2D Cameras

Stereo Cameras


Handheld Viewers

Stereo Projectors

Old Stereo Photos

New Stereo Photos

Stereo Misc.

WTF Is Stereo?

We are hunter/gatherers. The reason we have two eyes pointed forward is so we can gauge the distance to food. Think how tough it would be to successfully grab that can of Bud Lite, precariously balanced on the edge of the counter, if you couldn't tell how far away it was. The process, as we learned in high school, is known as triangulation. Each eye sees the scene from a slightly different angle. The brain then merges these different perspectives into a single 3 dimensional space. Kill enough brain cells, by drinking enough Bud Lite for example, and the 'ol 3D calculator goes caddywumpus, causing the beer to get spilled.

The Problem
As soon as folks started taking photos they wanted them to look the same as what we see with our eyes. A long winded discussion of the evolution of stereo cameras - being boring as hell - will now be skipped. Eventually everybody figured out if you take two photographs at the same time, from the same perspective as a set of human eyes, and present the left photo to your left eye, and the right photo to your right eye, presto! Your brain creates a 3D environment just like real life. "Virtual reality" fanatics take note, this shit's been around for 150 years. Sorry kids, nothing new under the sun...

If you want to go shoot stereos today, there are a few practical considerations. Since WWII, there have been three image formats accepted as standards. The most common is the 5 perf or Realist format developed by Seton Rochwite for the Stereo Realist. Next is 7 perf, which we in America like to refer to as European format. I'm not sure who pioneered this format in a production camera, but I believe the prewar Verascope f40 likely did the most to establish the standard. Modern day 35mm cameras shoot what we would call an 8 perf image. This is certainly the most flexible format in terms of mounting options, and the ability to take advantage of modern automated printing and slide mounting systems.

Stereo photographers typically measure film formats by the number of film perforations covered by the image. The 5 perf Realist format makes maximum use of a film roll by stacking images edge to edge. This makes cutting the film chips a little more of a challenge. At the other end of the scale, 8 perf cameras use today's standard image width, allowing current automated processing equipment to make prints, or mount slides in 2x2 mounts.

The choice of format involves various compromises. I am not aware of 1950s era production stereo cameras in 8 perf format. Conversely, no one today is making a 5 perf model. While people may argue for hours over the most desirable format, if money is no object, the obvious answer is 8 perf. Simply because the images may be trimmed for narrower mounts. 5 perf images can only be mounted in vertical format mounts. Unfortunately, nature often tends to be horizontal. Let's look at representative cameras and viewers in each format

5 Perf Camera Choices
Far and away the most common format today is the 5 perf, or Realist format. introduced by David White in 1947, the Stereo Realist set the standard, and had the market penetration to enforce it. There are more different brands and models of 5 perf cameras available than any other format. My picks for best user cameras in Realist format are the Stereo Realist f2.8 model, and the Wollensak 10.

The Realist is an engineer's dream (literally), but an ergonomic nightmare. Shooting a photograph requires as many as eight steps. However, in fairness it should be said with a little practice the Realist can be handled with reasonable speed. The camera is 100 percent mechanical and dead reliable. The more common f3.5 model should be avoided. It has inferior lenses, and its top shutter speed of 1/150th second is barely fast enough to get out of camera shake territory, much less stop any kind of motion. Expect to pay around $200-300 for a 2.8 model. These old cameras are usually found in good working condition, and there is a wealth of resources for user or professional repair.

Wollensak marketed a similar camera as the Revere 33, but saved their best effort for the Wollensak 10. This is a premier 5 perf camera, in terms of features, ergonomics and image quality. Prices can vary wildly from $250 and up. The camera is a little more delicate than the Realist, so don't be surprised if it needs a professional CLA. A top shutter speed of 1/300th gives some added flexibility in the field. The Realist's only advantages over the Wollensak are reliability and the unique ability to be widened out to 7 perf format, but more on this later.

Stereo Realist f2.8 model.

Wollensak 10