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3D Photography Rig Under $100 -- Thank you @AndyHull!


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Hey everyone, here's a fun and affordable 3D photography side project. I really owe Andy Hull for giving me the inspiration and information I needed to pull this off!

In addition to horology, I'm an avid photographer. I've been studying and practicing photography seriously for 20 years now, having bought my first real camera in 2000. If anyone is curious, the camera was a Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. Some of my work has been in galleries, and I'm a couple of classes away from completing a photography degree.

When I became fascinated by photography, I wanted but couldn't afford a digital camera. I could afford a film camera, however, and I had free access to a nice darkroom between my law school classes at UC Davis. I learned how to process film and make silver-gelatin prints.

Over the years, I've become a film snob. I embraced digital for macrophotography, but insisted on using real film when shooting people. Thanks to Andy, I've now embraced digital photography for 3D.

For several years, I had been fascinated by 3D photography. I hadn't experimented with 3D photography much myself, because high quality 3D film cameras are expensive, require expensive slide film, and require a huge time investment to mount properly for viewing. I've shot a couple of rolls through Stereo RealistViewMaster, and Nishika cameras, but the cost and hassle were too much for me to fully embrace.

Enter @AndyHull, who mentioned the "Canon Hack Development Kit" (CHDK) project to me. This is a super cool open source effort to significantly expand the capabilities of Canon point and shoot cameras. By using the CHDK, one can force old point and shoot cameras to shoot RAW files, show real-time over- and under-exposure, and execute scripts allowing for the cameras to take pictures on a programmed schedule or only after they detect movement, etc. I've barely scratched the surface of what CHDK can do -- It provides an incredible amount of power and flexibility.

I purchased two new-old-stock Canon Powershot A4000IS cameras for $25/each from eBay. These cameras were released in 2012, but they work really well. Through the magic of CHDK, one can use a USB cable and a 5v power supply as a remote shutter release. In under 15 minutes, I used some LEGO bricks, a simple push button electrical switch, a couple of old USB-mini cables, and a battery to build a twin USB shutter release. CHDK does some additional magic to ensure that both cameras fire in a completely synchronized manner, within 1/1000s of each other.

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Here's my original rig. Please note that a 9V battery wasn't an ideal choice, and I've switched to a 5V battery.

I mounted my two Powershot A4000IS cameras close to each other on a "stereo bar," but I got even better results by using epoxy to glue these two cameras together.

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Here's v2 of my rig. It produces better results, although I do need to rotate all of the left shots 180 degrees while processing.

Combined with Adobe Lightroom and some really powerful free software called "Stereo Photo Maker" (SDM), it's trivially easy to produce 3D stereo pairs that look great.

It's possible to see the 3D effect in these stereo pairs with one's naked eyes through the "crosseyed" or "parallel" viewing techniques. These methods give me a headache and are really hard to teach others to do, but the good news is that there are inexpensive and effective 3D viewers available. I'm using the "OWL" and "Lite OWL" designed by Brian May. My wife was really blown away by the 3D effect.

My total cost was well under $100 and a couple of hours of time to build a super high quality 3D stereophotography rig:

  1. Canon A4000IS #1: $25
  2. Canon A4000IS #2: $25
  3. Battery, USB cables, and electronic switch: ~$10
  4. OWL Viewer: $20
  5. CHDK and Stereo Photo Maker: $0

Total: ~$80

I shot a model last Friday, and am really happy with how well my 3D rig performed! Thanks @AndyHull!

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First good stereo pair (Parallel Eye). I've since improved my processing technique to ensure that the colors match better.

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Here's a Parallel-Eye shot from my recent photoshoot. I'm really happy with these results!

If anyone would like to see the full (uncensored) photoshoot, please send me a DM and I'll send the link.

Edited by dpn
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Its a great time to try CHDK.  The Canon point and shoot cameras that it runs on are cheap as chips on ebay.

If you are willing to risk a "fixer upper", they have reached the point where you can pick them up for the same kind of money as the 404 club watches.

image.png.cb88391bec7d874bb06f4dae2b705d64.pngFor example I picked up an A2200 a while back to use for scanning negatives. This cost a couple of quid, and had a lens fault, which I fixed, so I thought I'd see if I could find a matching one.

A few days later and this showed up on ebay.

No charger and untested, but I already have a bunch of canon chargers including one for an A2200 so what is the risk? 0.99p plus shipping.

It arrived, in barely used condition, with a good working battery and functions perfectly.

Bear in mind this is a 14.1 megapixel that originally retailed at $325.00 USD, a price which eventually dropped to around $139.99 USD in 2011, so it is not a bang up to date model. However it has a real lens (of sorts) and a reasonable sized sensor (when compared to a phone camera). It takes excellent macro shots, and of course most importantly for this thread, it runs CHDK. 

It seems that the phone camera has pretty much killed the higher end consumable point and shoot camera market, and furthermore nobody fixes anything any more, so there are real bargains to be had.

Even if you don't want to risk a potentially faulty camera, there are plenty of models around for around the $50 or less mark, like the 16.1 Megapixel A4000 IS that @dpn is using. The IS models even have the excellent Canon image stabilisation lenses, to help eliminate camera shake. 

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