Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 £449.99
1st Apr 2012 | 15:50
3D digital camera with two lenses and touchscreen
Panasonic, Sony and Samsung are three companies with an obvious vested interest in pushing 3D imaging; they've been spearheading the campaign to encourage us all switch to 3D TVs for the past couple of years.
However, none of them have delivered a dedicated, 'true' 3D digital camera - until now. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 - or Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1K, as it's called in the US - squeezes two lenses and a pair of 1/2.3-type sensors into a compact body.
This makes a welcome change from the software tricks that create a 3D image captured by a single lens, used by most cameras offering a 3D mode.
Two lenses are better than one when it comes to 3D photography. By capturing separate views of a scene from offset positions, there's a greater chance of enhanced stereoscopic effect in the final image.
The Panasonic Lumix 3D1 can capture industry-standard 3D MPO files (and 2D JPEGs) that can be viewed on 3D TVs.
Using twin lenses means that moving subjects can also be captured convincingly in 3D. The Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V, Panasonic TZ30, Samsung WB750 and other traditional '2D' single-lens cameras that include software-based 3D modes, need to be moved during the exposure while the camera takes separate frames.
This method obviously has drawbacks where action photography is concerned, because the pictures that the camera combines to build the 3D image won't be taken at the same point in time.
The Panasonic Lumix 3D1 isn't the first digital compact camera to offer twin-lens 3D photography - Fujifilm got there first with the Fuji FinePix Real 3D W1 in 2009, and its successor the Fuji FinePix Real 3D W3 in 2010. What's more, the Fuji 3D cameras were the world's first cameras that enabled you to view images in 3D on their rear screens, without the need for 3D glasses.
There's no such functionality on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1, but Panasonic does claim it is the "The world's smallest 3D photo and 3D video camera with 2 lens system". To be fair, it doesn't exactly have much competition. The Fuji W3 is noticeably chunkier, and 59g heavier.
Other than the 3D element, the Panasonic Lumix 3D1 offers a fairly standard set of mid-range compact camera specifications. A pair of 12.1 megapixel sensors are fed an image via two 4x optical zoom lenses. Each of these offers an equivalent 25-100mm reach for 2D shooting and 30-132mm in 3D (at 4:3 aspect ratio).
1080i HD video recording is offered in both 2D and 3D modes, while Panasonic's MEGA OIS optical stabilisation system keeps pictures steady.
Standard ISO sensitivity runs from 100 to 3200, while a High Sensitivity mode boosts this to ISO 6400.
It's the control interface that makes the Panasonic Lumix 3D1 suitably standout: everything bar shooting, zooming and switching from 2D to 3D needs to be done via a large touchscreen.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 has a UK price of £449.99, and costs $499.99 in the US, where it's known as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1K.
Build quality and handling
In terms of design, the Panasonic Lumix 3D1 is minimalist in the extreme - and from the front at least, similar to the Fuji W3, thanks to a sliding cover that takes up two-thirds of the camera. Slipping it down switches the camera on and reveals the two lenses and a small flash.
The Fuji W3's lenses are positioned towards the edges of the camera, with a 75mm spacing that's slightly wider than the typical 65mm spacing of human eyes. While this may be good for enhancing the amount of parallax captured by the lenses, it's not always useful for handling: fingers can easily stray into the frame.
The Panasonic 3D1's lenses are only spaced around 35mm apart and positioned to the left of the camera (as you look down on it). You do still have to be careful while handling the camera, but its smaller size and weight means it's a bit more manageable.
Around the back of the Panasonic Lumix 3D1, things are equally as bare. The 3.5-inch, widescreen 460k-dot Smart Touch Screen LCD display dominates the camera. The only physical control here is a subtle 3D/2D switch, positioned in the top-right corner, and there's no grip to speak of (there isn't room for one).
Touchscreens on cameras are still at that awkward early stage of development. In theory, they make photography faster and more intuitive, removing the barriers of fiddly buttons and dials. In practice, they often prove slow and imprecise.
Panasonic even includes a plastic stylus in the box for increased accuracy.
Thankfully, we didn't need to reach for the stylus. The Panasonic Lumix 3D1's touchscreen is one of the more effective examples of the tech that we've seen on a compact camera, and It makes fairly light work of operation.
Yes, there's some to-ing and fro-ing between icons and menus in order to get to some of the camera's features, and there are only two shortcut controls that you can add to the main screen (we opted for exposure compensation and ISO). But in terms of responsiveness, it puts in a surprisingly sprightly performance.
Don't expect too much by way of manual control, though. In 2D mode, you're limited to four automatic modes: Intelligent Auto, Dual-Shot, Record Mode and Scene Mode.
In Record Mode, you can change ISO, adjust exposure compensation (from -2EV to +2EV) and white balance (there are only four presets here - daylight, cloudy, shade, incandescent - plus auto and manual).
There's a selection of the usual Panasonic Intelligent functions, such as i.Resolution and i.Exposure, that can be toggled on or off. But that's pretty much it in terms of hands-on picture-taking adjustments.
In 3D Mode, there's even less to do. You can't alter ISO or white balance, for instance. You can change the strength of the 3D effect by shifting the parallax (from -2 to +2), but because the camera doesn't offer a way of viewing 3D images, it's only something you'll be able to effectively gauge through experience.
If you like the look of images produced by Lumix cameras, you're not going to be disappointed by the Panasonic Lumix 3D1. Colours are strong, skin tones look natural and detail, at lower ISO settings at least, is impressive.
At ISO 400, textures start to become a little coarse. There's a slight colour shift at 1600, and at ISO 3200, detail and edges becomes choppy enough to keep this setting for emergencies only.
At the widest focal length, the lenses show distortion, and there's no need for a bench test to realise that the edges of the frame - particularly the corners - don't come close to the centre for sharpness. Zoom in a little and this is no longer a serious issue.
The Panasonic Lumix 3D1's video performance is good, too. A one-touch record button triggers shooting in around two seconds (it takes slightly longer when capturing 3D footage), and the results appear bright and smooth during playback.
Predictably, the small stereo microphones mounted in the top-plate pick up more sounds near the camera than you'd probably like, but the Panasonic Lumix 3D1 isn't alone in this respect.
In terms of capturing 3D images, you need to develop a slightly different way of shooting than with 2D photography. To maximise the sense of depth, you need to look for layers within the scene you're photographing.
The relatively narrow separation of the Panasonic 3D1's lenses means that you have to work slightly harder in this respect, to avoid pictures lacking punch. However, images look well aligned, and the effect is convincing.
The biggest issue with the camera's performance is the poor battery life. It's no surprise that the Panasonic 3D1 falls short in this regard when you consider the extra power demands of two zoom lenses, two sensors and a massive touchscreen. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating.
Using the same BCG10E battery pack as in the likes of the Panasonic TZ10, the lifespan is quoted at 200 images on a full charge. However, it fell far short of this during our test. Even leaving the camera sitting idle with just the screen on sees the battery symbol flashing comparatively quickly.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic 3D1 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 12 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG Signal to Noise Ratio
JPEG dynamic range
This chart shows that the Panasonic 3D 1 compares closely with the Sony HX9v and captures a wide tonal graduation in the shadows and highlights up to a sensitivity of ISO 800. Above this sensitivity, although the dynamic range drops, images are still usable.
SPLIT: The Panasonic Lumix 3D1 is capable of using its two lenses differently, giving you the option of shooting video with one lens and a JPEG with the other (useful for moving subjects such as this), or shooting a wide shot and a tele shot at the same time. The Fuji W3 has perhaps more useful 'split' photography functions, enabling you to shoot with two different ISO settings or colour treatments.
WHITE BALANCE: White balance presets are limited and the auto setting can struggle in typically challenging situations, such as in artificial lighting and in shade (it hasn't totally removed the coolness in this shot). The white balance can be set manually however, or fine-tuned through red and blue sliders on the touchscreen.
FACE RECOGNITION: Up to six people can be recognised in the Panasonic Lumix 3D1's Face Recognition memory. The camera will then prioritise focus and exposure automatically when it identifies a face resembling one of the registered ones. The function can't be used when recording in 3D or shooting movies, however.
CLOSE 3D: You need to position the camera so that subjects in the foreground are reasonably close in order for the 3D effect to be more pronounced. Not too close though: any nearer than 90cm (wide zoom) or 3.4m (tele zoom) and a red 3D alert indicator appears on the screen.
LANDSCAPE:Intelligent Auto mode selected a landscape setting here. It's a very effective system, choosing the right setting for most situations. The camera comes with a good range of Panasonic's Intelligent shooting modes, including iHandheld Nite Shot, which rapidly shoots and merges multiple images, reducing the need for using a tripod in the dark.
HIGH RESOLUTION: The Panasonic Lumix 3D1 also offers a moderate increase in sensor resolution over the Fuji W3 - 12MP vs 10MP - although this drops to 8MP when shooting 3D stills. With 25-100mm equivalent optical zoom reach, the Lumix lenses offer a wider aspect, too. The Fuji W3 starts at 35mm, but stretches to a similar 105mm at the top end.
WIDE ANGLE: Panasonic Lumix 3D1 at 4.5mm (25mm equivalent).
TELEPHOTO: Panasonic Lumix 3D1 at 18mm (100mm equivalent).
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
With a touchscreen that's quick to use and results that are surprisingly decent, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 is a point and shoot camera in every sense. At just short of three seconds from switching it on to taking the first shot in either 2D or 3D mode, it's faster than the Fuji W3. Shot-to-shot times are snappy, too.
However, because you're unable to view 3D content on the Panasonic Lumix 3D1's LCD screen, it does take some of the fun out of the process. In this regards, the Fuji W3 is more immediately satisfying, particularly if you're looking for a camera that'll keep the family entertained as well.
The big screen, effective image stabilisation and opportunity to shoot HD video and full-res pics at the same time are all excellent points of this camera.
The short battery life and the fact that you can't view 3D images or footage in-camera dent the Panasonic Lumix 3D1's appeal somewhat.
At current prices, the Fuji W3 can be picked up for around half the price of the Panasonic Lumix 3D1. If you just want to dabble in 3D photography and video (albeit 720p), then that's currently the more enticing proposition.
However, if you'd rather not buy into two-year-old tech, and you're after a 3D camera with higher specifications and better overall performance, then the Panasonic Lumix 3D1 is the one to go for.