Left to right
Classic wood and metal Holmes stereoscope
Holmes stereoscope used to train airmen during WWII / Korea?
You can still buy new stereoscopes. Some, built to look at rather than through, replicate classic styling but not workmanship or materials; others, built to use, look and are more functional. Key feature: good glass lenses. Try Reel 3-D, $120 or Alan Lewis $200 - $300.
Holmes stereoscopes are great for 3 1/2 x 7" Holmes stereographs, but not for views in the taller Cabinet format. And you don't have to own a Holmes viewer to look at Holmes stereographs -- a $4 lorgnette works fine.
Folding plastic stereoscope (the little one, way in
Argus / Loreo stereo viewer (gray, second from the right)
View-Magic stereoscope and stand
By the way, don't confuse the name View-Magic with the name of the 7-tiny-stereo-slides-on-a-3-inch-disk system, View-Master.
View-Magic viewers use first surface mirrors rather than lenses to direct your vision to stereo-halves mounted over-and-under rather than side by side. This clever design offers a number of advantages
Added-Dimension 3D Viewer
"Prismatic" plastic lenses spread out field of view, making this a handy, affordable option for Holmes, Cabinet and home made format stereographs with stereo-halves up to 4 inches wide.
Cha-cha takes it's name from the dance. Using any modern camera you take one picture, step to the side, take the second picture.
How far to cha depends on how far you are from the nearest object in the picture. The oft quoted "1:30 rule" says the distance between the two lenses (or in the case of the cha-cha, the distance between the location of the first shot and the second) should be 1/30th the distance between the camera and the closest object in the picture. For a macro close up of a bug, you'll move the lens only a fraction of an inch. For the Grand Canyon you'll do fine walking a couple hundred yards between shots. For routine around the neighborhood shots a weight shift from one leg to the other works fine.
The 1:30 rule isn't etched in stone. It's a guideline somebody made up. 1:15 works too. In fact, if you don't go to extremes, just about anything works. But lens separation does matter. The wider the separation the smaller the subject appears. So city scape stereos shot with wide separations from an airplane turn out looking like a little toy city rather than the big metropolis you had in mind. Counter-intuitive, but true.
If you make the lens separation too great, the two stereo halves will be so different your brain can't fuse them into 3D, and the stereo effect is lost.
If the lenses are too close together -- for example the Grand Canyon shot with a separation of only a foot or two -- the stereo halves will be so similar the picture will look flat and non-3D.
Cost: $0, if you already own a camera
You can make a twin-rig stereo camera with nothing more than a couple Kodak Fun-Saver disposables rubber-banded bottom to bottom. Just be sure the two cameras point in more or less the same direction, and push the shutter buttons at about the same time.
Using modern SLRs or point and shoot cameras, you can get quite fancy with, and sink a bundle in, a twin-rig set up. Modern cameras' auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-everything let you shoot more spontaneously than you can with an old stereo camera, some of which, like the Kodak, don't have even range finder focus systems. And the lenses in a mid-range modern SLR will give you crisp sharp pictures you just won't get with 50 year old optical technology.
Be warned though, to get a twin rig's two shutters to go off at the same time -- especially if you use point and shoot cameras -- you may have to crack open the cases and fiddle with their inner electronics. Even so, with some models it can be impossible to get the two cameras to synchronize their shutter openings well enough for fast action shots and especially for flash photography. No flash means no indoor pictures.
On the other hand many current SLRs do have sockets for plug-in electronic cable releases that, with a little wire splicing, can get the cameras to synch well.
You may eventually decide a tweaked-out auto-everything SLR twin-rig is the way to go, but you should experiment with other methods before you dump $500 or $2000 in one of these get ups. It can be a lot easier and cheaper to get a 1950s era stereo camera. (That said, I'll admit my quickest, easiest to use stereo camera is a twin rig made with auto-everything point and shoot Ricoh FF-20 zooms.)
Cost: $20 (disposables) to $2,000+
REALIST: When color slide film became available commercially in the late 1940s this camera began a second stereo revolution. Solid, rugged, simply built but awkward to use, the Realist enjoys a fervent cult following. More than 100,000 were sold between 1948 and '72 -- in an era when 'Made in the USA' was synonymous with 'durable.' Many survive.
Certain Realist models sell at higher prices. The f2.8 (standard lenses are f3.5), whose 'rare earth' lenses are reputed to be especially crisp, goes for $300 - $500. Macro Realists sell for $2,000 or more.
KODAK STEREO CAMERA: Built to compete with the Realist, the Kodak is much easier to use, has better lenses (in my experience), but is less solidly built and focuses only with a 'range guesser' dial. Also a big seller during the '50s and 60's, used Kodaks are available now at reasonable prices. Has less of a cult following, but makes a fine user's camera.
Kodak and Realist are the two commonly available models. Either is a good choice. With $25 adapters both can be easily, well,adapted, to work with modern flashes. The cameras themselves sell for $250+ thought back-of-the-photo-magazine New York mail order houses, about the same from Dalia Miller, $150 from your local camera store, $20 at a garage sale -- if you're lucky to stumble across one.
You'll use these cameras to take slides, which you'll trim to size yourself and stick into special 2-stereo-halves-in-one-cardboard-frame mounts you'll buy from Reel 3D. or Dalia. (A few labs in the US will develop and stereo mount Realist format slides. Kodak's mail in lab still offers the service: rules change, call for details. The number is on your mail-in packet.)
Getting prints from these cameras is less convenient. The 1950s stereo cameras expose areas of film that are 5 film perforations wide -- "5p", aka "Realist format" -- rather than the current standard 8 perforations -- "8p." Because of their non-standard width it's not easy to find a lab that will process Realist format print film. Don't bother trying to get your grocery store lab to do this work -- they're set up for high volume, low effort work. Semi-pro labs like Moto Photo can make prints from 5p prints, but it won't be cheap. My lab charges $26 for a set of 18 stereo pairs.
Most folks use their '50s era stereo camera exclusively for slides. If they've got a great shot, they'll have a print made from the slide (again, most local labs don't have equipment to do this) by sending the mounted slide off to a specialty lab.
Another prints-from-slides option is to buy a slide-duplicating attachment for your SLR and make your own print negatives from your own slides. A dupe-tube lets you copy the images on your 5p slides onto standard 35 mm 8p print negatives that your local lab, with a bit of coaxing, can make prints from.
These cameras are 25 - 50 years old and, Made in the USA notwithstanding, often have mechanical problems -- which any camera show dealer will cheerfully lie about. He needs your money for liquor and smokes. Unless you know what to look for, or are getting a great deal at a garage sale, buy from someone who's going to be around next week when you discover the shutters stick or the winding pawl is broken.
Even if it doesn't have major mechanical problems, as 25+ year old camera will have collected lots of grit and grime inside. Grime gums. Grit grinds. Unless you buy a recently C/L/A'ed camera from someone who C/L/As them himself, you should budget $60 for a cleaning/lubrication/adjustment by a Realist/Kodak expert. Repairs extra.
There are other old stereo cameras: Reveres, Belplascas (an expensive, much sought after "7p" model), Wollensacks, TDCs, etc. These generally work fine, but if the one you buy doesn't work, it's harder to find a repairman for them than for a Kodak or Realist. They are also rarer and so more expensive.
Cost: Kodak & Realist, $100 - $300+; other brands $100 - $1,000+
The Ukrainians still make a stereo camera reminiscent of the '50s Kodak/Realists. FEDs are made today, but they are not 'modern' cameras. These "European format" 7p (wider pictures than the Kodak / Realist 5p) cameras are made to sloppy if-it's-not-good-enough-for-you, -climb-the-wall -and-find-a-better-one comrade communist standards. In other words, they've earned a reputation for coming out of the box with light leaks, left/right exposure mismatches and other significant problems. Older models, like the FED, use a battery that's hard to find in the US. FED-BOY is a later model with improvements added by the German company, BOY.
You can also buy new FED slide projectors.
Note that most US stereo slide viewers are designed fro 5p slides. Viewers like the Realist Red/Green Buttons and Kodaslides will work with FED slides, but they will obscure part of the 7p frames. You can buy lighted 7p viewers, from -- who else -- Reel 3D..
US FED distributors and importers come and go. An unwarranted FED-BOY goes for about $250: you pays your money, you takes your chances. Some dealers (sorry, I don't know the number of anyone currently doing this) also sell 'tuned' FEDs, with the light leaks and other problems fixed, and with a warranty. A tuned camera sells for about $500. Roughly the same as 3 - 4 Realists. Which is why I own 3 Realists, 1 Kodak, and no FEDS.
Cost: $250 - $500
Workers at the German company Rambildtechnik GmbH cut up two modern 35 mmm cameras and put them back together to make the ultimate twin-rig. There are many RBT models, with good lenses and modern do-dahs. Many of these well made (remade?) marvels of hand craftsmanship take 8p photos, so your film needs nothing fancier than standard processing. RBT has one US distributor, Jon Golden, (617) 332-5460. Prices -- you knew there'd be a catch -- are in the $2,500 - $4,000 range. Not for the faint of wallet.
Cost: $2,500 - $4,000
Argus/Loreo stereo camera and viewer
Great idea; terrible execution. Tiny plastic f22 lenses, a single shutter speed, fixed focus, weak flash and cheap Hong Kong plastic make this camera automatic only in the sense that it's so stupid there's nothing to set: it only does one thing -- poorly. More a re-usable disposable than a real camera.
Needs at least ISO 400 film, and the graininess of these high speed prints is enhanced by the magnifying viewer. Save your money for a real 3D camera.
Thread the still produced and commercially available (Reel 3-D) $50 Franka beam-splitter onto the filter ring on your 35 mm SLR lens and suddenly you're applying the convenience and optical performance of a quality camera to 3D photography.
Beamsplitters use mirrors to put two images side-by-side on one standard 8p 35 mm slide or negative. The film needs no special processing, the prints are ready to view right out of the Safeway envelope. Franka makes the budget model shown here. Pentax made (makes?) a better one.
Be aware that it's not a perfect system. At each different camera-to-subject distance you have to adjust the convergence by sliding the outer mirrors more or less open in their cheap plastic frame. Time consuming, sometimes frustrating, but doable.
Still, if you already own a nice SLR camera, a reasonable option for good 3D photography.
Cost: $50 Franka, new; $250 Peneax, used.
Lenticular cameras have 3 lenses (some, like the Nimslo, have 4). Companies that process this film come and go. Mostly go.
The cameras use standard 35 mm print film, which you'll mail in for special processing. The lab splits the three photos into tiny parallel up and sown strips which it interweaves and computer prints on standard photo paper. Then the lab lays a special plastic sheet over the print. The plastic is make of long narrow prism ("lenses," sort of; whence, "lenticular") that send the image of each of the three original pictures in a different direction. It's a clever idea. Results are...so-so. You don't need a special viewer for these pictures.
3 x 5 inch prints cost about $1 each. Enlargements up to 8 x 10 inches and larger are available at reasonable prices.
Some stereographers use lenticular cameras for traditional stereo prints. to do this, don't send your film to Image Tech. Instead, talk a local lab into making prints from the two outer negatives. Mounted in the usual fashion, these work fine for traditional Holmes stereographs.
Or you can use a lenticular camera to make 4p stereo slides. Reel 3D. sells special 4p mounts.
Two models were made: the VM Personal Stereo Camera and the VM Mark II Stereo Camera. Made in the 1950s - '72. Puts a whopping 74 stereo pairs on a 36 exposure roll of slide film. Useful only to make stereo pictures for View-Master reels. Cameras sell for $200 - $250. But read on...
In the old days you could cut and mount your own VM film or you could send your film in for processing and get back pictures mounted in a VM reel. The mounting service is gone, so now you absolutely have to have a View-Master Personal Stereo Camera Film Cutter, which originally sold for $17, but is no longer made. Used cutters sell in the $250 - $350 range. Ouch.
Mark II uses a different cutter -- and mixing and matching VM-PCS and Mark II cameras and cutters doesn't work.
The other problem with making your own VM reels is finding the reels. Commercial production of mount-them-yourself reels ended in mid-1999 when Tyco's reel-making machine broke. Before you sink a bundle in a Viewmaster outfit, be sure you've got a supply of reels.
Cost: camera and cutter $500 - $700
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