3D imaging continues to gain momentum and Fujifilm’s updated Real 3D stereoscopic digital compact makes the idea even more appealing. Report by Paul Burrows.
The W3 is marginally smaller than its predecessor, but has been extensively restyled and now has a more conventional matte anodised finish. It’s switched on by pushing down the full-width lens cover.
A key revision is the W3’s new 8.9 cm widescreen monitor which switches to an optical approach to creating a 3D image rather than the W1’s digital processing solution. Resolution steps up to 1.15 megapixels and the results are stunning in 3D.
Main mode dial has two positions for accessing the W3’s scene modes (SP1 and SP2), plus settings for the ‘Advanced 2D’ and ‘Advanced 3D’ shooting modes.
It’s been exactly a year since we tested the FinePix W1 and a lot has happened in 3D imaging since then. It’s still more favoured by the consumer electronics companies – who have the advantage of also offering 3D TVs – than the ‘traditional’ camera companies, but what’s now abundantly clear is that 3D is going to be bigger than it has ever been before.
We’re still not convinced that it’s going to sweep all before it, but it’s already reaching the stage where the third dimension no longer comes at a significantly higher price so consumers are acquiring the capability even if they don’t have plans to use it immediately. Both Panasonic and Sony have added 3D capture modes to their latest digital compacts which take rapid-fire multiple frames and then process them to create 3D images which can be viewed on 3D displays or TV via 3D glasses.
This is, of course, different from Fujifilm’s approach which is based on stereoscopic optics and lenticular screen displays which don’t require special glasses for viewing in 3D. Fujifilm also makes 3D printers which use the lenticular (or microlens) screen technique and a number of these are now installed in Australia so it’s no longer necessary for print orders to be sent off to Japan. Lenticular screen prints can also be viewed without the need for special glasses. JVC has since adopted a similar stereoscopic arrangement of dual lenses and sensors for its GS-TD1 Full HD video camcorder so, one way or another, 3D imaging is becoming more widely available. It’s certainly much more than just another flash in the pan.
A number of criticisms were levelled at the W1 and Fujifilm has addressed many of them in the W3, making it a far superior product to its predecessor. Unlike many digital camera model upgrades, the biggest changes to the W3 are mostly external so there’s a new, sleeker and more rounded bodyshell, an all-new control arrangement and a bigger monitor screen with a significantly higher resolution. The W1’s highgloss ‘piano’ black finish has been replaced by a more conventional matte anodised coating, but the camera is still switched on by opening the contoured lens cover which, since it has two sets of optics to protect, extends across the full width of the camera.
Comparing the dimensions, the W3 is only really not as tall as the W1 (the width and depth are pretty much the same), but this makes all the difference to the perception of bulk as does the more curvaceous styling. However, it’s nearly 70 grams lighter and, in-keeping with 3D products in general, a lot cheaper... by a hefty $300, in fact, which means it’s in the ballpark as far as just having it to ‘play around’ with what it can do.
Old Is New
The W3’s new monitor screen is 8.9 cm in size with a resolution of 1.15 megapixels so it’s pretty nice for 2D shooting and quite an eyeful when its autostereoscopic design is delivering a 3D effect.
This employs an array of microscopic convex lenses in the screen’s faceplate to create a binocular parallax effect while also reducing cross-talk (a.k.a. a double image) and also on-screen flickering. There’s also a ‘High Luminosity’ mode which displays images 1.5x brighter and with a 1.8x increase in colour depth over the W1’s screen.
The menus have been redesigned and restyled to compliment the W3’s new control layout and navigation is now very much easier.
Mode settings are displayed in the monitor screen with brief explanations of their operation.
The ‘Advanced 3D’ shooting modes allow for the stereo pair exposures to be separated by time or camera position (within reason, of course).
The more traditional lenticular-type screen is different from the ‘Light Direction Control’ processing used in the W1 to achieve the same thing digitally rather than optically. However, it’s still quite distance sensitive (i.e. from the eye), but the viewing angle is noticeably less critical and the lift in overall quality is huge. Why go back to the old-fashioned way? It’s possible LDC couldn’t give the desired increase in resolution.
The W1’s control keys have been entirely replaced by a more conventional arrangement comprising a mode dial and a four-way rocker control plus a handful of buttons. The W1’s control design was a nice idea, but very clunky in practice so the W3 has adopted a ‘keep it simple’ approach and it’s much easier to fly as a result. The menu design has also been returned to a more conventional layout and navigational routes, although Fujifilm has stuck with the idea of making them mostly dedicated to the selected shooting mode to avoid unnecessary clutter. This works well as there are never more than two pages at a time to scroll through. The four-way controller performs all the navigational duties with an ‘OK’ button in its centre serving as the enter key. Easy-peasy.
There are dedicated buttons for switching between 2D and 3D capture and engaging the video mode which now allows for HD recording at 1280x720 pixels and 24 fps with, not surprisingly, stereo sound. HD clips can be recorded in 3D too which is another big attraction of the W3 and, yes, Fujifilm has given it a 3Dcompliant HDMI connection so it can be plugged straight into a 3D TV.
Under the skin, the FinePix W3 is pretty much unchanged from its predecessor which means image capture is via a pair of 35-105mm equivalent zoom lenses each with a 10 megapixels (effective) CCD sensor. The baseline length has been reduced slightly from 77 mm to 75 mm, but it’s still quite a lot wider than the typical distance between the human eyes (which is set at 64 mm) in order to give a more convincing 3D effect over a longer distance range.
In the 3D Auto mode, parallax is adjusted automatically, mostly using the subject distance information from the autofocusing system. Here Fujifilm recommends the minimum subject distance be 1.3 metres at 35mm and 4.1 metres at 105mm. In the other shooting modes there’s a choice of auto or manual parallax adjustment, the latter also available as an override to the former. The manual control takes quite a while to master as the range of adjustment is quite extensive, and it’s a bit of a balancing act in terms of achieving a good 3D effect versus merely creating blur or even a double image. Additionally, it’s important to have the monitor screen at the right viewing distance so the adjustments can be properly gauged. Bear in mind that what’s
being created is an illusion of depth via the stereoscopic views, and this is best enhanced when there’s a clear separation between objects in terms of their distances from the camera... but without being either too close or too far away. It takes practice to recognise a scene that will deliver the most convincing 3D effects.
The new component of the digital stage is an important one. The Real Photo 3D HD processor has significantly increased power to deliver HD video and it’s also at the heart of the W3’s 3D capabilities. While a specially-developed stainless steel frame ensures each lens’s optical axis is precisely separated, it’s the processor which makes sure the twin shutters are synchronised (as are the lens focal lengths) and the two images combined with exactly the right amount of parallax correction. These files are saved in the MPO or Multi Picture format which employs JPEG compression so the images can be viewed in 2D (but not printed in 2D). As before, the W3 has an MPO+JPEG capture mode which saves a standard JPEG file along with the Multi Picture file.
The twin lenses and shutters can also be used with 2D shooting to create images captured simultaneously with different focal lengths (as shown here), different colour modes or different ISO settings (in order to vary the shutter speed).
It’s not possible to show the W3’s excellent 3D capabilities, but the good news is that its 2D effort has been improved over the W1, in terms of both features and performance. Even though the sensors are the same, the W3 has a new processor which delivers some improvements to image quality, most noticeably in the area of noise reduction.
Beyond the 3D Auto mode, there’s a choice of advanced 3D capture modes and these are called ‘Individual Shutter 3D’ and ‘Interval 3D Shooting’. Both use the two lens/sensor units, but the 3D image is created by taking the two images separately. The first mode allows for a small adjustment in the camera position and angle between. It’s possible to select either shutter to fire first and the first image is then shown in the monitor screen to assist with the repositioning of the camera for the second shot. Fujifilm recommends that the variation between the two shots be between 1/30th and 1/50th of the subject distance. The Interval mode is primarily designed for shooting 3D images while moving. The lag between the two shots can be manually set, but again the recommendation is that the camera should only move between 1/30th and 1/50th of the subject distance. The shooting sequence can also be either left-right or right-left.
Because the W3 can take two shots simultaneously there are also some special 2D modes which take advantage of this. These allow for the focal length to be different for each frame or, alternatively, the colour mode or the ISO settings (primarily in order to vary the shutter speed when shooting moving objects). Both the ‘A2D’ and ‘A3D’ modes are accessed via the main mode dial as are the 13 scene modes and, of course, the standard exposure control modes. The choice here is program, aperture-priority auto and manual with the two auto modes backed by +/-2.0 EV of exposure compensation. The scene modes are accessed via ‘SP1’ and ‘SP2’ settings on the mode dial which allow for two favourites to be assigned as the first up when each setting is selected. There’s a choice of 256-segment multi-zone metering or either average or spot measurements (which can be used in conjunction with the focus lock). The sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 100 to 1600.
The colour settings mentioned earlier comprise Standard, Chrome (which boosts the sharpness and colour saturation as per transparency film) as B&W. Auto white balance control is
supplemented by seven presets, but there’s no provision for custom measurements and the W3 still lacks any bracketing options at all, not even for exposure. The built-in flash – positioned midway between the two lenses – has auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in slow synchro modes. With 2D shooting and face detection AF/AE, the red-eye reduction upgrades to red-eye removal.
Because it would be difficult to have a multipoint AF system with two lenses (as they’d often select different points), only single-zone distance detection is available with 3D shooting and features such as face detection can’t be provided either. However, a multi-zone focusing system with auto face detection is available with 2D shooting (and this also optimises the exposure).
The movie functionality is limited to the extent that even zooming isn’t possible during recording, but then the FinePix W3 can record 3D clips which is a neat trick. The playback options include post-capture parallax correction for 3D images, a slide show with a 2D-to-3D fade function, red-eye removal for 2D images taken with face detection active, and both cropping and resizing. Images can be captured in the 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios and in three sizes (small, medium or large) at one of two compression settings (fine or normal). Continuous shooting is possible at 1.0 fps in 2D, but with a burst length of up to 40 frames. Anything faster requires the camera to switch to the smallest image size, in which case up to 3.0 fps is available in 2D and 2.0 fps in 3D. The W3 hasn’t stepped up to SDXC compatibility so it accepts either SD or SDHC types.
While the W3 may share some key components with its predecessor, the two are very different animals indeed. The W1 essentially traded on the novelty of its 3D features and its 2D capabilities were distinctly undercooked. Fujifilm has recognised the need to give the W3 greater appeal so it’s a much better camera in 2D mode (although just about any budget-priced digital compact is better featured) with the additional attraction of 3D capabilities. What’s more, the latter have been further refined so the W3 is a big step forward in pretty much every department.
It’s certainly a whole lot easier to fly thanks to its back-to-basics control layout and tidier menus. And the new, bigger and high resolution autostereoscopic monitor screen is a real beauty. However, the old problem related to having one of the lenses so close to the edge of the camera body remains... it’s still too easy to accidentally partially cover it with a finger even if the sliding lens cover does have a ridge to encourage a lower set grip. Interestingly though, the new screen does make it easier to see when a pink blob is protruding into the frame when shooting 3D. It’s pretty much eliminated during the 3D merging process, but it’ll be very evident in the standard 2D shots because these are captured with this lens and sensor.
However, it’s the 3D ‘experience’ that’s still the W3’s big party trick, even if a 3D TV or display is needed to really make the most of it. The camera’s monitor screen is great, but even at 8.9 cm in size its impact is a little muted. Nevertheless it will help tune the senses to the type of subject situation which works the best for 3D shooting.
While the sensors are the same as those used in the previous model, the W3’s new processor can be expected to incorporate improved algorithms for things such as noise reduction and colour reproduction. Noise levels are, indeed, low up to ISO 800, although this does appear to some extent to be at the expense of overall sharpness. The ISO 1600 setting is certainly usable, but fine detailing lacks real definition. Unfortunately, the W3 has no provisions for adjusting either sharpness or contrast in-camera, but the 2D
images do sharpen nicely in Photoshop. However, the colour reproduction is excellent and partly pleasing in the Chrome colour mode which delivers an extra punch that really livens up 3D images. On balance, there’s no doubt the W3 outperforms its predecessor in terms of imaging performance in 2D, but it lacks some of the picture control functions that are available on many conventional compacts at a similar price. The same money, for example, will buy a Lumix TZ20 that’s loaded to the gunwales with extra features. To be fair, though, such comparisons aren’t really relevant because the FinePix W3 is going to be purchased for its 3D capabilities and here it does a superb job.
Flaws and all, we still liked the W1, and the W3 arrives when 3D is an even bigger deal with sales of 3D TVs climbing rapidly and the first laptop computers appearing with 3D displays. The W3 is a much better developed product than its predecessor too, and the price drop means it can be a ‘suck it and see’ purchase. The reality is that shooting in 3D is pretty addictive and the challenge to find scenes that deliver the best results is very enjoyable. It’s a deliberate pun, of course, but the FinePix W3 really does add another dimension to photography.
There’s still room for improvement in terms of the camera’s 2D features, but the W3 undoubtedly proves the point that the ‘Mark 2’ version of any revolutionary product is always the one to wait for. As far as the fun factor is concerned, this camera is a winner.
FUJIFILM FINEPIX REAL 3D W3 $599
Type: Fully automatic, fixed lens digital compact camera for 2D or 3D capture.
Lens: Two Fujinon 6.3-18.9mm f3.7-4.2 (equivalent to 35-105mm). 5.7x digital zoom (2D only).Combined optical and digital zoom in 3D is 3.8x. Baseline length = 75 mm.
Focusing Type & Range: Contrast detection with a central focusing point (3D). 60 cm to infinity; macro focusing down to 8.0 cm in 2D and 38 cm in 3D. Face detection mode (2D only).
Shutter Speeds: 3-1/1000 second (differs according to exposure mode).
Metering: Multi-zone (256 segments), centreweighted average and spot.
Exposure Control: Program, aperture-priority auto and manual plus 13 scene/subject modes. Up to +/-2.0 EV compensation.
Sensitivity: ISO 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600.
Sensor: Two 7.7 mm CCDs, 10.6 million pixels (10 MP effective).
Image Size: 4:3 aspect ratio = 3648x2736, 2592x1944 and 2048x1536 pixels. 3:2 – 3648x2432, 2592x1944 and 2048x1536 pixels. 16:9 aspect ratio = 3584x2016, 2560x1440 and 1920x1080 pixels.
Video Recording: AVI Motion JPEG format at 1280x720 pixels, 24 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio. Also at 640x480 and 320x240 pixels at 30 fps. Stereo audio recording.
Continuous Shooting: 3D = up to 2.0 fps for a burst of 40 JPEG/small frames. 2D = up to 1.0 fps for a burst of 40 JPEG/large frames.
Formats: MPO, MPO+JPEG, JPEG, Motion JPEG (AVI). PictBridge and DPOF compatible. Flash: Built-in with auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in and slow sync modes. Flash range = 30 cm to 3.6 metres (at ISO 800).
White Balance: TTL measurement via image sensor. Auto and seven presets.
Viewfinder: 8.9 cm LCD monitor screen (1.15 megapixels) with ‘Light Direction Control System’ for 3D viewing.
Storage: SD/SDHC cards plus 34 MB of internal memory.
Interface: USB 2.0, PAL/NTSC AV composite output, HDMI.
Main Features: 3D image capture and processing with auto/manual parallax correction, ‘Individual Shutter’ and ‘Interval’ 3D modes, twin 2D capture modes (zoom, colour and ISO), superimposed shooting grid, dual-delay self-timer (two or ten seconds), silent mode, MPO+JPEG capture, three colour settings (Standard, Chrome and B&W), slide show, red-eye removal (2D only). PictBridge and DPOF compliant.
Power: Rechargeable 1000 mAh/3.6 volts lithium-ion battery pack.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 124.0x65.9x27.8 mm. Weight: 230 grams (without battery or memory card).
Distributor: Fujifilm Australia Pty Ltd