iPhone 3D: Stereo Photography and 3D Movies for the Rest of Us

3D isn’t just for Hollywood blockbusters – at least that’s what Apple is hoping for with its next revision of the iPhone.

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The 3D Movie Craze of the 1950s

3D movies were not invented in the 1950s, but that was the era when they first became a cultural force.

Bwana Devil poster3D movies exploded onto the scene in the 1950s as movie theaters looked for something to offer that television could not. The 3D craze began with Bwana Devil (1952), the world’s first feature length color movie in 3D – featuring such gimmicks as a lion jumping into the audience. The movie was a smash, Hollywood took notice, and the Golden Age of 3D Movies was off and running.

House of Wax posterThe next breakthrough was House of Wax (1953) with Vincent Price, which was not only 3D but also the first movie with stereo sound.

But by the end of the 1950s, 3D movies were on the way out because movie theaters had something else to offer viewers that TV couldn’t duplicate – widescreen movies.

The Stereo Photography Craze of the 1950s

Stereo Realist cameraLike 3D movies, stereoscopic photography wasn’t something new, but the Stereo Realist (1947-1971) made it easy for anyone to take 3D images. (In stereo photography, the lenses are ideally 62-65mm apart.) The Stereo Realist was part of a small ecosystem that included viewers, slide projectors, and more. Stereo cameras used 35mm film and interleaved images in a very specific way so the film could be cut and placed in slide mounts. Several other camera makers jumped on board with their own 3D cameras that also used the Stereo Realist format.

The success of stereo photography owed a great deal to the advent of color slide film, particularly Kodachrome (1935-2009).* The down side of stereo photography is that you end up with slides, not prints to put in a photo album. Kodak had introduced the first color print film, Kodacolor, in 1942 but did not release a 35mm version until 1958. Print film slowly eclipsed color transparencies as the preferred way to shoot color photos.

By the end of the 1950s, the Stereo Realist was the only stereoscopic camera remaining on the market.

The Modern 3D Revival

Although 3D movies never disappeared entirely, they left the mainstream for over three decades. James Cameron and Vice Pace developed a high-end digital 3D movie camera system that was used to film Ghosts of the Abyss (IMAX documentary, April 2003) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (regular theatrical release, July 2003), which marks the birth of the current 3D movie era.

Things really took off with The Polar Express (Nov. 2004), which was released in both 2D and IMAX 3D. The 3D version was so much more profitable that the entire movie industry began looking at 3D as a way to boost profitability. Today 3D movies are everywhere – but what if you want to make your own?

Shoot Your Own 3D

Apple’s goal with the new iPhone 3D is to let you create your own 3D movies and stereo photos without having to buy expensive, dedicated equipment. Instead of one 8 MP camera on the back, the 3D has two. Based on the photo we received from our source, they are positioned about 63mm apart and designed for use exclusively in horizontal mode (like your TV screen).

iPhone 3D

The iPhone 3D is essentially a modified iPhone 4S, so you’ll see the same video and still image quality you’re used to, and you’ll be able to play back 3D video on any 3D TV using Apple TV (an updated version with 3D support should ship at the same time as the iPhone 3D). Apple will also have special 3D glasses allowing users to view 3D content on the iPhone 3D.

As always, Apple has not made any comment on 3D imaging on the iPhone, but we expect it to be available for the 2012 holiday season.

– Anne Onymus

* Kodachrome was originally an ASA 10 film, making it best suited to outdoor photography on bright sunny days.

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