3D Haters Beware: Peeking Ahead to a 3D future

This entry is a guest post I wrote for nofilmschool.com; NoFilmSchool’s founder Koo is a frequent collaborator of mine and fellow co-creator of The West Side. If you haven’t yet, you should check out NoFilmSchool: it’s an invaluable resource for independent creatives and I promise you’ll find something rewarding.

This post is fundamentally a review of the twin-lens, 3D JVC GS-TD1 camcorder and so I’ll get it out of the way up front and say that I really liked this camera. A lot. For a two lens system, it’s incredibly small and durable, it makes a beautiful image, and is about as good as I could reasonably expect for 2011. Done! Okay, fine, I’ll go a bit more in-depth, but this won’t be an extremely technical rundown. For a more detailed technical rundown of the JVC camcorder, please see this perfectly fine summary of the nitty gritty.

One quick disclaimer: Koo was kind enough to help me help him help B&H (who was very kind in lending Koo/me the camera and the oh-so-sweet Steadicam Merlin to use in conjunction). I got to spend some quality time with the package in exchange for the words you now read (yes, it pays to be a co-Webby Award winner with my main man Koo; yeah, I’m that dude), but please rest assured that my critic’s impartiality has not been swayed by said schwag. But by all means, if you DO order this gear — or any gear — please go ahead and trust B&H with your business. They’ve got their game faces on. And you want game faces.

But lets push on: I’ll assume we haven’t met and I haven’t talked your ear off about how sweet 3D is, and how there’s just no way it can’t not be the future (or part of it!), so I’ll just say that I’m a big 3D nerd these days (I’m in preproduction on my debut feature film, which, you guessed it, will be in three-dee). I know that there are 3D haters out there because I’ve read your vitriol on this very blog and basically anywhere else someone mentions 3D. And it’s cool, 3D’s not for you. But I’m kind of into it (and I’m not a hater), so we’ll take your strangely passionate arguments as granted and move on to the “review.” Though despite and maybe because of this little jibe, I see it now: your comments crying foul, fad, glasses, agh! This really isn’t meant to be a polarizing article, just a few gentle anecdotes in the nofilmschool spirit of pushing things forward as independent content creators. If you’re interested, I quickly touch on the topic of 3D haters, and other things, in this little post relaunching my own 3D site, but again, it basically boils down to, “Hi Hater”). All jokes aside, what I mean to say is that there’s room for all of us in this independent community of ours; there’s too much actual BS in the world to wish for anything but your independent (2 or 3D) success and I’d hope the feeling’s fundamentally mutual, regardless of my dimension. Okay, 3D hater disclaimer over (for now)…

Anyway, I’ve been shooting a lot of stereoscopic photography over the past year with the Fujifilm W3 (stereoscopic = 3D for those new to the game). The W3 takes really nice 3D snaps and I love it, wouldn’t live without it. And it takes 720p video, which is great in theory but leaves much to be desired (though it’s still cool and totally passes for what it is; check out some 3D leafcutter ants taken with my W3). But it’s basically the same problem as with most digital point-n-shoots; it just can’t muster quality material. This is all basically just to say that I was excited to get my hands on a proper, two-lens video system. I’ve shot a lot of regular video, I’ve shot a lot of 3D photography; I know the rules, I’m ready to play.

And aaaaah, this thing’s just sweet! It’s got 64GB internal storage!! And a glasses-free 3D viewfinder screen (kind of standard for 3D gear these days but still cool)! And a nice lil backlit f1.2 backlit sensor! I feel fortunate to have shot a fair amount with it — and will get more footage online in the days and weeks to come — but in the meantime, take a look at the short demo below (4 mins long). It basically just follows my daylong path of the NYC locations in the feature I’m currently making. One last disclaimer (sorry, I’m critically averse and I know y’all are hardcore): I was mostly trying the filters you see for my own good (not yours! sorry) and to test out a few ideas. Be sure to don your 3D glasses and pump up the resolution; click here if you want to see some raw day/night footage.

Yes, the convergence is off on some shots (the JVC is good, but not perfect) and yes it’s basically just a filters test, but I think there’s some beauty (and potential) in it. If the short demo whet your appetite, I strongly urge you to spend the twenty minutes watching this extended version. 3D is often more compelling with longer shots… that is, shots long enough to allow your eyes to focus and explore the visual planes… and there’s a lot of great stuff that might blow your mind in this extended version. The same disclaimer as above applies — no plot, test filters, etc — though I’d additionally like to disclaim that this is a mere trim cut and is thus somewhat long and rough around the edges. But I trust you’ll still enjoy the uniqueness and beauty, so try to stick with me as I spin around through New York City.

Regardless, you’ll see that I had some fun. And that I’m trying new things, “experimenting” as they say, and trying to find some uniqueness and beauty (however successful I’ll leave you to judge). The moral: I was basically just walking around without a care in the world with this thing. If you’ve seen “real” 3D rigs, you’d know this is a sign of the game being changed. The camera is so small — that is, smaller than it could be: not all that much bigger than an average camcorder around, say 2004 — but solid! And durable! I was obviously verrrry careful with it, but it’s a rugged little unit no doubt. The thing is just very, very portable.

Shooting 3D takes some getting used to; while I’m steadily learning, I definitely wouldn’t call myself truly skilled. That said, the camera makes it as easy as possible and has great automatic settings (and lots of “manual” settings to boot), and although I have some small quibbles (battery life, resolution on the glasses-free 3D screen is kinda whack, but definitely passable, as it’s in 3D — without glasses), this is a seriously cool little camera. And you should want one. Or at least want to play with one. It’s just too cool, and again, you just can’t not be kinda into it. (You’re welcome for that gem of a slogan, JVC: “You just can’t not be kinda into it.” Boom.)

Beyond the camera’s above-average optical stabilization, you should still probably use some sort of stabilizing system to keep 3D jitters from ruining people’s eyes. The ideal tool for a camera this small is the Steadicam Merlin, which is truly awesome but most definitely takes some practice. You’d think it would be like BAM, easy! And it is, in a lot of ways. But it takes some touch, and touch takes nothing but hands-on time (you’ll see in the demo that I’m still finding said touch… eek). But you’ll get better…

I also used a different stabilizing system in the form of a pretty classic cradle (I like the X-Grip). The cradle is better than the Merlin at getting close to the ground, it’s much easier to use and set up, and you can really fling it all over the place. It’s great for what it is. As I often found myself voluntarily swapping with the Merlin for it, I can enthusiastically recommend it. But you don’t get that silky Merlin-esque action with the cradle. And you want that silky action.

And so, once again, to summarize: I want a Merlin in my life. For ever. To quote, kind of perfectly: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

So, two thumbs way up for both products. I very reluctantly gave the camera and Merlin back to B&H (vs “Quick, Flee to Mexico! In 3D.”) and so this is all just to say that I miss the package terribly and want them both back. That’s about as high of praise as I can give: JVC GS-TD1 and Steadicam Merlin, I miss you. I want you. I’m lost without you…

Now, I know a lot of you out there are ‘professionals’ and I trust you’ll see and hopefully understand that this camera is by no means a professional solution. But it’s fun. And unique. And fundamentally a sign of the things to come. Yes, I understand the ‘novelty’ aspect of what I’m saying, but despite your potential reluctance to accept 3D as a viable opportunity for the DIY market, have no doubt that the game is quickly changing and that pretty much every major electronics manufacturer is trying hard to sway your indie reluctance. It’s here to stay, whether you want it or not. And if not: all good, keep doing what you’re doing. Again, I wish you nothing but success.

But I think part of being an indie means trying — and having the flexibility — to think ahead of the pack, and while this obviously isn’t a product (or technology) for everyone, the fact remains: the future is moving forward with or without you, and this camera is but an awesomely slick little harbinger of the things to come. I’d agree with the point that 3D won’t reach true ubiquity until glasses-free tech is mainstream, but this mainstream is coming quicker than you’d think and true opportunity exists in the meantime. You don’t need said ‘ubiquity’ to make a dent (I was about to link out to the boxofficemojo page for Avatar’s ‘dent’, but that’s just silly. What I’m trying to say is: like any film, 3D can be as cool and successful as you make it. So go make it.)

But you’re probably a 3D hater (for whatever reason), and probably don’t care, and you’re probably like, “fad, glasses, gimmick, agh” or whatever. Go ahead and be that; again, it’s cool. But I’ll be over here, in the future, trying to push things forward and wishing desperately to still be playing with this badass little thing. The future, it seems, is now…