on September 7, 2010
Being a big 3-D fan, I was very excited when this product was announced and, because the price was so low, I pre-ordered it right away without having seen any reviews (because no reviews yet existed). I wasn't entirely sure if I was buying a novelty gadget or a truly useful device. To save myself from being disappointed, I expected the former and hoped for the latter. It turns out that the camera is much better than a novelty gadget, but don't expect to throw away your "normal", digital, point-and-shoot camera or your "normal" camcorder. You'll still need those when you want a perfect, printable photo and a lot of extended video. However, when what you want is a 3-D picture or short 3-D video, the Aiptek 3-D camera is a great, practical, and inexpensive option.
The first question I had was: "does it really work?" I'm happy to say that the answer is a big yes! The resolution of the parallax-barrier display is pretty low, but the 3-D effect is really great and the display serves the purpose very well. I expect the Aiptek 3-D photo frame, with its higher resolution, will be much better (it's still backordered as of this writing, so I don't have one yet). Please understand that when I say "low resolution", I'm speaking about the resolution of the built-in display, not the resolution of the actual images/video, which is much higher. 5 megapixels for images (2592 x 1944) and 720p for video (1280 x 720) doesn't sound like much nowadays, but you'll almost certainly NOT want to print the images you take with this camera anyway. Doing so would require you to convert to the Red/Blue (anaglyph) format. This works, but it's far less than ideal. Rather than that, I believe you should expect to only view these images/videos on the camera itself, the corresponding 3-D photo frame, or a new, 3-D TV. When you decide those are your primary viewing vehicles for the content you create with this device, the resolution becomes far more palatable. Indeed, the resolution of the images exceeds the resolution of the camera's display and even the resolution of the 3-D photo frame (800 x 600). For this reason, I think Aiptek was smart to use a relatively low resolution in order to keep the price so low.
The image and video quality is acceptable, but as I said earlier, if won't replace your existing camera for those times when you want very high quality. The image quality is about as good as the very best cameras being put into cell phones (which also don't compete with a dedicated, "regular" camera). I'll reiterate though: the quality is completely acceptable considering you're getting images in full 3-D. Other than the 3-D feature, there aren't a lot of frills: no image stabilization, no optical zoom, no flash, etc. It makes sense though because that's the only way you're going to get 3-D at this amazingly-low price-point. The camera has a tripod mount so, if you really need supplemental light, you can pick up one of those little LED lights that screw into tripod mounts for not very much money. As for video, it does record in 30 FPS, but if the action is moving quickly, it doesn't look like it. It looks like 10 or 15 FPS (it may still be recording 30 frames per second, but I'd guess 2 or 3 of those frames happen to be identical). I've noticed the reduced frame rate is a bit less pronounced if there is more ambient lighting. FYI: I'm using a Transcend, 16 GB, class 10 SD card. That's probably not as fast as a SanDisk class 10 card, but it should be enough to accommodate everything the camera can throw at it. It may sound like I'm speaking only negatively about this camera, but it's definitely not my intention to discourage the purchase of it. I just want you to be clear on what it *doesn't* do so that you have appropriate expectations. In reality, I'm thrilled with the quality of the camera and it exceeded my expectations.
I've quickly learned a trick to taking 3-D video and photos. It has to do with framing the images; I'll try to explain it here, but it's a little difficult to articulate. If what I'm about to say doesn't make sense, just ignore my ramblings- ha. First, realize that everything in the image has a position along the Z-axis (the direction toward you and away from you [as opposed to left/right and up/down]). Next, realize that the frame around the screen itself has a position along the Z-axis. What this means is, some parts of the photo appear to come "out" of the screen and more distant objects appear recessed "into" the screen. The frame surrounding the display is somewhere in the middle. If the part of the image that extends out of the screen is cut off by the frame surrounding the display, it can hurt your eyes a little and look a bit confusing. This makes sense; how could an object (the frame) block the view of a subject if that object (the frame) is more distant than the subject? That's a logical paradox that my brain translates into confusion and/or eyes that have a hard time focusing. The trick is to not allow anything "in front" of the frame to be cut off by the frame. If you adhere to this, the 3-D effect looks much more natural. I'm sure I'll continue to learn effective ways to frame 3-D images as I become more experienced. In fact, that's part of the fun!
I'll sum everything up here: The camera is really good and the 3-D effect is outstanding. I believe it to be much more than a gimmick/novelty. To keep the price low, the camera sacrifices some other "standard" features you might be used to, such as optical zoom and a flash. For me, the tradeoff is well worth it: I get to take my own, good-quality, 3-D video/images for under 200 bucks. I'm not sure what I'm more impressed with: the technology or the price. I suppose it's the combination of the two that make this a strongly-recommended "buy" in my book.
[UPDATE: October 20, 2010]
As Reynato U. Barrera kindly pointed out in his review, there is indeed a (buried) firmware update and it does indeed fix the slow frame rate! This is great news. I don't believe Amazon will allow external URLs or I would provide a direct link, but if you go to the Aiptek EU site (use ".eu" instead of ".com") you can find the firmware update within the product page. I purchased the camera in the U.S., but because the camera will let you define the refresh rate (60Hz vs. 50Hz), I wasn't worried about using the firmware I downloaded from the EU site.