Monday, 15 July 2013

Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 review

The Panasonic 3D1 is one of the very few twin lens compact 3D cameras available. It is shown below with a Seiko diver's watch for scale:


Nowadays, many cameras feature 3D in their specifications, but they achieve this by letting you swipe the camera horizontally while shooting several images, and then stitching the images together for a 3D effect. While this does indeed give you a 3D effect, it is not a true 3D capture in the sense that the same image is captured at the same time from two different angles. Rather, if there is movement in the image while you are sweeping, you may be capture different images for the left and right frame, which will look bad. Also, this technique does not support video recording.

The Panasonic Lumix 3D1 has got two separate, identical lenses, each covering a 12.1 MP sensor. Sliding down the front cover reveals the lenses, and also powers on the camera:


In my review, I will focus mostly on the 3D features of the camera. When used as a 2D camera, it is nothing special at all, and I cannot imaging that anyone would buy this camera for 2D shooting anyway.



From the specifications, we see that the lens has a rather attractive 25-100mm focal range. 25mm (equiv) wide angle coverage is quite good for a small compact camera like this. However, it is important to note that when recording 3D images, the sensor is cropped, yielding "only" 30mm (equiv) wide angle. On the other hand, the long end of the zoom range increases to 120mm.

Physical


The camera has an eloxated black metal finish. While this may sound all well, the body does feel a bit flimsy, even with the metal surface. On the left side, looking from the rear, there is a rubberized door covering the USB and HDMI sockets. It doesn't look very water resistant.

From below, there is a door which covers the battery and SD card:


The battery cannot be charged in the camera, but must be charged in the supplied charger. Next to the door is also the tripod mount, which has plastic threads. It is not centred between the lenses, which would have been the best solution.

From the rear, we see that the camera has a very minimalist design, with very few buttons. One would almost think that it was designed by Steve Jobs:


The LCD panel covers the most of the rear side, with only one single button, the 2D/3D switch. On the top plate, there is an ON/OFF button, which is hardly needed, since the camera powers on when you manually slide the front panel down. Further, there is the shutter button, and a concentric ring around it for zooming in and out, and finally the red video record button.

The purpose of the ON/OFF switch is somewhat strange. If you press it while leaving the front panel closed, you might expect that you can use the camera to browse your images. But no, the camera just asks you to open the front panel, which would have turned it on, anyway. The ON/OFF switch can be used to turn the power off while leaving the front panel open, though.

The stereo base, i.e., the distance between the twin lenses, is rather short, only about 30mm. This is around one half of the distance between the human pair of eyes. Hence, you can expect to get a smaller 3D effect from this camera, compared with what you are used to from the real life.

In use


When engaging the camera, there is a significant wait (some seconds) before you can start taking pictures.

I like the 2D/3D switch. It makes it very quick and easy to change between the modes. Beyond this switch, the camera operates like any other basic compact camera.

It has a touch screen, but it is not the capacitive type which we have become used to on most smart phones. Rather, it is the type which requires you to actually press the screen somewhat hard to get a response. This makes the touch screen more awkward to use, but with some experience, it works well.

In 3D mode, many of the options simply disappear. The camera becomes much more "dumb" in 3D mode, meaning that you can no longer choose the ISO sensitivity yourself, set the video C-AF on/off, and a lot of other options. Essentially the camera goes into the typical "green box"/"intelligent auto" mode in 3D, in which you must trust the camera to make the right choices for you. In strong light outdoors, it works fine. Indoor, or when it is darker, one could have wanted more possibilities to make choices.

There is no dedicated "Play" button, and you must press the green "Play" symbol on the touch screen to be able to review your pictures. And here comes one of the major drawbacks of the camera: You cannot review the 3D images as 3D. You only see the pictures and videos as 2D. To be able to review them as 3D, you must connect the camera to a 3D enabled TV or monitor, or copy them over to a PC to process them further there.

Pictures


When taking 3D pictures, only the picture from the left lens is shown in the viewfinder. If you block the right lens, e.g., with your finger, there is no warning symbol coming up on the screen. The red "No 3D" warning only comes up when you actually snap the picture, should you have blocked the right lens. By then, it might be too late.

Due to a strange design choice, the camera does not allow 3D images at focus distances shorter than around 0.7 meters (about two feet). This is not entirely consistent, sometimes it will allow shooting even at closer distances. This is an odd choice. With the short stereo base (distance between the lenses), one would have guessed that the 3D effect would not be excessive at these distances.

At very close distance, the 3D mostly works again, which is even more strange. At distances of about 0.1 meters, the 3D effect becomes much too large to be useful, but the camera does allow taking 3D photos at this distance.

When taking 3D images, you get two files. One normal JPEG image, which is from the right side lens. And one MPO file. This is a container format, which contains both images, from the left and right lenses. All the images are 3264x2448 (8MP) in size (in 4/3 format). The sensors are 12MP, but in 3D mode, you only get 8MP output, since the sensor is cropped slightly.

Here is an example image capture:


Left image

Right image

One common way to show these images on a non-3D enabled display, is to use the red/cyan anaglyph methods. It retains the colours, and can be used on any display. But it requires that the viewer wears red/cyan anaglyph glasses.

Here's what the image looks like after applying a 3D stereo anaglyph transfer:



Anaglyph images can look a bit better when desaturating them slightly. Here is the same image after some desaturation:



To do this image transformation, I used the free image manipulation program The Gimp. I installed the 3D MPO loader plug-in, and the script-fu-make-anaglyph plug-in.

Picture quality


Taking a picture of foliage against a bright sky is often a good way to evaluate the image quality. Here is an example, in red/cyan anaglyph:



To better see how the image quality is, I have looked at 100% crops from the top left corners:


The optical qualities do not appear to be the best. They are completely adequate, though. The problem with this camera, though, is the sensor. It is quite noisy, and the JPEG images show that rather heavy handed noise reduction technique have been applied, even at base ISO. For a camera in this class, that is normal.

I would say that the image quality is at a normal level for a compact camera in this class.

Video


Again, with video, there is the same limitation regarding distance: You cannot start a video recording below around 0.7m focus distance. And what's more, if something comes into view at a closer distance while you are video recording, the camera will notify you with a red "No 3D" symbol, however, it does not appear to chop those sections off the video, which is good. It could be that no 3D information is recorded for those segments, though, I am not sure.

One would guess that this could have been avoided by setting manual focus during video. However, that is not possible: During 3D video, the camera will operate continuous autofocus, and it cannot be turned off. So when recording 3D videos, you must make sure that nothing comes between you and the subject, otherwise you will get the "No 3D" warnings.

Here is an example video. You can see that some persons walks close in the camera's field of view, and those segments did trigger a "No 3D" warning:



The videos were just uploaded to Youtube directly from the camera. I then set the "This video is already 3D" in the "Advanced settings" under the "Edit" selection. When viewing it, you can decide under your own Youtube preferences how you want to view the video. I'm using Red/Cyan anaglyph, since I don't have a 3D enabled display. This requires to wear red/cyan anaglyph glasses.

Under the hood, the 3D video look just like normal videos. With the exception that rather than having one single frame covering 1920x1080 pixels, the frame contains both the left and right frames at the same time, compressed horizontally by 50%. Here is an example video frame:



When decompressing and making an anaglyph, it looks like this:



The camera box states "Full HD 1920x1080". This is not entirely true in 3D, since each left/right frame only has half that in terms of horizontal resolution.

The video has a framerate of 29.97 fps, progressive. My camera is the Japanese version, I would guess the European has a framerate of 25fps.

It is not possible to zoom during video capture.

Here you can download an example video, taken directly out of the camera with no editing. And another example video file.

Japanese version


This camera is apparently out of production, and I was only able to source a Japanese version of it. This left me a bit scared for a while, during the wait to receive the camera. Here is the slim cardboard box, clearly stating "Japanese language only", sure to scare off non-Japanese speaking customers:


When operating the camera, you barely see any Japanese at all. Here is the typical viewfinder look:


When going into the menus, though, you see Japanese kanji symbols starting to appear. However, they are accompanied by icons describing what the option does. I have browsed the whole menu system, and I did not find any icons which I did not at once understand the meaning of. So the lack of English text was not a problem for me. Users who are less experienced, can still download the English operating manual, which describes what the icons mean. There is a 163 page users guide available for download, just make a search for "Lumix 3D1 manual".

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that when you get to a question like this (confirm if you want to format the memory card), the left symbol means "Yes"/"Ok", and the right symbol means "No"/"Cancel":


So from my point of view, having the Japanese version of the camera has never been any problem.

3D Alternatives


If you want to explore the 3D world, there are some alternatives. The Fujifilm 3D W3 is a similar camera, but it has a stereo base of 75mm, more close to the human eyes. It also has a display capable of showing your 3D images in 3D, without the use of special glasses. On the negative side, the wide angle starts at 35mm (equiv), which is rather poor compared with 30mm (equiv) for the Panasonic 3D1 in 4/3 3D mode. Also, the video is only recorded at 720p resolution.

There is the Samsung 45mm f/1.8 3D lens, for the Samsung NX mirrorless cameras. While it is just one single lens, it can alternate between masking out the left/right part of the aperture, to photograph the same object from slightly different angles. Hence, the stereo base is very small, though, probably around 10mm. It is not a true 3D system, in the sense that it cannot capture two images from different angles at the same time: It can only do so sequentially, at some time delay. It works during videos too, again by recording the left and right images sequentially.

For the Micro Four Thirds system, there is the Lumix G 12.5mm f/12 3D lens (my review here). Unlike the Samsung solution, this lens has two smaller sub-lenses, capable of truly capturing the left/right images at the same time. However, just like the Samsung lens, it has a very small stereo base, around 10mm. Also, there is no focus mechanism, no aperture mechanism, and you are limited to a very small f/12 aperture. Also, you cannot record videos with the lens. I would say avoid it, it is not worth the effort.

Looking at video camcorders, there are some 3D versions available. For example, the Sony HDR-TD20V, the JVC ProHD GY-HMZ1U 3D and the Panasonic HDC-SDT750.

Conclusion


The Panasonic Lumix 3D1 can be used to very easily create 3D pictures and 3D video. For most uses, this works just fine. However, one could have wanted more manual control possibility in 3D mode. For example, being able to set the ISO manually, the aperture, or the autofocus mode, would have been great. Still, the camera does the 3D well.

Since the model is becoming older, it is available at a very reasonable price. That makes it a cheap camera to buy to try out real 3D photography and video recording without the hassle of custom making your own twin camera rig. It's also very compact and easy to bring along.

If you want a camera for 2D use, don't buy this one. There are many, many cameras which do normal 2D images and videos much better. At the time of writing, I would say the Lumix LX7 is the best you can get in the compact camera market for a reasonable price.



Example images











Example video


13 comments:

  1. Can you post a couple raw clips for download?

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    Replies
    1. Good idea! I've put links to a couple of video files in the video section above.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, I'll fix it.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, I removed your comment by a mistake. Sorry about that.

      Delete
  3. Does it have a microphone jack in it for a external mic? How far away from talking people before the audio does not work well?

    jack

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    Replies
    1. There is no microphone jack. The only connection possibilities is the USB (for transfering files) and HDMI (for viewing pictures/video on a TV/monitor).

      It has stereo microphones on the top plate.

      I'm not sure how far from talking people you can go before the audio does not work well. I would guess it uses the same microphone units as other Panasonic compact cameras in the same price range. (And this was a rather pricey camera when launched.)

      Delete
  4. This camera is advertised as suitable for aerial photography.
    Does that mean it is only good for shooting in the "horizontal" position through an aircraft window, but cannot be used for ground survey in 3D mode?

    I want to use this camera to take 3D aerial photos or video from a helicopter. This would involve pointing the lens towards the ground.
    Is that the vertical position the instructions say that 3D won't work?
    Does "horizontal" vs "vertical" camera position just apply to video, still photos, or both?
    Is there a degree off horizontal that 3D stops working? How will I know?

    Dave
    las Vegas

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    Replies
    1. The camera doesn't care if you hold it horizontally or vertically: 3D works both ways.

      I haven't tried pointing it directly downwards. I would be very surprised if it doesn't work.

      I can check this in three days time when I have the camera again.

      Delete
    2. I checked the camera now. Pointing it straight downwards works well in 3D mode. The camera will certainly snap a picture in 3D mode when pointed straight downwards.

      Delete
  5. Thank you for this review. I did not know I was getting a Japanese only camera. :(. I appreciate this: "the left symbol means "Yes"/"Ok", and the right symbol means "No"/"Cancel":" but what does the image of them menu directly under it mean/say? Forgive my total ignorance/inability to interpolate. Is there a tutorial anywhere for total ignoramus-newbies with this camera? I figured a few things, but the rest is worst than Greek, to me. Is there anyway to override the no 3d setting at middle distances, since it should work at the ocular separation of those lenses? Feeling discouraged in Detroit.

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    Replies
    1. I can't answer your question about the image menu directly under, that you ask about.

      I don't think you can turn of the No 3D override at close focus distances. This is not a very configurable camera.

      Delete
    2. Thank you! I appreciate your response.

      Delete