I've been interested in stereoscopic images for a long time. Even before I developed an interest in photography, I saw an appeal in 3-D images. Over the years, my interest would wax and wane. I'd get excited at the novelty and then frustrated with viewing and that would be it.
The Journey to Find the Sputnik Camera
In the 1980's, I remember watching a special 3-D TV segment with Harry Anderson of Night Court fame. I donned my red/blue glasses and watched as a canned snake clearly popped right out of the television. Anaglyph viewing was fun but kitschy. NASA Pathfinder images were available in anaglyph format but the red/green effect strains the eyes. While it is useful for identifying depth in the scene scientifically, it is not realistic.
I've also seen a few 3-D IMAX movies and was quite impressed with the quality and realism of the large 3-D image. Polarized glasses create a dramatic effect and are easy to use but if you tilt your head even the slightest, things go awry.
It took finding a cache of 1950's Stereo Realist Kodachromes to realize that the best way to view 3D images was photographic slides with a back-lit viewer. I was in the midst of scanning old family photos at the time. After seeing umpteen images of family members in their youth I was struck by the realism of the 3-D slides. Right before me was Grandma in the 1950's and she looked so real I could almost touch her.
The simplest path forward appeared to be a beam splitter for my film SLR camera. However, after taking some of my own shots with a Loreo 3D Lens on Kodachrome, I realized why 4P, as it's called, hadn't been a format of choice. The format is extremely tall and thin. First, you divide a 35mm frame (8 perforations) in half. Then only about 2/3 of the remaining halves would appear on the left and right frames for a nearby subject. All of this has to be accounted for during the picture taking. The non-overlapping areas between the two frames is quite large and creates stress during viewing.
Also, viewing for 4P slides is finicky. I found and refurbished a Stitz Stereo Viewer that offered independent focusing, interocular adjustment, backlighting, as well as the ability to jiggle the slide left and right for correct viewing. It was the best viewer for split frame 35mm I could find. Still, I found myself fiddling with the controls for about 30 seconds to get a proper view on each slide.
I also found and tried a Revere Stereo 22 viewer which used Realist-style mounts. This required cutting the 35mm frame and mounting it in cardboard. The results were less finicky than with the Stitz. But the format still has serious deficiencies.
I did some research to find a better way. The 1950's cache of family photos had come with the camera used to take them, an old Haneel Tri-Vision. It wasn't in working order and I wasn't willing to spool my own 828 film so I started looking elsewhere. A Stereo Realist and Red Button viewer seemed ideal. From my reading, it appeared that mounting can be tricky for the Stereo Realist style formats and dust can be very large on a 35mm frame. While the images I'd seen definitely popped, I leaned towards a larger format.
If you want to shoot medium format or 120 stereo photos, you have three choices. You can bind two cameras together and link their shutters. You can purchase this modern camera from 3D World. Or you can get a Russian Sputnik camera on eBay and modify it to perform as a decent camera.
I decided to order the Sputnik stereo camera. I was looking for a project. I didn't want to spend anywhere near $1600. The other purchases I needed to make were medium format plastic mounts and a $35 pre-fabricated viewer (which is an bargain for the high quality). I got these from Dr. T.
I received the camera and shot a quick test roll out of the box. After developing, I cut a stereo pair, mounted them, and popped them into my viewer. Wow!
I'll say it again. Wow!
The larger film size reduces the size of annoying dust. Looking into the viewer is like peeking out the window and seeing the scene in front of my eyes! No need to modify interocular distance at all. No problems because I wear glasses. The field of view is so large that I easily look around inside the image to explore its different areas. If I move the viewer slightly left and right, the image appears to rotate subtly enhancing the 3D effect.
I showed it to a few people and they all exclaimed out loud within seconds of taking a look. There was no squinting, focusing, or trying to think the 3D effect into view. It was right there in front of you. They all asked me the same question, "Why isn't this more popular?"
Modifying the Camera to Take the Best Images
Though a Sputnik may take OK pictures out of the box, it probably won't. Quality control was not in the LOMO factory's operation's manual. A lot of modifications may be necessary. By making these mods, you can help the Sputnik move from taking terrible pictures to great ones. There are a number of excellent websites on this camera which describe most of the modifications in great detail. A lot of these pointers are scattered around the internet. I've tried to compile everything I've done into one place to help other users. I also developed a few of my own tricks to work around my camera's idiosyncrasies.
1) Lens Shades - I purchased two Series V 26.5mm rings and two Series V Edna lens shades. I could have used some black plastic can with holes cut in them but I wanted to keep the older, all-metal look of the camera. Also, I want the ability to use Series V filters. One of my rings arrived at 26mm. Instead of hassling with a return, I filed down the inside diameter with my Dremel tool until I was close to 26.5mm. It works great. NOTE: I've also had success with 27mm rings and some subtle help from needle-nose pliers
2) Flocking - I ordered a roll of adhesive-backed flocking paper from Edmund Scientifics consumer catalog. Searching online, I easily found a coupon for free shipping. I printed the template provided by Marco Pauck, cut it up, and applied it. I reversed his image in Photoshop and reprinted to match the second lens compartment. Then I laid the templates out over the flocking paper and cut out each shape using an Xacto and vinyl cutting mat. Everything fit perfectly. Before applying the flocking, lens flare would cause a terrible reduction in image contrast and lots of reflection marks on the film. With flocking this problem has been almost eliminated (see Baffles section for more).
Here is the template (Marco's website is permanently down). Click to open the full size printable image.
3) Light Sealing - My camera leaked light through the film door which would fog the edges of the film. I cut some adhesive flocking in thin strips to fit the top, middle, and bottom of the film doors. I applied it lightly over every possible surface. I also applied it in the same spaces on the camera body itself. I then closed the camera tightly for 20 minutes. It was hard to close but I really pressed hard. The pressure moved the flocking right into the hard-to-reach grooves and adhered it in place on both sides. Closing the doors is easier once everything compressed into place. Some people use black yarn, but I think the adhesive flocking is less likely to pop out.
I also had a film ruining light leak showing up as a top to bottom diagonal line across the left eye. Here is an example from a test shot:
This made me crazy for weeks and persisted despite taping the edges of the film doors, various camera bras, ludicrous amounts of flocking, etc. The fact that it didn't extend beyond the exposure area nagged at me but didn't hit home.
Finally I put a pirate eye patch on my left eye and shoved my right eye into the left shutter's hole. I switched on a 500W spotlight and held it right up to the front of the camera. I had to do this very briefly because I was worried that the extreme heat from the light would melt the camera! I made sure I didn't ever look at the light which would blind me and ruin any ability to see a dim leak.
There it was! An extremely narrow gap about 30 degrees long where the lens didn't meet the camera body. I hadn't flocked this close to the edge of the lens. I added a few arc-shaped pieces right up to the glass. Finally, the light leak was solved.
4) Tripod Screw - The tripod screw is 3/8". Go to a real camera store and they will sell you a bushing which reduces the hole to 1/4". It will cost $1. Then open the bottom of the case to reveal the metal clip holding the case's tripod screw in place. Lift one edge up onto the thread of the screw and it will easily unscrew. Since the metal clip is made for 3/8", I bought a new 1/4" spring clip at the hardware store for $0.23. Then I replaced the original screw in the case with a 1/4" tripod screw. If you don't have one, get one from the camera store for a buck or two.
5) Case - When I open my case, the front flap still appears in the bottom frame of my pictures. Of course it doesn't appear in the viewfinder so I only found out after developing my first roll with the case on the camera. This is so lame! The solution was to prop the case fully open between two piles of heavy books. Then I wet the seam thoroughly with a damp towel and left it there for a day. That stretched the pleather to give it enough play so it would dip out of view. I guess I can forgive this problem. The case probably hadn't been opened in 40 years!
The second problem with the case is that, once the lens hoods are attached, the case doesn't quite fit right and can't snap shut. Again, the solution is to soak the whole case in warm water. After soaking, I wiped it dry and installed the camera. With slow, careful tugging, I stretched the case around the lens hoods and snapped it shut. I left it shut overnight. The case stretched to the new shape and now I can snap it during normal use without forcing.
If you release the three tiny set screws on the two taking lenses, the gearing mechanism will lift off. The two front elements easily screw completely out of their sockets. Using a screwdriver carefully pop the retaining ring to release the middle lens element. Start at the little notch for access to the underside of the pin and work your way around. Be careful that it doesn't pop and hit you in the eye or get lost in your workspace! Be careful that you don't scratch the lens with a slip of the screwdriver!
Once the middle element is free, be sure to note which side is up. The bevel goes up! Now take a black Sharpie marker and blacken the bevel and the side. In the photo, only half of the side is blackened for example purposes. I allowed it to dry and did three coats to build up the opacity.
Replace the lens. Now, using two screwdrivers (one to apply inward force and one to constantly apply downward force) reinstall the retaining ring.
One of my rings didn't want to go back in place. The problem was the hole wasn't quite circular and the lens wasn't seating properly. The mismatch was almost invisible. I removed the lens, and ran my screwdriver along the edge of the housing. I found a tiny bump, like a metal spur, in the housing and scratched it down with a screwdriver. Then the lens and retaining ring were able to install properly.
7) Clean and lubricate - I used paint thinner to remove the black gunk from the threading on all three lenses once they were removed from the camera. I also cleaned the female threading carefully. Then I applied Vaseline sparingly to the threads as a new lubricant.
While the shutter is accessible, clean and lubricate this as well. I used single drops of pure naptha lighter fluid very delicately onto each gear and shaft of the cocking mechanism, shutter speed control, trigger, and self-timer. I ran each a number of times to help the naptha work through the mechanism. Everything was definitely running smoother (especially the timer) after a few minutes.
The last piece to grease is the top of the shutter speed cam overlay. This rubs right against the fascia of the shutter and it needs to move smoothly when you change shutter speeds. I know most people would prefer a Teflon grease or some other long lasting lubricant but Vaseline was on hand and it works.
8) Realign focus - If you just reassembled the camera at this point all three lenses would be out of sync in regards to focus.
I took a page from a magazine and taped it to the wall. I measured exactly two meters to the middle of my work table and marked it with tape. Then I taped the camera down to this spot with the film plane at the two meter mark.
I was lucky to have a piece of ground glass handy that was just the right size. You can also use frosted translucent tape though the resolution is less. I taped my glass to the film plane and carefully set the focus of each lens at the widest aperture. I then marked each lens front element, lens housing, and the camera itself with a permanent marker so I could check proper alignment in the future. I also set the focus for the viewfinder and locked in the distance ring at two meters. By marking all of the pieces including the gearing, I can easily ascertain if anything has slipped out of alignment during use.
Finally, I reinstalled the gearing for both taking lenses by placing them over the lens housing and tightening the set screws.
9) Replace broken set screws - One of my set screws had broken heads and was non functional. I lost another during repairs. I crawled around on the floor with a magnet but nothing stuck. The camera seems to function properly using only two set screws for each gearing cover. Still, I'd like to minimize the chance of scoring the lens housing and ruining things. I need two replacement set screws.
I measured them with a micrometer to be 2mm in length and 1.25mm in diameter. I think the thread pitch is between .35mm and .45mm. The screw has a flat head and a cone tip.
Replacements of this size weren't available at McMaster-Carr or anywhere else I searched online. My search for 'micro screws' brought up only a handful of screws around this size but nothing exact. I went down to Jeweler's Row in Philadelphia.
After bouncing around to five different stores, I found a watch repair shop that was willing to make custom replacement screws for the reasonable price of $3.50 each. It took about 20 minutes. I was interested in seeing how they were made but the body language of the craftsman told me it was none of my business. I asked for six, he made four. He was a very nice man but I don't think he wants to make any more for me. There was a signed picture of the Soup Nazi on the counter. Next to that was a sign that said "No means no". Really.
I could just imagine, "No screws for you!". I kept my mouth shut, paid, and left. They fit perfectly!
When installed the screws, you want them to be tight, but not overtight. Overtight screws will deform the front element housing and prevent the lens from turning smoothly.
10) Fixing a Slipping D-Cam - The d-shaped cam which secures the fascia plate over the shutter wouldn't stay in place after opening it to inspect the shutter. It would slip loose because of the friction and motion of the shutter speed cam plate. Then everything would start flopping around. If I tightened it too much, it would put pressure on the lens housing, deform it, and lock it into place. I found some Lexel adhesive in my basement. It claims to bond metal. I tested it on a piece of steel and it did. I put the tiniest dab on one edge of the d-cam and moved it into place. After allowing it to cure for 24 hours. It worked.
11) Filing down the lens gear - After my adjustments were made, it appeared that the gear for the right lens would grind down onto the shutter cover well before it reached infinity. When this happened, I could turn the lenses no further and was only able to focus out to 8 meters.
The solution was to remove the gear and file down the bottom surface about 2 millimeters using a Dremel tool. I used a micrometer for checking my progress and evenness. Now I can focus to infinity without sticking, or having to apply pressure to turn the gears (which would eventually strip the lens housing). Of course, I don't think I will ever need to focus out this far, but it irked me that it was sticking.
12) Sunny 16 and Depth of Field - There is some discussion about the correct circle of confusion (CoC) to use for sharp slides. The official Sputnik manual has a depth of field guide. IMHO, the CoC is way too large in their example. They probably used 0.080mm. This is probably acceptable for making prints but not acceptable for slides. I recommend not using it.
You can do the math and see that a CoC of 0.060mm is sufficient to deliver 5 lp/mm (the lowest lp/mm that is considered sharp) at 3.4x magnification (which is what you would use to view a stereo pair shot with a 75mm lens). If the camera is set to 4.2 meters at f/22, this gives focus from 2.1 meters through infinity.
A few people on the 3D-Medium Format Yahoo Group suggest aiming for 8 lp/mm (which approaches the maximum resolution that the best human eyes can discern). At f/22, the hyperfocal distance would be 6.6m and objects from 3.4m through infinity would appear sharp.
I decided to compromise and set my scale based on a CoC of 0.050mm. Here is the chart I printed below. Click on it to see the full resolution version you can print.
In full daylight, the camera can be set at either f/22 at 1/60 or f/16 at 1/125. When the focus is set at the hyperfocal distance, everything from about 2 meters to infinity is going to be in focus. You can then consider the camera a fixed focus point and shoot. This setting gave me great results with ISO 100 film.
I printed the above chart and taped it to the inside of the camera case for reference. I also marked the hyperfocal points with Sharpie on the focusing dial itself. In my shooting, I set my f/stop based on the film speed and lighting condition. Then I dial in the correct hyperfocal and shoot. Very simple.
13) Baffles - As much as the flocking helped the internal reflections, it wasn't enough. I followed the instructions here. I bought a sheet of aluminum from the hardware store and using an Xacto, was able to score the surface. Flexing the material allowed for clean breaks which didn't need to be sanded. I then bent the alumninum at right angles using a vice to fit the suggested shape. Everything fit perfectly.
I applied a few coats of black matte spray paint on all surfaces and
installed them with friction to hold them in place against the flocking. I wanted
to make sure the baffles were cut correctly so as not to vignette the
image. I shot a test roll and then adhered them with a dab of Lexel goop.
14) Exposure Window - The red window color had faded considerably when compared with my Holga red window. It was almost orange and easy to see through. I cut a circle of #25 Red Gelatin from a gel sample book I had lying around. I simply wedged it in from the rear to add another 2 1/2 stops of light reduction to the inside of the window. It was cut close enough that it seemed to wedge itself under the top of the retaining ring that holds the red plastic window in place. Time will tell if it stays put without adhesive.
I also cut a rectangular piece of flocking paper to fit the area around the window and cut a hole for the window itself. Then I cut a circle of double sided flocking paper about 6mm larger in diameter than the cover which moves over the window. This was adhered to the back of the cover using Lexel. Now when the cover opens and closes, it has an extended edging of flocking which presses against the door's own flocking. This should create a better light seal on the window when closed.
This probably wasn't necessary but it is better to be safe than sorry with this camera and its poor construction quality.
15) Flash - To take photographs indoors you will need a flash. It must be powerful so that you can maintain a small aperture. I have a Rollei E36RE which has a guide number of 168. That allows me to just sneak by with an f/22 aperture at 2-3m and ISO 100 film. That is perfect for people shots in homes or other small spaces. I found that in large rooms, the background quickly fades to black and much of the 3D effect is lost.
I also have a Kodalite Flash Holder which takes a variety of flash bulbs (M-2, M-5, Press 25, etc). It takes two AA batteries and looks great when meshed with the camera. I find lots of flashbulbs at garage sales so the cost of using bulbs is not great.
I'm experimenting with firing multiple bulbs at once to improve the range and shot indoors at f/32. Stay posted.
16) Film - Grain is a real detraction from the stereo experience and should be minimized at all costs.
Any ISO 100 slide film should work well. I use Provia 100F because it is cheaper than Kodak materials. Provia 400X is a new ISO 400 slide film with the least grain of all 200 or 400 speed slide films. Its grain is just barely visible if you look for it in the medium format viewer. Provia 400X allows shooting at usable apertures (f/22 or f/16) under overcast skies. It also allows shooting at f/32 under bright sun for extended depth of field. ISO 400 offers a lot of flexibility.
I have also tested a number of B&W films which I've developed using a reversal process. TMax 100, Plus-X, Efke 25, and Efke 100 all look fantastic. The new TMax 400 also looks very good. The grain is only just visible if you look for it.
I have future plans to push the films to see if the grain becomes unmanageable for stereo viewing.
17) Filters - I'd like to get some Series V stereo-matched filters. I found a matched Yellow K2 pair which works nicely. My Red #25 allows for B&W IR film effects as well as nice sky darkening with regular B&W film. I appears that most Series V filters are made with color correction (calibrating tungsten->daylight->flashbulb) in mind. Creative filters are a little more rare.
I'm considering a slight warming filter to reduce the overall bluishness of the Provia color films.
18) Shutter Speeds - I tested the shutters on both lenses using a Calumet Shutter Tester. The left shutter which is the slave was a little slow. So, I decided to modify the shutter sync lever as Jeff Pierce developed here.
I only needed to glue on the metal square that connects to the slave shutter (left eye). The right eye side of the sync bar needs no modification (Jeff uses a circle of wire) because of the way the springs are connected. On the left shutter, the bottom of the wire square must run behind the existing tab on the sync bar. If it is in front, the left shutter won't be able to close fully. The top of square needs to just fit. It also needs to be on an arced angle so that it doesn't restrict the shutter on the way up. However, it must remain in direct contact through the motion so that it can pull it back down.
Both my stiff wire and the sync bar are aluminum. The oxide on the surface of the metal makes it difficult for the epoxy to form a strong bond. The solution is to mix your epoxy, cover the two surfaces with epoxy, scratch them up with sand paper while still covered, and then put them together. This reveals a pure aluminum surface on both sides that the epoxy can bond with. I used a third hand tool to hold everything in place while it set for an hour.
Another issue I was having is that my shutter tester tells me that the 1/125 setting was firing at about 1/100th and that the 1/125th and the 1/60th are firing at the same speed. Because the shutter tester becomes less accurate at higher speeds on leaf shutters, I investigated with some test shots. They showed a clear 1 stop difference (to my eyeballs) between all the film speeds.
I also noticed that after adding the stiff wire, the little metal piece that triggers the flash sync needed to be bent (expanded) slightly to make reliable contact. I tested to make sure it was still synchronized by firing on all shutter speeds while looking through the back of the camera. I saw the strobe flash so I know it is in sync.
19) Aperture Sync - On Ed Baskin's advice, I stopped my apertures down to f/22 and eyeballed them from behind on the bulb setting. The two apertures were not the same size. Using needle-nose pliers, I loosed the adjustment screw that sits on the aperture bar between the two lenses. I moved the left bar until they looked even. Then I tightened the screw. Ed suggests playing the aperture back and forth a bit to make sure the adjustment is tight. The effect of misaligned apertures is amplified at smaller f/stops so correcting this problem is important.
20) Adding An F/Stop - I wanted the flexibility of using Provia 400X and being able to expose it properly in full sun. The solution was either ND filters (which had to be added and removed as the light changed) or adding a smaller f/stop.
I set my dSLR up against the open back of the Sputnik. I shone a bright light at the camera and took photos at each aperture setting for both lenses. This was a test of the aperture markings as well as the aperture sync between lenses. Everything checked out.
I was able to find a spot just past f/22 that came out as f/32 in my tests. I marked it with a tiny dab of white nail polish. Thankfully, I didn't have to shave down the aperture lever on the right lens. You might need to do this. Just note the spot where the aperture sync bar touches the bottom of the right lens housing. If you shave that area down a millimeter or two using a Dremel tool, you'll be able to close the aperture just a little further and make f/32.
For good measure I measured the size of the diaphragm at each setting with a micrometer as well. My math came out correct.
20) Cable Release - I got a short 9" cloth locking cable release. Minimizing vibration is always important and this short release doesn't get in the way. Buy one for a few bucks. I like the old cloth ones better because they are more flexible than the plastic coated ones.
21) Bubble Level - Taking 3D pictures means making sure your camera is level with the horizontal plane. I purchased a bubble level at the hardware store for $3. I sawed off both ends to make it as short as possible. Then I Lexel glued it just behind the viewfinder on a level surface. Make sure it is level when you set it in place! It is unobtrusive and doesn't get in the way of anything. Also, it is easy to glance at while l using either the waist level or eye level finders.
This turned out to be a slightly larger project than I expected. It was fairly inexpensive though. I spent less than $40 on all the extras. Given the windy, cold greyness outside, it was a perfect winter project that spanned a few weeks of fiddling. If you are handy, or are interested in becoming handy, I'd recommend going the Sputnik route and applying the necessary modifications. If you are less technically minded, the 3D World camera should perform admirably.
Medium format stereo slides are fantastic. I haven't seen anything better and, from what I read, a better experience doesn't yet exist. Dive in and discover the WOW factor that no other photographic technique can deliver.