3D photography: Is there still hope? – Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio Reports

An interesting question just occurred to us here at Austin Visuals — Where are all the 3D cameras?  Where are all the great 3D photos they shot?  After all, we have 3D TVs, right?  We have 3D movies, sure, 3D printers, and 3D games.  When it comes to 3D still cameras, especially SLR models, there are nearly none.  Well, maybe there are a few point-and-shoot models, but they aren’t exactly moving very fast.  Perhaps more telling, though, is that the 3D smartphone market breathed its last breath just a few months after its first.  The LG Optimus 3D was the first and nearly only entry there.

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We think there are a few explanations for this.  One, most of our digital photo viewing is done on smartphones, tablets and PCs.  It might not be that hard to find a PC with a 3D display, but when was the last time you saw a 3D smartphone or tablet?  There are a few that do exist, but they’re glasses-free, which is great if you’re the one holding the phone but not so great if you’re the other guy who you’re trying to share those vacation photos with.  3D desktops and laptops suffer in a different way, as everyone needs to wear special glasses to see the images properly.

Another reason is this:  We take photos usually to share them with other people.  And if you share a 3D photo with someone, what do they have to have?  That’s right … a 3D display.  Sure, there’s lots of 3D TVs, but do you really surf Facebook on your TV?  Most folks view photos on either their PC or their mobile device.  Perhaps not unexpectedly, the penetration of 3D displays in those areas is nearly non-existent.  In fact, 3D TV might be almost dead.

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Finally, there are a few inherent technological issues with 3D cameras (and images) that make them difficult to work with.  First off, in order to get decent quality and separation from a 3D image (to get parallax, in other words), you need two lenses that are separated by at least a couple of inches (at least the distance between your own two eyes).  If you’re thinking about doing that with smartphones or even DSLRs with big lenses, that’s quite an undertaking.  There is one workable solution at the moment — the FujiFilm FinePix Real 3D W3.  Alas, those small lenses are never going to give you DSLR-level quality.

There are a few clever hacks that you can use to take 3D pictures with a single lens.  Samsung has done this with its NX-Series 45mm lens.  You can also split the lens in half like Panasonic has done.  Unfortunately, there’s one thing they can’t counter, and that’s the laws of physics, which will probably prevent either approach from ever creating a really good 3D effect.

And there’s the 3D files themselves, as well.  The de facto JPEG standard doesn’t support 3D (stereo) images, and neither does the RAW format.  There are special 3D file formats such as JPS or MPO, but it’s a safe bet that the image viewer on your grandmother’s computer won’t open them.  And you’re not going to be able to upload them to Twitter, Instagram, Flickr or even Facebook.  Sure, the latest version of Photoshop opens JPS files (otherwise known as stereo JPEG) files. but none of the tools allow you to actually edit those files.  If you think about it, modifying a 2d image by rotating, skewing or whatever is pretty easy, but doing the same thing with a 3D image, where you have to take perspective and parallax into account .

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There are some interesting things in the works, though.  At Brigham Young University in Utah, researchers working with Adobe have created a 3D version of content-aware fill.  The first step in this is to produce a depth map of every pixel in the image.  That is obtained by analyzing the stereo images with an awfully clever computer vision algorithm which divines the depth of most non-occluded objects (non-covered ones, that is).  Once this depth map is generated, you can perform most normal Photoshop functions.  It might also make new features possible. such as altering the light sources in an image.  Depth maps would also enable Adobe to develop some pretty cool 2D image editing tools, too.

Now we just need everyone else to get on board — Canon, computer scientists, chipmakers and physicists.  Then they can come up with a way for us to take high quality 3D images with a smartphone .

At Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio we specialize in providing the following 3D Animation and Video Services:

  • 3D Animation, FX, and 3D Renderings
  • Animation, Video Production, and Graphics from concept-to-completion

Contact us at Austin Visuals if you need help structuring your 3d animation needs, and we can help you save time and many headaches of getting your project off the ground and best of all we make your imagination, reality.