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3D cameras and camcorders: The first wave

CES 2011 is certain to showcase new 3D-ready cameras and camcorders, but here's what's available today for consumers.

Panasonic's GH2 interchangeable lens camera fitted with the company's $250 3D lens.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Up until 2010, there were nearly no off-the-shelf cameras for consumers to create digital 3D photos and movies; it was pretty much a hobbyist or professional thing to do. But with people hungry for content to view on their 3D-enabled TVs or computers, manufacturers started trickling out cameras and camcorders this year that just about anyone can use for shooting 3D.

The cameras don't all create 3D in the same way, though. Panasonic, for example, is currently relying on add-on lenses that feed stereo images to a single sensor. Fujifilm, DXG, and others, however, are using dual lenses and sensors, which is the more traditional way--and some might argue the best way--of creating stereoscopic images.

Sony skips both of these methods by using a single lens and high-speed shooting and processing to simultaneously capture left and right images that are stitched together in camera. (I expect the remaining manufacturers that don't have 3D cameras to go this last route, as it's likely the least expensive option to implement.)

Plus, there's software to take the 2D content you already have and convert it to 3D, which saves you the trouble of buying a new camera or camcorder altogether. (You could always go back to film or DIY, too.)

Of course the hurdle with all 3D is that you need some way to view the content, which changes depending on how the 3D effect is being created. Panasonic and Sony's 3D imaging currently requires you to have a 3D HDTV or a computer with Nvidia's 3D graphics solution and shutter glasses. Anaglyph 3D requires a pair of those red/blue glasses that people generally associate with 3D viewing. Side-by-side 3D requires a viewer similar to a View-Master. And, well, you get the idea. (Check out Berezin Stereo Photography Products to see just how many options there are.)

Looking toward CES 2011, I'm certain we'll see more 3D-enabled cameras and camcorders announced as well as digital photo frames with parallax barriers for viewing without glasses. It might not be a lot, but there should be some. However, I'm not sure anyone will care. In the end, this seems like it will be a flare-up created by the desire to see something--anything--on a new 3D HDTV. Once the novelty dies back and the nausea subsides, it'll just be a feature/lens/camera that's used every now and then, and eventually return to something mostly done by hobbyists and professionals.