Contributions by Jamison Cush
Before camcorders with native 3D capabilities became prevalent, Panasonic started off its consumer 3D video push by introducing the VW-CLT2 3D conversion lens. Attaching to the front of select Panasonic camcorder models (in the case of this review, it was tested on a Panasonic V700M) the VW-CLT2 features two lenses to split the image and create a 3D effect (though there is still only the one image processor of the camcorder). So how does it fare compared to more recent 3D home video solutions?
Build & Design
The VW-CLT2 adapter is, put simply, clunky. Never mind the fact that a camcorder with built-in or native 3D capabilities would have a far more graceful appearance, because even for an add-on attachment, this adapter has a cumbersome design.
The entire thought process behind this attachment puzzles me. The adapter is not compatible with all Panasonic camcorders; rather, specific camcorders are designed for it. That's fine, I don't necessarily fault the company for that. What I take umbrage with is that despite that decision, Panasonic did not design the compatible camcorders in such a way that the adapter could just plug straight onto it. Instead, users have to first apply an intermediary ring that screws onto the front of the camcorder and then they can plug the actual adapter into said ring and lock it into place. The whole thing is not only clumsy, but it adds to the amount of stuff sticking off the front of the camcorder.
And on that note, it's worth pointing out that yes, such an awkward approach to 3D does result in a noticeable amount of added weight. Given that the camcorder I tested it out on, the HC-V700M, is relatively lightweight, the 3D adapter just made the entire unit feel front-heavy in my hand. And, of course, the attachment makes the entire unit a good four inches longer, greatly reducing its compactness.
In terms of its actual build quality, the VW-CLT2 feels a little cheap, as it's primarily made up of plastic parts. Perhaps this is for the best, however, as metal or a higher-quality material probably would have just added even more weight to the entire affair.
There is a flip-open panel on the top of the unit that reveals two plastic dials that move the two lenses of the adapter left, right, up, and down. These knobs are used for calibrating the 3D effect before recording. Before turning on the camcorder, the front lens cap for the adapter, which has guidelines drawn on the inside, must be placed on the unit.
Users must then turn on the camcorder and use the dials to adjust the horizontal and vertical position of the lenses until the on-screen guidelines match up with those on the inside of the lens cap. It's a hassle that the 3D effect has to be calibrated manually, and the instruction manual suggests that you do it every time before recording. It's only after doing this that the camera enters an auto-calibration mode where you select an object roughly four feet from the camera and hit 'adjust' to finalize the 3D effect settings.
First and foremost, there are a number of limitations when using the VW-CLT2 conversion lens. What stands out most, perhaps, is the fact that users cannot zoom when using the adapter, which is a restriction that you?d be hard-pressed to find on newer 3D camcorders. There's also the fact that the distance between (and angles) of the two lenses cannot be adjusted, which is an important feature that would allow users to adjust the 3D effect.
And finally, I have never experienced as much sensitivity to movement or panning as I did when using the camcorder with the adapter attached. Anything more than very slow, deliberate movements of the camcorder would cause it to throw up an alert saying that I was panning too fast, resulting in motion blur (and an ultimately disrupted 3D effect). It's probably not a good sign that even in the instruction manual, Panasonic warns against moving the camcorder too much while recording and even recommends just using a tripod.
If you're shooting and you find that you?re experiencing trouble with the 3D effect, there is a quick calibration option that's added to the camcorder's touchscreen menu when the conversion lens is attached. Pressing the button essentially skips over the manual calibration process that involves matching up lines with the inside of the lens cap and takes you to the part where you pick a subject four feet away.
So does it work and produce 3D video and stills? Yes, it does, to a degree. We tested it on a 50-inch Panasonic 3D HDTV with Panasonic glasses, and our footage was there on display in what could be described as three glorious dimensions. But before you get deluded into thinking you will shoot the home video equivalent of Avatar with the VW CLT-2, there are significant limitations with the image quality and effect.
For starters, the color reproduction is extremely drab, the video quality grainy, the 3D effect minimal. Of course, the image grain isn't as big of a deal on a smaller display ? but then the already limited 3D is minimized by the display edges.
3D images should have three levels, with images appearing to come out from the display, in level with the display, and back 'inside' the display. With our test footage, images only popped out slightly, and it's only noticeable if you are looking for it. It would be impossible to recreate those 3D movie moments when a viewer instinctively covers his or her face as an object comes flying out at them.
Compounding any image quality issues is that fact that too many users do not know how to shoot 3D properly. Good 3D requires forethought in order to avoid ghosting or image splitting, and in setting a proper baseline level and no image interruptions from the edge of the frame, which can completely ruin the effect. It?s almost impossible to shoot spontaneous good 3D.
On the one hand, it's difficult to fault Panasonic for the VW-CLT2 Conversion Lens' shortcomings, as it was released a while ago as one of the first consumer products on the market that allowed for shooting 3D home video. But the fact remains that, now that time has passed, there are better options out there, including camcorders that have native 3D capabilities rather than requiring an adapter.
These options, aside from providing a much less clumsy design than the VW-CLT2, also provide a greater 3D effect and maintain video quality rather than devolving into a grainy mess in the conversion process. And to top it off, the VW-CLT2 has an unappealing price tag of $269.99 for an extremely inferior product, so we highly recommend that you look elsewhere.