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Review: Fujifilm FinePix ‘Real 3D’ W3

Two lenses, two sensors, one screen, combining to produce three dimensions

You’ve bought a 3D television, yet there isn’t currently much 3D content to watch. How about shooting your own? Enter the glossy and conceptually slick Fujifilm FinePix ‘Real 3D’ W3, successor to the year-old W1, the world’s first 3D- shooting digital stills camera. It’s turned on or off by sliding open or shut its protective faceplate, so despite the zeitgeist-surfing technology it really is quite simple to use.
With a sturdy metal build, it’s both smaller and lighter than its trailblazing forebear. The W3 is ‘real’ 3D because, unlike Sony’s NEX or Cyber-shot cameras that offer 3D panoramic effects via software trickery, the Fujifilm utilises two 35mm equivalent lenses and two ten-megapixel sensors to produce its stereoscopic pictures. It shoots two images and combines them to produce one 3D shot.
In terms of handling, there are a couple of compromises. Due to its twin lens/sensor setup, the W3 is physically wider and bulkier than your regular 2D shooting device. On the plus side, it will still fit in a jacket pocket and Fujifilm has made the most of its proportions by incorporating a whopping 3.5-inch, 1.15 million-dot resolution widescreen-ratio LCD at the rear for composition and review. The screen also allows users to view the 3D effect prior to a picture being captured as well as afterwards, without the need for brain-fooling spectacles. So, if you don’t own the right sort of TV, at least you can enjoy the camera’s 3D imagery this way – and quite impressive it is too.

FinePix software is provided to allow a third alternative, of viewing the single 3D shot as two separate ‘left’ and ‘right’ lens images, side by side. Those without a 3D computer will feel short-changed, however. The best compromise we found was to shoot 2D JPEGs alongside the 3D MPO files, so we had something to marvel at on the camera or 3D telly, plus a ‘normal’ non-stereoscopic version as backup for downloading and sharing conventionally. Fortunately, we noticed barely any difference in speed and processing time.

Another compromise is that, because of the need to position the lenses slightly wider apart than the average pair of human eyes to achieve the full 3D effect, the W3’s optics are located toward the outer edges of the faceplate. This meant we had to watch closely for fingertips straying into frame when taking photos or 1,280×720 pixel HD video. It was also quite a disappointment to find the modest 3x optical zoom couldn’t be used when shooting video.
Interestingly, shooting in 3D changed the way we composed images, making us work harder and arguably turning us into better photographers. Taking photographs at a slight angle, rather than face-on, added dynamism. Plus, looking for separate points of interest within the foreground, middle and the background of each shot became particularly important if we were going to use the W3’s capabilities to their most eye- popping effect.
Inevitably, though you can shoot 2D alongside (or instead of) 3D, results aren’t anywhere near as impressive as their multi-dimensional alternative. In regular old 2D, shots from the W3 are comparable to results from a £100 point-and-shoot camera. This means occasional burnt-out highlights, colours subdued by a milky veneer and purple pixel fringing visible between areas of high contrast. Pictures also benefited from subtle sharpening.

For those who want to provide their images with added depth, however, the W3 is a better-built and more effective consumer-level 3D solution than, for  example, Aiptek’s plasticy £200 i2 pocket camcorder. While not exactly cheap, it also begins to look like pretty good value when compared with Panasonic’s 3D-shooting £1,500 HDC-SDT750.
Ultimately, though, this is a product you can’t fully appreciate from reading about in a magazine. It requires physical interaction, not to mention experimentation. Using this camera forces you to reconsider the way you shoot photos, and in that sense it’s like picking up a camera for the first time. Once you’ve picked Fujifilm’s W3 up, you’ll no doubt find it hard to put down.

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