shifts completely, as the lens adds another 196g to the package. You end up cradling the HDC-SD750 with two hands, and developing a slight stoop. But heck, you’re suddenly shooting in 3D. Get over it.
The cap of the conversion lens is itself a stereographic alignment tool. The set-up process needs to be done each time the conversion lens is attached, but only involves adjusting vertical and horizontal lines on the 3-inch touchscreen display. It takes a few minutes.
Overall, we were impressed with the camcorder’s 3D performance. Careful composition is key to getting the best 3D results. You’ll need to get into the habit of framing images with clear foreground elements, to create a sense of depth. Obviously don’t get too carried away with this else the results will look extremely silly. Cars driving toward the camera remain largely two dimensional. However lower the POV, and include roadside foliage close up, and vehicles travelling toward the lens become much more 3D-ramatic.
Of course, scenes of general family fun and talking heads can also hold unexpected interest when viewed in 3D. We also found the process adds particular interest to landscapes and wildlife photography.
Footage, both 2 and 3D, can be output directly from the mini HDMI on the camcorder. More convenient though is to pop the SD card directly into a 3D compatible screen. Panasonic’s latest VT20 models are fully compliant with 3D footage from this camcorder.
Panasonic brings 3D creativity to the home user - and it turns out to be a lot more entertaining than watching a ceaseless cavalcade of big-screen 3D ‘toons. The HDC-SDT750 is essentially the HDC-SDT700 shipped with a conversion lens the size of a tangerine. Once you’re over the limitations it imposes, shooting in 3D becomes rather addictive. Home movies take on a fresh appeal, and we predict a whole new business opportunity for forward-thinking wedding videographers.