I've been aware of stereo photography and imagery since a small child when I had a View-Master toy on which I'd view 3D images of cartoons and of famous landmarks around the world and then again aged around 12 when I first read about Sir Charles Wheatstone's invention of the Stereoscope and the way that by taking two photographs at the same time from different perspectives and then showing each photo to just one eye each the brain 'joins' them together to create a 3D image. However the only version of this I had ever tried was Freeviewing where you try to view the photo by crossing your eyes and was something I never seemed to get particularly good results with and so dismissed as being a novelty idea that might have impressed the Victorians but wouldn't really convince a modern audience.
It was whilst I was searching on Ebay for old photos that I kept coming across Victorian stereo photographs and their wooden vieweres and became more and more intregued by them as their was clearly a collectors market for them which made me realise that there had to be more to stereo photography than I had I had previously thought. I was also attracted by the huge wealth of stereo images available of places and times that I find fascinating and so wanted to find out more. However remembering my past experience of trying to view stereo photographs I didn't want to buy any prints without having a viewer and although these viewers were in huge demand in Victorian times and thousands of them still survive today they still tend to go for around the £30 mark which felt a little too expensive to pay out on a whim.
I then searched on Amazon to see if I could find out more information about stereo photography and came across the book "London in 3-D: A Look Back in Time" by Greg Dinkins which is a collection of stereo photographs with a viewer built into the book for the bargain price (correct at time of writing) of £7.44.
If you've never experienced stereo photography before I would strongly recommend buying this book. The book itself is very simple, there's a very basic introduction where you will learn a little about the history of stereo photography but it doesn't go into much detail and is only a couple of pages long but then it's on to the photographs. The photos themselves have been resized a little so that they are slightly smaller than they were originally which I presume is in order that they work correctly with the in built viewer but the quality of them is excellent. Unlike the majority of stereo photographs you usually find in antique shops and on places like Ebay none of the photos are faded, fox marked, or scratched and are very clear and sharp. The viewer, which is built into the gatefold front cover, is actually very good and it only takes a couple of seconds when you first use it for the image to pop out in 3D. As for the 3D effect itself, it's excellent! Obviously the effect varies depending on the subject matter but the vast majority of the photos in this book have been composed with prominent subjects at different depths within the frame which really accentuates the 3D effect. There is something about looking at scenes shot over 100 years ago in 3D that makes it seem that not only do you now know what it looked like back then but that you were there too. Seeing ladies and gentlemen walking past you in their finery or scenes of crowded markets makes it feel as though you could reach out and touch them and you actually see far more detail than when you do in 2D. There are also four other books in the series that are worth checking out, these are: New York City in 3D, Gettysburg in 3D, Native Americans and the Wild West, and Washington DC in 3D all of which also include a built in viewer.
I am a massive convert now to stereo photography and have now bought an old Victorian Holmes Stereoscope, similar to the one pictured above, along with some stereo photographs of London and America from the late 1800's and early 1900's as well as a few from the 1st World War which are very eerie.
I would love to shoot some stereo photographs myself and am intrigued by the Fuji Finepix Real 3D W1 which is the first digital camera capable of taking 3D photos that can be viewed without the need for 3D glasses. The only downside is that the 3D effect is only visible on the LCD screen on the back of the camera or on the separate Finepix Read 3D V1 8" LCD photo frame.
It certainly seems that 3D imagery is making a come back in a big way what with several big name films like Avatar, Clash of The Titans, Alice in Wonderland and dozens of others all making a big impact at the cinema. Then you have Sky Sports providing 3D coverage of sporting events in pubs, and most of the big manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic, LG & Samsung releasing 3D televisions into the domestic market. Prices for this technology is at a premium and only time will tell if this will be another fad that people soon get bored with like 3D has always been in the past. Personally I'm not too interested in 3D television and films other than for the novelty factor but whilst I wouldn't want to loose 2D stills photography either I do hope that 3D photography makes as big an impact on us today as it did on the Victorians 172 years ago.