Spent a month's salary on a 3D TV but have very little to watch on it? Luckily for you, here's an opportunity to create your own 3D content at an affordable price. The metal-build Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 snapshot camera updates the year-old W1 -- Fujifilm's first device that promised to bring 3D photography to a consumer audience, but garnered a mixed reception.
So can this camera do better? Smaller and more refined than its predecessor, yet with a bigger screen, the W3 also features two lenses and two sensors. It offers a 10-megapixel effective resolution plus a 3x optical zoom with a focal range equivalent of 35-105mm on a 35mm camera. Photos aside, the W3 can capture high-definition video at a resolution of 720p.
Although aesthetically still somewhat lumpier and larger than it looks in pictures, the W3 will fit comfortably in a jacket pocket. Overall dimensions are 124 by 66 by 28mm and it weighs a manageable 230g without rechargeable battery or compatible SD card. Expect to pay in the region of £350.
In dormant mode, the faceplate obscures the lenses, twin stereo microphones and centrally located flash. Sliding it open results in the camera powering up in around two seconds. Since it's that simple, there's no need for a separate on/off switch or button.
There isn't much of a grip to enable a firm hold on the W3. A slight undulation of the faceplate and a thin flint-like sliver jutting out at the front provide the only point of purchase. Inevitably, then, fingers creep in front of the lens on occasion when attempting to steady the camera in both hands. Fujifilm acknowledges the issue, and there's even an easily missed red warning icon that flashes on screen to avoid the photographer ruining their shot in this way.
On a more positive note, a half press of the shutter release button, which is encircled by a zoom lever, effectively adjusts focus and exposure in a matter of a second. At this point, you also see a helpful live preview of how the resultant 3D image is going to look. This feat is achieved by incorporating rows of tiny convex lenses within the screen that work together to give the 3D effect. Press the shutter release button fully and the camera fires both shutters simultaneously, taking a further two seconds to commit the result to memory.
Seeing double, seeing triple
The two different perspectives from the twin lenses are automatically combined for viewing on the W3's huge, 3.5-inch, widescreen-ratio LCD screen. Images are both composed and reviewed on this ample display, which boasts a benchmark-raising resolution of 1.15 million dots. Special glasses aren't required for viewing. Visibility is fantastic -- the screen's sharpness is eye-popping -- so you get a really good idea of whether your 3D compositions are working as dramatically as they could be, in situ.
Alternatively, the W3 can be hooked up to a 3D TV via HDMI connection. Fujifilm suggests it will work with any brand, and FinePix software is bundled so you can view the images on your PC. That said, you won't get the 3D effect from a standard screen. Instead, you'll see the shots from the left and right lens separately, or slightly overlapping and headache-inducing (but still resolutely 2D) when combined. Fujifilm is also offering a lenticular print service, with prices starting at £3.99 for a 6x4-inch. The current turnaround for these is 20 days, as they have to be despatched from Japan.
Of course, you might not want to experience the full 3D effect all of the time, just as you might want to switch it off on a 3D TV. With the W3, there's the ability to shoot regular 2D JPEG images alongside 3D MPO format stills as a default setting. The results are similar to what you'd expect from any regular snapshot camera. You can also switch between one format and the other thanks to a dedicated 3D/2D button on the camera's back plate. This swaps settings nigh instantly, so you can quickly get an idea of which format the subject in front of the lens suits best.
As with its forebear, shooting with the W3 necessitates a change in your approach. Fujifilm suggests shooting wide and at a distance of 1.5 to 2m from your subject in the user manual, but you'll already be doing this instinctively to fit anything visually worthwhile into the wider 16:9 frame. Aspect ratios of 4:3 and 3:2 are also selectable. Shooting at an angle or locating several points of interest within the frame appears to work best. For example, look for an opportunity where there is something interesting happening in the foreground, middle and background, rather than just shooting a flat subject straight on. When shooting an architecturally interesting building, include a lamp post, tree or people in front to give the shot depth and help with the 3D effect.
As we expected from Fujifilm, the W3 delivers warm colours that almost literally jump off the screen. It's less successful when shooting in low light, where the camera's light-sensitivity range tops out at a modest ISO 1,600 and camera shake results in fuzzy, blurred results. But the same would be true of any non-3D snapshot camera with an equally modest spec and lack of proper grip. Luckily, there's also the opportunity to cap auto settings at ISO 800 to limit the effect of any noise, and this worked well for us.
Yes, the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 could be dismissed as gimmicky, and those without a 3D telly will soon grow frustrated with just viewing imagery on the built-in screen, no matter how impressive that is to start with. That said, the W3 is surely the most sophisticated and, at the same time, affordable 3D-content generator yet. Although not cheap, the price feels worth it in return for the level of fun imparted.
Edited by Emma Bayly