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Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 Overview

Posted: 11/07/2011

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 takes the company into new territory, as its first 3D-capable digital camera to feature separate optics and image sensors for each side of the stereo image. (Some Panasonic fixed-lens cameras can create pseudo-3D images from a single lens, and of course the company offers an interesting 3D lens for its compact system cameras, but while this has dual optics, the resulting image is saved on a single sensor. The only dual-lens, dual-optics products we're aware of from Panasonic to date have been in its camcorder lineup.)

Development of the camera was announced in August 2011, and at the time, the company stated its intention to display the camera at the IFA Berlin tradeshow, making the official announcement right on schedule. Treading in the footsteps of Fujifilm's FinePix REAL 3D W1 (2009) and REAL 3D W3 (2010) as it does, one can't help but draw parallels between the two designs. The Panasonic DMC-3D1 wins by quite some margin in terms of size and weight, a fact made all the more impressive when one considers that the Fuji cameras have 3x optical zoom lenses, versus a duo of 4x zooms in the Panasonic. Full-res 35mm-equivalent focal lengths of the Panasonic 3D1 are 25-100mm for 2D mode, 30-120mm for 3D still imaging, and 27-108mm for 3D video capture, which is at 1080i (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution. By way of comparison, the Fuji cameras offered a rather less generous 35mm wide angle, although their 105mm telephoto was quite similar.

The Fuji cameras look to have a significantly greater interaxial separation, which determines the strength of the 3D effect achieved. (Ideally, the interaxial distance would match the 2.5-inch typical distance between the human eyes, for an ortho-stereoscopic effect., although this is obviously not easy to achieve in a compact camera design). Panasonic's design also places the flash strobe very close to both lenses, where Fuji was able to distance the flash somewhat by placing the stereo microphone ports between lenses and flash.

At twelve effective megapixels, Panasonic's camera has slightly higher resolution than that from the ten-megapixel Fuji models, although in the real world this is a relatively subtle difference (and in 3D mode, the maximum possible resolution falls to eight megapixels). Perhaps indicative of the advantage granted by a couple of years newer tech, the Panasonic DMC-3D1 offers significantly better 2D burst-shooting performance, though. Despite the greater pixel count, the 3D1 can capture as many as eight full-res frames per second, and even with AF tracking enabled in JPEG Fine mode, still manages two frames per second. By contrast, Fuji's cameras were limited to one frame per second in 2D mode, at best. Panasonic also wins on sensitivity, with a maximum range of ISO 100 to 6,400 equivalents, if you count the upper limit of the high sensitivity mode; by contrast, the Fuji models were limited to a maximum of ISO 1,600 equivalent.

The Panasonic DMC-3D1 has a 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD panel, with 460,000 dot resolution and a 100% field of view. Although it doesn't offer the attention-grabbing ability of the Fuji cameras to yield a 3D effect without any special eyewear, it is a bit larger than average, and of fairly high resolution. Given the fact that the 3D1 is aimed first and foremost at 3D imaging, it's a shame there's no way to view the results immediately after capture, though. Of course, it's also a touch screen, providing the potential for a more intuitive experience than was possible with a non-touch screen.

Like the Fuji cameras before it, the Panasonic Lumix 3D1 can take advantage of its dual lenses for some non-3D capabilities. (Obviously, the nearer your subjects, the more likely parallax may come into play and significantly change framing for each lens, but nonetheless these modes offer something no single-lens camera can achieve.) One function shared by both companies' cameras is the ability to decouple the zoom function of each lens, simultaneously capturing a still image at wide angle with one lens, and zoomed in on the other lens. Fuji's cameras can also do things like shoot at different ISO sensitivities, or in different color modes with each lens, but Panasonic's goes a step further by offering the ability to shoot video on one lens, while capturing high-res stills on the other lens without interrupting the movie capture. Pretty cool!

As noted previously, the Panasonic 3D1 can also capture both 2D and 3D videos at up to 1080i (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution. This bests Fuji's cameras by quite some margin, as the W1 was limited to VGA capture, and while the W3 attained high-def status, this was of the lower-res 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) type. Other features include image stabilization for both 2D and 3D images, and a healthy selection of Panasonic's intelligent technologies including a handheld nightshot mode that stacks images to reduce noise while providing higher shutter speeds to fight blur.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 ships in the US market from December 2011, priced at around US$500.