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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

Saturday, May 17, 2008


One glance at the home page for this site would seem to show that stereophotography is a major obsession of mine.

Well, it's been an interest for a long, long time, ever since I received my first 3d viewer as a kid. I think it was a 'Vista-Screen': they always had grand names like that. Basically it was a three-part hinged affair in the sort of cream plastic that was generally used for such toys. You stuck a double photograph (a few came with the viewer) in the support and looked through the two lenses in the front part. I seem to recall that the effect was quite good.

Later I had a 'ViewMaster', the one stereophotography toy that caught on. Every kid had one. It took cardboard disks which contained about 20 little windows, each containing a very, very small transparency (I guess the format was 8mm), arranged around the perimeter. The viewer rotated these frames in line with a sort of binocular arrangement. The disks were mysteriously referred to as 'reels'. Funny what you remember.

The 3d you got from a ViewMaster was pretty good: viewer and reels were made to a high standard. The only snag was that you had to buy the reels from the ViewMaster Corporation (I seem to remember they were Canadian) and therefore you had to choose from the subjects they thought worthwhile. My memory was that their idea of their demographic did not include me. There was a lot of scenery (boring!), promotional slides for movies (generally Disney, boring!) and, worst of all, puppet re-enactments of worthy subjects such as scenes from the bible (terrible!).

You got bought these whenever a relative went on holiday or found a small stock of reels conveniently near to Christmas or a birthday. Sometimes the stock wasn't very large.

So then I grew up and much later went into 3d computer graphics and so the interest was rekindled. This time I started to buy the serious stuff. From antiques fairs and car-boot sales, I got together a modest set of antique, mainly Victorian, viewers and a staggering collection of stereo-cards.

From about the birth of photography right into the 20th century, past the 1st World War, stereophotographic cards were sold in packs to commemorate events, to document expeditions to far corners, to educate and to amuse. As with everything that was once so popular but is now a collector's hobby, the market is flooded with the indifferent - mostly interminable views of Swiss mountains.

The best are the views of long gone street scenes or engineering masterpieces.

In fact, in saying that, I'm really challenging the collection to prove it's worth. Why do stereophotography? What do the good 3d photos say about its utility?

Even as a lifelong fan, I would always resist (and advise against) saying: it's just like being there. It so falls short of that.

In fact, if you want to list and prioritise the factors which make for good, evocative 'being there' photography, then adding the 3d is often quite exactly offset by the discomfort in using a viewer or a viewing method. Straining to cross one's eyes while the two images drift in and out of register is enough to spoil anyone's experience.

Depth perception (which is all you get with these double images) is only one of a huge number of 'being there' factors. Disregarding the other senses - the smells, the sounds, the climate - being there visually is far more about parallax than binocular vision. The ability, really, to look around and round objects is much more engaging than being able to order the objects in a static view according to their distance.

That said (and since I'm not going to dismiss this hobby without some defence) as a modest trick, 3d stereophotography has a certain charm for scenes which are unavailable to you in person for reasons of distance, time or social condition.

If you really can imagine 'being there' while you look at a 2d image, then stereo doesn't add much. If the subject is one you don't know or don't have a memory of, then the extra dimension adds a little clarity to the definition. Certainly if your eye can't get the hang of an image because your mind can't relate to the subject, then simple stereo can act like a multiple image, filling in and clarifying, within the one view, those details and dimensions that don't come clear in the single shot.

The best for me are stereo views of buildings, engineering achievements and public events whose scale and importance can only be imagined. Bridges, world fairs, state happenings all benefit from this extra dimension. And, of course, there are the nudes...

So why do I put my holiday snaps on the web?

Well, first, because I can but also because I like to experiment with that small incremental visual cue that adds just a hint of scale, grandeur or definition to an otherwise pedestrian bit of amateur photography. I would be interested to hear if any site visitor feels the benefit of stereo.

Is it really like 'being there' for you. I can't tell because I was there to take the picture.

Posted by Martyn Horner at 13:43
Categories: Stereophotography