3D documentary filmmaking: To buy or not to buy? Why Panasonic AG-3DA1 sensors don’t make the cut

3D camera test update – I’ve had a chance to check out the footage from our recent Panasonic AG-3DA1 test shoot.

The verdict: a renter, not a keeper

Bottom line … it’s a great idea – but a couple incarnations short of buying.

On the plus side, the body is super lightweight at 2.4kg. Compared to rigs like this:

File 162

Parallax Film Productions uses 3D camera rig to shoot Dover Castle in Kent, England.

… it’s no small difference.

But now that I’ve seen it in post, it’s painfully clear the sensor size is a dealbreaker. This camera is a great choice to rent if you’re doing lower-end picture work – but that’s as far as I’d go.

What would make it a keeper:

Panasonic needs to increase their 1/4.1” 3MOS image sensor to a 1/3” minimum before I’d buy. The 3DA1 just doesn’t make the cut for the caliber of shows we produce.

I’m going to wait and see what changes and hopefully upgrades to the sensors go into the next version – I suggest you do the same.

Right now this camera comes close to a solid B-cam. But until Panasonic increases the sensor size we won’t be adding this pony to our stable.

Ian Herring, President


2D/3D camera equipment for sale: Meuser Optik lenses up for grabs on eBay

parallax photo

Heads up – we’ve listed 2 Meuser Optik lenses for sale on eBay.


– 2x Meuser Optik 3.4mm C-mount lenses for 3CCD 1/3″ sensor

– compatible with Iconix camera system and Toshiba IK-TU53H, for shooting 2D or 3D

– fast, small and lightweight

– manufactured in Germany

– used for one shoot only

– f2.2-f16 with manual focus

For more about the lenses in action, check out this 3D blog post.

Ian Herring, President


3D camera review: how the Panasonic AG-3DA1 stands up to 3D documentary filmmaking

Normally my team and I use rig-based camera systems to shoot our 3D documentary material.

So far these custom-designed units have gotten the job done.

But to stay in this crazy 3D game you’ve got to try it all … last week it was time to play with a new toy.

We took the shiny Panasonic AG-3DA1 for a test drive.

Here’s some footage of the indoor shoot:




Here’s some footage of the outdoor shoot:




What you need to know:

-There are distance limitations as with any side by side camera rig. For instance when we were shooting in a room approx. 3m x 3m the closest we could get is about 1.2 meters to the subject. When we zoomed in we had to move to about 2.5 to 3 meters – we were out the door before we got a clean and well converged shot of the subject.

-To get anaglyphic 3D press the “mix” button.

-Both the viewfinder and LCD screen use anaglyphic as convergence guide.

-The LCD screen is soft when in “mix” mode – so focus needs to be continually checked.

What you’ll like:

-It’s lightweight.

-It shoots decent EXT.

What you won’t:

-The small sensor means that the image shows noise in low light.

The call:

Jury’s out for now. I’ve sent the footage into post, and will make the call on if it’s worth it to add to our 3D arsenal when I see the goods.

More to come …

Ian Herring, President


3D documentaries in the news: how to settle the 3D TV debate? Less talking, more watching

I was interviewed for a story that appeared in the Globe and Mail over the holidays.

The topic? The future of 3D television, of course.

The article opens with the inception of my journey into the third dimension – a trip with the Parallax crew to see Avatar at the end of 2009 – then goes into an industry snapshot.

One of the most interesting parts of this piece: the comments – people weighing in, giving us a feel for how our audience is reacting to this new world of entertainment.

From “The future of 3D home television? Thud, flop, disappear” to “I have a lot of techie friends, yet I still only know one person who had spent the double cost to buy a 3d TV”, it’s clear that some doubt it will take off

My challenge to you: find a way to watch some 3D television in a non-retail setting.

This is the same stuff that wowed millions of people all over the world as they spent billions of dollars to watch Avatar – now in the comfort of your living room.

It’s how people are experiencing 3D programming in a meaningful way. “Watched 3D underwater scene at Wacky Wheatleys in Fredericton, NB on Sony TV , very impressive”, another Globe and Mail reader commented.

And don’t worry that there will be nothing to watch – the content is coming. Popular Science had a great roundup article earlier this week – Sony, Discovery, IMAX, ESPN, Vudu …. and of course, Penthouse.

These big players know their industry, and their audience – they‘re confident this unprecedented immersive experience will leave people smacked for more.

I’ve been in their boardrooms – they see 3D content and get inspired. And like me, they want to share.

Get in the game. We experience the world in 3D – it’s time to demand the same from our entertainment

Ian Herring, President


Shooting A 3D documentary: How to record 1080P to a Nano3D drive using Sony EX3s

We recently shot a show that will be delivered to broadcasters in 1080i.  Our 3D camera system choice for this shoot was a beam splitter with two Sony EX3s gen-locked, recording a 140mb to Nano3D drives.

Because of the large amount of VFX work and the convergence needs of 3D, we wanted to capture native 3D in 1080p – this makes it possible to work with a full frame of information.

When our DOP camera-tested native 3D he found that it was only possible to shoot 1080i as that’s what standard the Nano3D drives record to – even though the genlocked EX3 system was set to record 1080p. Annoying, but I decided we’d make it work.

So we got the footage in as 1080i – and loaded it into the off-line FCP and Cineform 3D edit system. That’s where we ran into a problem.

What was going on?  The native files were playing back fine in FCP – but when we brought it over to Cineform to do convergence and 3D adjustments we got visual tearing and had interlace issues.   When we did our adjustments the fields no longer matched.

We identified the source of the problem was within Cineform First Light, and it was the interlaced files that didn’t match – in interlaced footage the shot was broken up into two fields, top and bottom.  Our problem was with our adjustments  – the order was being mixed up so the shots looked terrible.

So went back to the source file – and figured out we had to add another step and de-interlace it and then re-input the 1080p frame back into Cineform and then it would work  – making it 1080p, the frame file we wanted to shoot it in the first place.

Bonus: as we problem-solved the above interlacing issue with Cineform we also found out that the Nano drives can record 1080p – if you tell them that the signal is in fact 1080psf.

PSF stands for Progressive Segmented Frames and it is how the camera delivers video down a single SDI cable.   1080p is so large it has to broken up into smaller pieces – called, packets.   It doesn’t change the video, just reformats the video during transmission down the cable.

One has to tell the Nano drives that the signal is coming as a 1080psf – and it will happily record 1080p.   So now we don’t have to de-interlace the file and can work in 1080p right off the drive.

After the 3D and VFX work is done and the final on-line completed we can re-interlace the files and deliver final output to the broadcaster.

So on future shoots we can shoot 1080p – we just have to tell the Nano drives that it’s coming IN as 1080psf – not 1080p.

One less step to take in our post work flow – and now we can work in 1080p.

Ian Herring , President

Watching a 3D documentary: buying the right passive technology monitor

It’s coming up to the year anniversary of Avatar’s release.  A film that changed the way I think about broadcast formats and revolutionized our production house.

Within 12 months we landed our first 3D television production for Blowdown, our ongoing television series on structural implosions.

In that year we built and tested two main 3D systems and several secondary systems.  Of equal challenge was the post work flow in 3D.  The production team worked closely with our edit team and managed to come up with a smooth edit to output work flow.

Early on we adopted the 3D TV passive technology, which means the TV does all the work and we can use inexpensive and readily available glasses – the same ones used at the cinema.

Our latest purchase and the smallest 3D TV is the Panasonic BT-3DL2550.  It’s a 25.5-inch TV – portable and can be used in the field to monitor 3D rushes or as an on-line monitor.  This is a piece of equipment I am really looking forward to using.

The consumer is going adopt 3D at home in the same way when passive shutter 3D TVs come available.  LG is releasing this – the LD920 47-inch TV – eliminating the expensive and awkward battery powered active shutter glasses.

This technology, priced right, will pave the way for consumer friendly 3D tv’s and encourage the adoption of the format.

Ian Herring, President

Welcome to Parallax 2.0

We’re jumping the gun and ringing in the new before the year-end countdown.  We’ve had an amazing 2010 here and are all still wrapping our heads around the fact that it isn’t June.

I started the year back East in February and battled the blizzards that dumped on Washington, DC.

In April, we managed to catch the last Air Canada flight of Paris before Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano closed European airspace.

It was Brazil in August, escaping the heat in Vancouver for “winter” in Salvador.

We shot our first show ever in 3D, a fabulous addition to our Blowdown series.

In November, we began shooting our brand new series at Dover Castle with our host and co-production partner, Dan Snow.  No small triumph for a project more than three years in the making.

So, besides the 60,000 Aeroplan miles I’ve banked this year, what does it all mean?

It means that here at Parallax Film Productions we’re always on a journey.

We’re looking for a new adventure … and we’ve found it in this vast e-universe.

The launch of the new website is pushing us in new directions, opening doors to the possibility that our creativity can be interactive and we can reach out to our audiences in ways that doesn’t always include a broadcaster.

We are stepping out from behind the curtain and redefining the nature of our storytelling by sharing what excites us every day. Whether it’s a new 3D TV or a story from the back pages, it’s all the stuff we strive for:  being excited and engaged.

We hope that you’ll join us.

Connect with us and our community via Facebook or Twitter. Weigh in on YouTube or our website  – we want to hear what you think of our content. Sign up to receive our news. Share your updates. And reserve front row access to the new stuff comes down the pipe.

We’re not sure what this new world has in store for us. But one thing’s certain. It’s going to be quite the ride.

Ian Herring, President

Shooting a 3D documentary: demolition POV – ContourHD versus GoPro HD

3D POV, here we come. We’ve started looking into cameras to shoot POV footage for our first 3D documentary.

This content is a must – there’s nothing like being able to put a camera where no human dare go and capture the scene from that angle.

For example, what’s it like to ride on an excavator boom while it’s ripping bleachers apart?

An excavator demolishing bleachers, the RCA Dome

This is a screen grab from the demolition of the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana, the subject of a previous Blowdown show – the explosive demolition series we’ll be filming in 3D.

Now imagine part of the grapple in negative space.

But it’s going to take a bit to get there.

The cameras we use have to be:

1) Lightweight enough to be mounted onto a Magic Arm, or duct taped/fastened to something on the machine.

2) Placed at an interaxial distance small enough to film an object within 1 ½ metres from the lens.

3) Workable with a customized side-by-side rig (that we’re apparently going to build … of course).

4) Capable of turning on in sync.

Our stereographer, Sean White, has narrowed it down to two contenders: the ContourHD 1080p or the GoPro HD.

Suspect the Contours will reign because they’re less boxy, but the GoPro’s a bit better quality – so I’d like to find a way to use if possible.

We’ll see how the “dare to compare” goes.

Shooting a 3D documentary: anaglyphic test footage – 2 Canon 7Ds on a side-by-side rig

As I’ve mentioned, we’re testing several camera systems out to decide what to use to film our first 3D documentary. We’ve seen promising footage out of our A cam system – an Iconix sensor system with Meuser Optik lenses on a side-by-side rig.

Now our stereographer, Sean White, has brought in B roll he shot with our C cam system: two Canon 7D DSLRs on a side-by-side rig.

Happy to say it’s not looking bad either.

Need a pair of the old school anaglyphic glasses for this one:

There’s only one problem: some of the backgrounds are diverging past our broadcasters’ specs.

So now we’ll have to experiment with different interaxials until we fix the issue.

In the field – the demo of a condemned sports stadium in Salvador, Brazil for the explosive demolition series Blowdown – this system will be used to capture establishing shots of the structure and, of course, its implosion.

Here’s an earlier video of Sean, walking though the setup.

We’re also honing how to capture our time lapses with this system – details to come.

Editing a 3D documentary: how to burn 3D HD footage using Final Cut Pro

Our editor, Brian Mann, has found a way to burn up to 20 minutes of 3D HD footage that will play in a Blu-ray player … without a Blu-ray recorder.

He discovered the work-around after I asked him to compile some test material we’ve shot/composited so I can show it to the broadcasters we’re delivering our first 3D documentary to.

Here’s how:

1) Put a standard-issue DVD into burner.

2) In Final Cut Pro, choose File, then Share.

3) Choose Blue-ray, then Export.

4) Wait for it to finish, and voila. The DVD thinks it’s a Blu Ray disk.

I plan to show the DVD (a montage of 3D footage and 3D VFX) during a meeting with broadcasters so they can see the visual style we’re developing.

Playing the file off of a laptop’s the alternative, but could prove problematic for several reasons:

1)Laptop would have to be powerful enough to play the files.

2)The file could crash or not play back properly.

3)Cumbersome extras – like a DVI to HDMI cable – would be required.

With a DVD, we can set up a JVC 3D HD monitor and a Blu-ray player, then play the DVD knowing it will work.

Sure, it will only burn 20 minutes – but that’s more than enough for my presentation purposes. Easy to play 3D content in a boardroom setting.

Of note: Brian’s encoding side by side so that the footage will display on the monitor properly – no dual stream. Not something we want to forget.

That, and plenty of backup copies.