Panasonic VW-CLT1 3D Conversion Lens review

Price when reviewed

After years of failed experiments, 3D is finally becoming a mainstream hit, with 3D movies in the cinema here to stay and even 3D TV beginning to take off. Panasonic now hopes to extend its reach to serious home moviemakers: attach the new VW-CLT1 adapter to any one of its latest range of HD camcorders, and it converts what was a bog-standard 2D HD camcorder instantly into 3D.

The adapter won’t win any awards for practicality, sexy although the 3D capability sounds. It’s a very bulky unit, adding a huge 90mm to the depth of the camera it’s attached to and weighing in at 195g. Owners of the smaller, 41.5mm lens Panasonic models need to use an additional screw-on adapter, extending the depth by a further 10mm. With this beast attached, your camera won’t feel anything like as balanced in the hand as it normally does.

Panasonic VW-CLT1 3D Conversion Lens

It feels a bit like a kludge, and it’s fiddly to attach too, but at least there’s proper integration with the camera’s firmware. Once you’ve bolted the VW-CLT1 in place and turned everything on, it recognises the lens is attached and runs you through a quick setup routine to align its two tiny lenses. A minute or two of twiddling three small dials under the flap on top of the unit and you’re ready to roll.

Shooting in 3D is as straightforward as it is in 2D, but the results are very different. Instead of focusing a single image on the camera’s image sensors, the VW-CLT1 simultaneously records twin images side by side on the camera’s sensor.

Since a wide black border surrounds the images, the resolution isn’t what you’d expect, with an actual resolution for each recorded image of around 830 x 980. To produce the final 3D film, the two images are stretched and combined to give a resolution of 1,660 x 980, again with a wide black border surround the frame.

Playing back that footage on a PC is then a simple matter of downloading one of the many stereoscopic players on offer and playing the file through that, or simply hooking up the camera via HDMI to a compatible 3D TV. If you want to edit in 3D, you need a 3D-enabled editor, such as CyberLink PowerDirector 9 Ultra 64-bit, or the editor provided as part of Roxio’s most recent media suite – Roxio Creator 2011.

That’s the theory, anyway. The big question is how does it work in practice? The answer is, surprisingly well. We played back footage on the Sony VAIO VPCF21Z1E reviewed last month, which sports integrated Nvidia 3D Vision hardware, and found the footage conveyed a surprising amount of depth. Subjects in the foreground positively leap from the screen, just like they do in the movies. So you can see it in action, we’ve embedded a YouTube 3D clip below, shot with the adapter attached to the flagship Panasonic HDC-TM900.

There are limitations, however, and the first of these concerns quality. Since the lenses are so small in diameter, the amount of light hitting the sensor is massively reduced, and this is manifested in the form of noise – lots of it, and because the camera automatically slows the shutter speed, fast-moving objects are subject to smearing in low light.

The next issue is with chromatic aberration: bright lights such as headlights are surrounded by a purple halo. Quality is noticeably and significantly inferior to the camera without the lens attached.

Finally, connecting the 3D lens also disables many of the camcorder’s features. You still get image stabilisation and autofocus, but zoom is disabled, as are features such as face-recognition, subject tracking and focus. The manual controls for focus, shutter and iris control are frozen too. There’s no doubt that the lens is effective, but with such restrictions, and at a hefty £281 inc VAT, only real 3D enthusiasts need apply.

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