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The new PMW-TD300 3D camcorder may be Sony’s answer. Recently I was given an opportunity to test-drive this camera. Since the camera came to me without any 3D field monitor I thought, “Well, now, let’s see if it is possible to go out and shoot effective 3D in the field without the usual monitoring tools, assistants, etc. Let’s approach it like how I would shoot if I was going out by myself with my F800 XDCAM.” Crazy idea, but nevertheless I thought it would be a good challenge.
This camera has a dual lens system which utilizes dual three 1/2-inch Exmor CMOS sensors and records MPEG-2 Long GOP up to 35 Mbps onto dual sets of SxS cards.
The F2.8 (to F3.4) zoom lens’ range is 7.5-52.5 mm (equivalent to approximately a 40-284 mm on a 35 mm lens, or approximately 16-114 mm on a 2/3” lens). The inter-axial distance is fixed at 45 mm and the convergence range is 1.2 m to infinity. The effective ASA of the camera at 29.9P with 1/60th shutter is about 160 ASA which is roughly a stop less sensitive than the F800 with same frame-rate and shutter.
Before venturing out shooting I went through the preliminary version of the operator manual and set up the camera to match my personal settings for my F800. I selected to record in 1080/29.9P. My three-stage chrosziel mattebox was adapted and added to the mix.
The procedure I employed while shooting was to frame the shot, set iris, zoom in and focus on an area where I wished to set my convergence, press the very convenient one-push Auto Convergence button, then zoom back out to the desired framing. If I had to shoot right there and then (because the grizzly was rearing up and smiling by the backlight mountain river), I could roll with confidence that the shot would work and be effective in 3D. My initial reaction after only a few shots with this camera was, “Wow.” The excitement of being able to shoot 3D quickly, by myself, without monitors, cables and other considerations provided a sense of freedom which I have never before experienced with 3D.
Obviously there is more, much more, to successfully capturing 3D images in HD. That is a given. But my long held belief that 3D capture may one day be possible and applicable for the kinds of projects that I often shoot became a reality on the very first shot.
I shot exterior time-lapse scenics with slow-shutter, dusk and night scenes, zooms onto freeways and interiors at a shopping mall. The glassless 3D LCD colour viewfinder has a very handy Depth Warning Display that colours the edge of objects that are out of the convergence safe shooting zone, and there is an adjustable grid display to check L/R disparity.
There are limitations inherent in the design of this type of lens/camera combination that are important to mention. A fixed i/o, a minimum convergence distance, a not very wide-angle view, only 7x zoom with limited telephoto capability, non-interchangeable lens option, camera and lens sensitivity, continuous-turning rather than accurately labelled focus, focus and convergence knobs.
But there are advantages. Fast operation, light weight, low power consumption, long recording capacity, relatively low cost, one-push auto convergence, shoulder friendly, multi-mode 3D viewfinder, and easy integration with existing accessories.
Will this dual lens camera evolve and will people embrace it? I feel that if a cinematographer can accept and work within the limitations, good results can be achieved. Changes to this camera will be inevitable once user feedback and technical advances combine to advance the design. It simply makes sense to tailor a 3D camera to the existing tried and true ENG/EFP marketplace.
I would like to thank Warren Rochon, Allen Rhodes, François Gauthier from Sony Canada, and Earle Nichol from Matrix Communications in Calgary for providing me the opportunity to conduct this initial test.