Sony hopes the Handycam HDR-TD10 will usher in a new era of camcorders as it will be the company?s first fully capable 3D consumer device. While Sony debuted the TD10 at CES in January, it is not set to launch until late in Q2, but DigitalCameraReview received extensive hands-on time with the 3D Handycam, which Sony claims are the very first production units to roll off the line.
While we reserve judgment for our full review when the device ships, we can safely say that 3D shooting will present a new set of challenges, and Sony has much work to do in educating consumers on the ins and outs of 3D videography.
The Big Camera
The TD10 deviates from the industry trend of lighter and smaller HD camcorders as it's essentially two camcorders tucked into one. It has two lenses and two CMOS sensors, which are required to achieve 3D effect (think of the two lenses mimicking two human eyes, given that humans can process what they see with two eyes into a 3D image), and 64GB of on-board memory.
At first, we were taken aback by its large size, but quickly grew accustomed thanks to a sturdy design and excellent balance. The TD10 feels extremely solid, and its size actually makes it easier to secure for sustained shots. As one product manager remarked about light cameras, they are tough to hold steady. Even something as light as the shooter?s pulse can register in the form of slight blips and bumps in the resulting video.
It also helps that the TD10 features Sony?s usual array of camcorder features, including intelligent auto ?dummy mode? and excellent image stabilization, which are both welcomed as 3D shooting adds another consideration to composing a shot. As we discovered while shooting, the only thing worse than bumpy footage is bumpy 3D footage.
Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the glasses-free 3.5-inch 3D touch display. Utilizing similar technology as the recent crop of 3D smartphones and Nintendo 3DS, commonly called ?parallax,? the TD10 display allows users to monitor the footage as it will appear in a 3D monitor or HDTV, complete with the dimensional effect.
There are still kinks with parallax displays, including a limited sweet spot for viewing the 3D, but we expect those will be worked out in subsequent product generations. And on the TD10, the glasses-free 3D is both novel and a heck of a lot of fun.
Shooting in 3D
DCR spent much of the day on the Sony studio lot in Los Angeles ? the same lot where Spiderman and countless other films were shot ? for a crash course in 3D cinematography.
This was absolutely necessary because the elements that make or break good 3D are not obviously apparent. For example, high contrast situations like a black couch against a white wall, can result in ?ghosting,? or a splitting of the image. Also, it?s important to retain all the action in the frame. Any subject cut off of the edge of the frame warps the 3D effect and appears unnatural.
Then there is the issue of convergence, and the role it plays in creating 3D effects. Sony stressed this the most. Essentially, convergence is the point at which the two camera lenses align on a subject ? just like your two eyes focusing in on an object. For the 3D effect, that point is often the baseline that aligns with the level of the display, with any object in front of the subject appearing to pop off the screen and anything behind subject appearing set in the background.
With the TD10, users can manually adjust the convergence level and pull it forward toward the viewer, causing anything in front of the subject to really leap forward, and seemingly invade the viewer's private space. Or, they can set the convergence level way back, pushing the action deeper into the plane.
Different shooting situations call for different convergence levels, and the TD10 is equipped to automate the process, providing its best guess per the shooting situation for those not wanting to bother with monitoring another picture control.
The 3D Future
It will be interesting to see how consumers react to the TD10 and consumer-class 3D camcorders. It seems the products? success will at least partially depend on how well consumers adapt to shooting in 3D. There is a learning curve and it?s easy to do it wrong. It?s also easy to see consumers being turned off to the technology because their 3D footage is blurry or jarring.
Regardless of how consumers take to 3D initially, there is little doubt that the technology is now available and relatively inexpensive, (the HDR-TD10 will retail for approximately $1,500) and if you don?t have it on your next camcorder, you will probably have it on your next HDTV, smartphone, or portable gaming system.