August 12, 2011

3D Haters Beware: Peeking at a 3D Future with the JVC GS-TD1 Twin-lens Camcorder

This is a guest post by Zack Lieberman, a filmmaker in preproduction on his debut (3D) feature. He was also co-creator of The West Side with No Film School’s numero uno, Koo.

This post is fundamentally a review of the twin-lens, 3D JVC GS-TD1 camcorder and so I’ll get it out of the way up front and say that I really liked this camera. A lot. For a two lens system, it's incredibly small and durable, it makes a beautiful image, and is about as good as I could reasonably expect for 2011. Done! Okay, fine, I’ll go a bit more in-depth, but this won’t be an extremely technical rundown. I will talk a lot about why I think 3D is the future, though.

This article will feature images and video in anaglyph 3D: you’ll need some 3D glasses to see the extra dimension. Need some? Head over to Free 3D Glasses and Zack will send you a pair (disclaimer: yes, this is another property of Lieberman’s, but there’s no swindle, no hassle, just free 3D shades).

For a more detailed technical rundown of the JVC camcorder, please see this perfectly fine summary of the nitty gritty. One quick disclaimer: Koo was kind enough to help me help him help B&H (who was very kind in lending Koo/me the camera and the oh-so-sweet Steadicam Merlin to use in conjunction). I got to spend some quality time with the package in exchange for the words you now read (yes, it pays to be a co-Webby Award winner with my main man Koo; yeah, I’m that dude), but please rest assured that my critic’s impartiality has not been swayed by said schwag. But by all means, if you DO order this gear — or any gear — please go ahead and trust B&H with your business. They’ve got their game faces on. And you want game faces.

But lets push on: I’ll assume we haven’t met and I haven’t talked your ear off about how sweet 3D is, and how there’s just no way it can’t not be the future (or part of it!), so I’ll just say that I’m a big 3D nerd these days (I’m in preproduction on my debut feature film, which, you guessed it, will be in three-dee). I know that there are 3D haters out there because I’ve read your vitriol on this very blog and basically anywhere else someone mentions 3D. And it’s cool, 3D’s not for you. But I’m kind of into it (and I’m not a hater), so we’ll take your strangely passionate arguments as granted and move on to the “review.” Though despite and maybe because of this little jibe, I see it now: your comments crying foul, fad, glasses, agh! This really isn’t meant to be a polarizing article, just a few gentle anecdotes in the No Film School spirit of pushing things forward as independent content creators. If you’re interested, I quickly touch on the topic of 3D haters, and other things, in this little post relaunching my own 3D site, but again, it basically boils down to, “Hi Hater”). All jokes aside, what I mean to say is that there’s room for all of us in this independent community of ours; there’s too much actual BS in the world to wish for anything but your independent (2 or 3D) success and I’d hope the feeling’s fundamentally mutual, regardless of my dimension. Okay, 3D hater disclaimer over (for now).

Anyway, I’ve been shooting a lot of stereoscopic photography over the past year with the Fujifilm W3 (stereoscopic = 3D for those new to the game). The W3 takes really nice 3D snaps and I love it, wouldn’t live without it. And it takes 720p video, which is great in theory but leaves much to be desired (though it’s still cool and totally passes for what it is; check out some 3D leafcutter ants taken with my W3). But it’s basically the same problem as with most digital point-n-shoots; it just can’t muster quality material. This is all basically just to say that I was excited to get my hands on a proper, two-lens video system. I’ve shot a lot of regular video, I’ve shot a lot of 3D photography; I know the rules, I’m ready to play.

And aaaaah, this thing’s just sweet! It’s got 64GB internal storage!! And a glasses-free 3D viewfinder screen (kind of standard for 3D gear these days but still cool)! And a nice lil backlit f1.2 backlit sensor! I feel fortunate to have shot a fair amount with it — and will get more footage online in the days and weeks to come — but in the meantime, take a look at the short demo below (4 mins long). It basically just follows my daylong path of the NYC locations in the feature I’m currently making. One last disclaimer (sorry, I’m critically averse and I know y’all are hardcore): I was mostly trying the filters you see for my own good (not yours! sorry) and to test out a few ideas. Be sure to don your 3D glasses and pump up the resolution; click here if you want to see some raw day/night footage.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olhlUonHt1E?hd=1&w=616&h=375]

Yes the convergence is off on some shots (the JVC is good, but not perfect) and yes it’s basically just a filters test, but I think there’s some beauty (and potential) in it. If the short demo whet your appetite, I strongly urge you to spend the twenty minutes watching this extended version. 3D is often more compelling with longer shots... that is, shots long enough to allow your eyes to focus and explore the visual planes... and there’s a lot of great stuff that might blow your mind in this extended version. The same disclaimer as above applies — no plot, test filters, etc — though I’d additionally like to disclaim that this is a mere trim cut and is thus somewhat long and rough around the edges. But I trust you’ll still enjoy the uniqueness and beauty, so try to stick with me as I spin around through New York City.

Regardless, you’ll see that I had some fun. And that I’m trying new things, “experimenting” as they say, and trying to find some uniqueness and beauty (however successful I’ll leave you to judge). The moral: I was basically just walking around without a care in the world with this thing. If you’ve seen “real” 3D rigs, you’d know this is a sign of the game being changed. The camera is so small — that is, smaller than it could be: not all that much bigger than an average camcorder around, say 2004 — but solid! And durable! I was obviously verrrry careful with it, but it’s a rugged little unit no doubt. The thing is just very, very portable.

Shooting 3D takes some getting used to; while I’m steadily learning, I definitely wouldn't call myself truly skilled. That said, the camera makes it as easy as possible and has great automatic settings (and lots of “manual” settings to boot), and although I have some small quibbles (battery life, resolution on the glasses-free 3D screen is kinda whack, but definitely passable, as it’s in 3D — without glasses), this is a seriously cool little camera. And you should want one. Or at least want to play with one. It’s just too cool, and again, you just can’t not be kinda into it. (You're welcome for that gem of a slogan, JVC: "You just can't not be kinda into it." Boom.)

Beyond the camera’s above-average optical stabilization, you should still probably use some sort of stabilizing system to keep 3D jitters from ruining people’s eyes. The ideal tool for a camera this small is the Steadicam Merlin, which is truly awesome but most definitely takes some practice. You’d think it would be like BAM, easy! And it is, in a lot of ways. But it takes some touch, and touch takes nothing but hands-on time (you’ll see in the demo that I’m still finding said touch... eek). But you’ll get better...

I also used a different stabilizing system in the form of a pretty classic cradle (I like the X-Grip). The cradle is better than the Merlin at getting close to the ground, it’s much easier to use and set up, and you can really fling it all over the place. It’s great for what it is. As I often found myself voluntarily swapping with the Merlin for it, I can enthusiastically recommend it. But you don’t get that silky Merlin-esque action with the cradle. And you want that silky action.

And so, once again, to summarize: I want a Merlin in my life. For ever. To quote, kind of perfectly: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

So, two thumbs way up for both products. I very reluctantly gave the camera and Merlin back to B&H (vs “Quick, Flee to Mexico! In 3D.”) and so this is all just to say that I miss the package terribly and want them both back. That’s about as high of praise as I can give: JVC GS-TD1 and Steadicam Merlin, I miss you. I want you. I’m lost without you...

Now, I know a lot of you out there are ‘professionals’ and I trust you’ll see and hopefully understand that this camera is by no means a professional solution. But it’s fun. And unique. And fundamentally a sign of the things to come. Yes, I understand the ‘novelty’ aspect of what I’m saying, but despite your potential reluctance to accept 3D as a viable opportunity for the DIY market, have no doubt that the game is quickly changing and that pretty much every major electronics manufacturer is trying hard to sway your indie reluctance. It’s here to stay, whether you want it or not. And if not: all good, keep doing what you’re doing. Again, I wish you nothing but success.

But I think part of being an indie means trying — and having the flexibility — to think ahead of the pack, and while this obviously isn’t a product (or technology) for everyone, the fact remains: the future is moving forward with or without you, and this camera is but an awesomely slick little harbinger of the things to come. I’d agree with the point that 3D won’t reach true ubiquity until glasses-free tech is mainstream, but this mainstream is coming quicker than you’d think and true opportunity exists in the meantime. You don’t need said ‘ubiquity’ to make a dent (I was about to link out to the boxofficemojo page for Avatar’s ‘dent’, but that’s just silly. What I’m trying to say is: like any film, 3D can be as cool and successful as you make it. So go make it.)

But you’re probably a 3D hater (for whatever reason), and probably don’t care, and you’re probably like, “fad, glasses, gimmick, agh” or whatever. Go ahead and be that; again, it’s cool. But I’ll be over here, in the future, trying to push things forward and wishing desperately to still be playing with this badass little thing. The future, it seems, is now...

Zack Lieberman co-created the award-winning online series The West Side and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film; the magazine heralded The West Side as “ingenious low-budget independent filmmaking that just happens to be viewable only on the Web.” With a professional background in film production, design, and web development, Lieberman has been instrumental in the launch of numerous online projects as a Senior Producer at MTV and most recently spent his days leading digital media production for an acclaimed Sony Pictures Television property. Lieberman is currently in preproduction on his feature film debut, which he will write and direct. You can follow Zack, see more of his 3D work, and find out more about his past projects at zdLLdz.com.

Your Comment

12 Comments

I'm not a fan of the classic Red/Cyan 3D. I am a fan of the new Digital 3D like you see in Blu-ray 3D and Nvidia 3D.

August 12, 2011

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Don F.

Plenoptics will soon change 3D away from dual lenses. The compound sensors will get us back to a single lens system. So unless it's a beam splitter or a side by side rig don't waste your money on a dual lens system.

August 12, 2011

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Lostfootage

Interesting stuff :)

@ Don F. - since he's using YouTube, if you've got a 3D TV that accepts side by side input, you can switch your viewing mode to that here - http://www.youtube.com/select_3d_mode . Looks like it's also got an option for Nvidia 3D.

August 12, 2011

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"The future" gives me a headache. That's not a metaphor; I mean it literally. Will stick with the present until someone fixes that aspect of 3D film.

August 14, 2011

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I wasn't a huge fan of 3D until Transformers 3, I just couldn't see it... I saw it a little bit in Avatar but after that for get it (mostly because I'm not into 3D post conversion. The moral of the story is to get people into 3D just blow something up... blow lots of things up.

August 15, 2011

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Darrell

Listen, I'm no hater, I'm a young guy and a fan of doing new things. I just find that personally, 3D does nothing for me. I forget about it 15 minutes into the film, the tickets cost more, I tend to get eye fatigue quicker, it's darker, and I actually find the glasses have the illusionary effect of making the screen seem smaller. I feel like I'm watching the film through a box or something. Obviously different glasses would fix this...

I dunno, it's quite possible and very likely that 3D IS the future, but I don't think it's here yet, but it is here, so it's kind of just annoying when my local theatre will ONLY play the 3D versions of films.

Honestly, do you really think 3D adds ALL that much more the watching experience to justify all the drawbacks? For me, it doesn't, not yet anyway.

August 15, 2011

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You can have 3D, or you can have a story. So far, I've seen no evidence that the two ever coincide, with the possible exception of something from Pixar. 3D is a distraction, in much the same way that the current lovefest with shallow DOF is, instead of a tool.

If someone starts using it as a tool, and not the focal point (so to speak) of the project, I'll give it further consideration. Until then, I'll walk right past whatever is showing in 3D, and go see a story instead. - Tim

August 17, 2011

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Tim... ya said it !
Am sick of watching DOF crap and am sure the 3D is only interest to some people, but not me.
People in love with the tech-stuff and like you said, no story.
Am staying with telling a story without gimmics, VFX and so on.

August 19, 2011

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karl

that looks like shit, I took my glasses off and my right eye now has a red tint and my left eye cyan. I couldn't even tell what I was looking at some of the time because of the clusterfuck of colors attacking my brain, and the vast differences in brightness in each frame. Have fun in the future, spaceman, you've got my interest but if anything this video pushed me further away from the idea of 3D. It doesn't add anything to the overall feel or story. I don't hate 3D because it's a fad(they've had 3D films since the 50's) or that it's a gimmick ($12 per ticket? seriously) I hate it because it destroys the whole visual aspect of a VISUAL MEDIUM. It looks terrible, honestly and we should wait until holograms before we add a 3rd dimension to theatrical presentations (unless you actually consider going to, you know, a play.)

In the meantime:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/01/post_4.html (Walter Murch on why 3D will never work)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11685582 (hologram technology, still a bit premature)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd3-eiid-Uw (Legit no-glasses 3D, but only for personal use)

<3

August 20, 2011

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Marc

I actually did a short film in 3D called Portrait of the Storm: Tuscaloosa, AL.

You can check it out here:

This is the 2D version:
http://vimeo.com/24654508

and the 3D version:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmO-yL7nzrA

August 20, 2011

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Hiya everyone, Zack here (article author) -- Many thanks for taking a read and giving your opinion. When the article was first pubished, I felt like I probably overstated my 3D hater disclaimer, which I still think I probably did, though I missed a few of your potential "aghs!" That said, I guess there aren't any disclaimers for plain ol haters (Marc, you're awesome! But more about you later). Anyway, in the meantime, some quick replies if anyone's interested:

@LostFootage -- Totally, and I can't wait for plenoptics to become "viable", but we're a solid three or four generations from having decent video here. But yeah man, the possibilities are kind of endless when it arrives ... imagine the potential interactivity! That said, dual lens systems are getting muuuch better and they have a definitive appeal (their portability).

@Alex King -- Yeah, I didn't mention how bleeding edge YouTube really is in their 3D game. If you have nVidia 3D Vision, I highly recommend using the html5 viewer setup that Alex linked to. I'm using it and it's awesome. Thanks for mentioning, Alex.

Quick aside: the 3D I'm making (along with pretty much everyone else) isn't really MEANT for red-cyan anaglyph viewing, but it's the only real ONLINE distribution model as of now. I wish everyone had a sweet 3D TV or monitor, but they don't. Which is, again, a completely valid argument against 3D finding any true mainstream ONLINE success.

@ChinaGeeks -- Sorry to hear. There's been a lot written on this, which you can start to read about here. I personally never get headaches (even after loooong hours in front of 3D), but I know people that do; it's a real issue and again, a valid one. We often forget just how CRAZY (and complicated and nuanced) the mechanisms behind our vision actually are.

@Adam Palmer -- Again, valid concerns. But yes, I think the POTENTIAL of a 3D viewing experience does POTENTIALLY add "all that much" to the experience. I'd like to have an awesome argument here, and hope to create one in the film I'm working on, but off the top of my head: I thought Avatar was balls to the wall awesome at points when I saw it in 3D and just kinda ehh when I watched it in 2D on HBO. I know most everyone here will say "He thought Avatar was balls to the wall awesome?!" And I'll reply, "Yes. For what it was, it was mind blowing." To each their own, I guess. Try creating something 1/100th as ambitious. But yeah, the business aspect of Studios shoving 3D down our throats is gross. And unnecessary.

@TimTheFoolMan -- The 3D and story argument. Got it. I'll give you the same argument about 98% of ALL film. What I don't get with almost all anti-3D arguments is how black and white they are (that said, ChinaGeeks affliction is real. I wouldn't watch anything that gave me headaches). But you never know, Tim: you miiiight be missing out . But yes, I think overreliance on the beauty our TOOLS create is a major crutch (and a real potential barrier for artistic growth).

@Marc -- Oh Marc. Marc Marc Marc. First off, I am a indeed a "spaceman" -- thanks for catching that drift. Secondly, Walter Murch is obviously the man, but I could kind of care less what he thinks about (editing) 3D. I'm not trying to talk about the past here, in anything. The technology isn't perfect, but it's getting better. That said, I appreciate the *kind* words about my demo, but it really (truly) wasn't made for you. And per my reply to Alex, it wasn't meant to be seen in red-cyan anaglyph, which does -- holy moly! -- mess with the colors (you should see it with some active shutter glasses: I bet you'd REALLY hate it! The ... visuals ... mess with the visuals so much better!). The last thing I'll agree with you about: holograms are awesome; I also love them (check this!). But seriously, why wait until the next technological development that is AT LEAST 10yrs from any kind of mainstream? (Way worse than saying "I'm not shooting HD because 4K is just around the corner!" Just silly.) Lastly, that youtube video is awesome; it was awesome when it first came out 3+ years ago. Johnny Lee is The Man and that video has paved the way for a lot of the technology you see in Xbox Kinect and the next generation of video game consoles and glasses-free 3D technology. But it's not actually "legit" (your word) 3D ... just really clever motion tracking with corresponding 2D visuals. The graphics make it look like 3D, and so you can only imagine how awesome that SAME technology will be with an ACTUAL 3D screen. Right? My point: I'm cool with valid arguments, but you're way off on some of this stuff and you sound like a crankly old man. Granted, the demo isn't great (I'm not all that into it myself, but again, please reread the original disclaimers that I wrote... it's a DEMO), but you know what? I'm kind of glad to have pushed YOU further from the idea of 3D. You don't need it: I'm sure you're up to other, big, forward-thinking things. And I anxiously await their arrival --where can we stay tuned? In the meantime, you're just fuel for my fire, amigo. And I thank you for that. My <3 right back atcha.

Sorry to be a downer on that last reply folks, but again, I'm just trying to push things forward. I hope you see I'm not really arguing against any of your (mostly) valid arguments against 3D. There are real hurdles with 3D technology and adoption. But I trust you also see that some people are just plain silly in their disdain for what is fundamentally just another form of visual expression.

I'm no true evangelist or whathaveyou; I remain a humble independent artist trying to find the opportunity to make a dent, just like the rest of you. And so the last thing I'll say will hopefully be more in the original spirit of my article: embrace the future or don't; learn and try to understand or don't; seek opportunity or don't; think independently, create, push forward, or don't. All good. DO YOU. Chose your own path. While I could kind of care less what Marc is doing with his life (I'm sure it's awesome), to the rest of you: I'm not saying you should be making or watching 3D, but I AM saying you have the option. The tools are catching up. And you might be into it. It's (part of) the future, with or without you. And again, regardless, I wish you nothing but success.

August 21, 2011

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I think it's cool that you are trying new things and doing things differently. Film nerds always get butthurt over the invention of digital and new ways of doing things in filmmaking. I think they forget that film is a communal commerce driven art form, people just want to have fun and not wallow in artsy fartsy spec-head bullshit.

January 3, 2012

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Lee Rainberg