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Monday, May 26, 2008

Loreo stereo lens

If anybody wants to take up stereo photography, the place to go first is Loreo.

Loreo is a Hong Kong firm who make the most acceptable modern stereophotographic gadgets.

I first met their stuff while on holiday in San Francisco. I'd been collecting antique stereo gear for years but hadn't, to date, tried any of the recent (and generally abortive) commercial 3d cameras around. In a tourist shop - I recall it being one of those very fake reconstructed shops you only find in the States, possibly on Pier 39, if that's what it's called - I found a Loreo camera. They apparently now call it the '3d Photokit' in its 'Mk II' version. I think the price was something like $150.

The great thing about it was that it took standard 35mm film and placed the two images side by side in a standard frame. You just sent your films along to your usual developers. Occasionally, some efficient technician would observe that your pictures were a little unusual and sometimes they would come back with a note about the apparent 'fault' in the camera. Once our local supermarket in Switzerland, Migros, returned a whole stack of prints, each one crossed out with a felt pencil (which was, thank you, easily rubbed off), a note pointing out the regrettable camera fault and all for no charge. It didn't happen every time.

I used mine for years and years...

Loreo 3d film camera  

Take a careful note of its detachable 'nose'. It would appear that MkI suffered from not having a nose to keep light out of the opposing eye (you see, that's what your nose is for!). The nose was stuck on to the central plate by six 'suckers': you can see the marks. It was always falling off and getting lost.

As you can see, the MkI was a very straight snaps camera with practically no adjustments. It had flash though.

Other Loreo camera owners on the web generally bemoaned its poor quality which was something I didn't get at all. My take is that there was some variation in the quality of the lens arrangement in the early models. I was very lucky. My photos were generally sharp and the camera operated for six years without ever disappointing. I have hundreds of prints with which to bore everybody rigid.

The results were, of course, prints. Loreo also sold (and you generally bought) a viewer:

Loreo 3d viewer  

This had two wacking great prism lenses in a chunky plastic frame. Well-made and reliable. My conclusion was 'money well spent'.

Then I went digital and stopped using film completely. That was six years after I bought the Loreo. My guess is it would still be working to this day if I'd continued using it. My first digital camera was an Olympus snaps camera which would not take replacement lenses and so stereo was suspended.

Then after too many years I bought a digital SLR and ordered Loreo's contribution to digital stereophotography, the '3d Lens in a Cap', a very odd name for what is essentially the lens part of the old MkI.

Loreo 3d lens in a cap

Not wanting to spend too much I chose Nikon's modest but effective D40. This is a basic digital SLR, very popular because it has all the advantages of its type - interchangeable lenses, very wide operating range, excellent handling, etc - but comes at a very reasonable price (I think mine was about £280 last year). It's a fine camera.

Now I will attempt to earn my keep as a blogger and justify any Googling that finds my blog by telling the world: yes, you can use the Loreo lens on a digital SLR. Breathe a sigh: you didn't waste your cash. Boy, I wish I'd found this page a few months back.

It must be said that at first I thought I had wasted my money. I even consulted a friend who I knew had brought one long ago - and who admitted that he never got it to work. Oh great.

The story starts when, having got the Nikon D40, I ordered the Loreo lens in its Nikon version. Very encouraged to see a version for my camera. It cost about £50, ordered from Hong Kong: it arrived very quickly and Loreo's email support is caring and polite. They like to hear how quickly it arrived and in what condition. Nice.

I am, frankly, an 'auto' man when it comes to taking pictures. I might tinker with some subsidiary modes but I left the aperture- and exposure-twiddling days long ago. So I just twisted off the Nikon lens and very gingerly twisted the Loreo one on. It fitted! It fitted apparently without destroying the mount.

The camera however, sensing that this humble piece of plastic is nowhere near as sophisticated as the thing I had just removed, declared that there was no lens attached and refused to play at all. Oh great. And it insisted that there was no lens attached whatever I did... until I turned the dial right round to the big M for the dreaded 'manual'. The camera then stops bleating on about having no lens attached.

But then I could get nothing out of it - until I used the thumbwheel to crank the exposure right out to 1/80sec ('80' on the info screen'). It took a bit of courage, because knowing, as I did, that digital cameras are very sensitive, I thought that would blow the thing away.

Now that's all I remember: attach the lens, rotate to 'M', put up the 'info' screen and crank the thumbwheel to about '80'. Sorry. I do recall that my photographer brother-in-law did advise me that once I got it right, a standard SLR would remember the settings. He was right: it so remembers how to do it that I get the setup right every time I swap lenses just by switching from 'auto' to 'M'. There might have been some more fiddling but once you get it working, it stays working. Great.

1/80sec is quite a long time if you're used to the speed of digital. In pale sunlight, you might have to go down to 1/50sec which is a bit of a bore. Bright sunlight, 1/120sec - which is much more practical. So, you'll have to use the old elbows-in, steady, steady, squeeze-don't-jab technique that we used to use.

And of course forget about auto-focus. The camera may know about that but the lens doesn't. There are three focus settings on the plastic case of the lens: mountains (good for almost everything), people (good for everything else) and flowers (good for flowers but you go cross-eyed trying to view them). There are two aperture settings: 22 (good for everything) and 11 (good, I guess, when it gets a bit dark - but sharpness of focus and depth of field are important; so I don't use it much). This is Instamatic territory.

You can use flash. It works. But you can't use anything other than manual. The big drag is that you have to go into the menus and find the dialogue to switch off TTL flash monitoring. That's a handful of button-pushes away from snapping and I find that a bit of a drag. So I don't generally take interiors unless they've quite light and very static. Then I'll try a half-second exposure.

If you want to see what I've managed to take, have a look at my stereo site. My apologies if it refuses to work for you, Internet Explorer user. I wrote the code myself and I can't be bothered, just now, to make a version just for Windows. I will. I will.

Anyway, my duty is done to the community: if you've got an SLR and are thinking of buying a Loreo lens, go ahead. It's not a waste of money. Well, it wasn't for me. YMMV.

Posted by Martyn Horner at 15:49
Edited on: Sunday, June 01, 2008 11:43
Categories: Stereophotography