Plenty of this year's cameras let you shoot 'proper' 3D photos that retain the original colours and let you watch them on your 3D TV -- the Olympus SZ-14, and all come to mind. The problem with all of these cameras is that they rely on you taking two slightly misaligned shots that they stitch together to create the 3D result.
With the £430 Lumix DMC-3D1, Panasonic has taken an entirely different approach -- it has two completely separate lenses, and not only does it give you ace 3D pics, it lends a whole new flexibility to shooting that make it one of the most innovative cameras we've seen in ages.
While each of those cameras has only one lens, the 3D1 has two, which means it can shoot 3D stills without you changing the angle of view. Unique among its peers, it can even shoot 3D video by filming through both lenses at once.
But what if you don't have a 3D TV? Clearly you won't be able to enjoy the 3D results. But if you flip the selector to 2D mode and leave it there, you can use each lens as though it were an entirely different camera, effectively giving you two sharp shooters in one.
Switch from Intelligent Auto mode to dual-shooting and the display shows a preview from each lens. Tapping the touchscreen to select one or the other lets you set their zooms independently, so you can have a wide-angle view of a family group and a close-up on one face, or a pitch view and player view at a football match, for example. Switching between the two is a simple matter of tapping to select the one you want and firing the shutter. It's much faster than manually zooming in and out each time.
Shooting video in 2D only uses one lens but leaves the other free for stills, allowing you to shoot both at once. So you could capture a match-winning moment in printable form, as well as in movie format. You can shoot up to six pictures during a recording, which will be saved as 9-megapixel, 16:9 aspect images.
This versatility makes the 3D1 a very tempting purchase, even if you don't have a 3D TV.
When shooting 2D images, the 3D1 uses just one lens -- the left. Going by my tests, it's certainly up to the job of producing impressive results in demanding conditions. Colours are vivid and detail is sharp.
The daffodil below is a case in point, with bright colours on the yellow petals, which have not burned out in the bright, direct sunlight -- there's a sharp contrast between those and the orange centre. The detail on the stamen is very impressive, with individual flakes of pollen clearly visible.
This image was taken using the Intelligent Auto mode, which self-selected the 3D1's macro settings. It focuses at a minimum distance of 5cm. Although there is a very slight green fringe around the edge of the yellow petals, the fall-off in the level of focus is attractive, producing an appealing bokeh effect in the surrounding foliage.
Even in tricky scenes characterised by a stark division of illumination, the 3D1 does a good job of balancing the result. This shot of a patio is split more or less 50:50 between light and shadow, yet the 3D1 has accurately exposed the darker side of the image. It did not allow the cream wall to the right to entirely overpower the fine detail of the raspberry cane that's growing in front of it.
Furthermore, detail at the back of the shot -- the chicken coop and bushes -- is retained. Despite the fairly wide aperture of f/3.9, it remains in focus.
The 3D1's widest aperture with the captive lenses is f/3.9 fully retracted -- they never protrude from the camera's slim body. It shrinks to f/5.7 at maximum telephoto. When shot at the highest resolution, the camera produces 12-megapixel images (4,000x3,000 pixels), with exposures of between 8 and 1/1,300 seconds in automatic mode. Neither of these is particularly ambitious, but switch to Starry Sky Mode and you can push the longest exposure up to 30 seconds.