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Simple Stereo Photography

Posted on May 1st, by graham in Classic Camera Corner. No Comments

Simple Stereo Photography

By Graham Law, President, Seawood Photo

I started shooting stereo over twenty years ago because it had no monetary value whatsoever.

I was shooting commercial and stock photos at the time, and had hit a point where photography wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Before every shot I would wonder if it was a marketable image. I stopped shooting for myself; it was all business.

Then someone gave me an old 3.5 Stereo Realist camera and a battery operated viewer.

We’ve all looked at Viewmaster reels as kids; this was similar, but the image quality was astounding! It was like actually being there as the photo was taken and could reach out and touch the subject.

I soon started shooting friends, pets, and family. I was hooked. I couldn’t sell the images…and it was great!

Family photos are definitely the most fun. If you have kids, you know how quickly they change. Being able to see three dimensional images of them that show how they used to look is like having your own personal time machine!

Realist cameras use standard 35mm slide film, are easily mounted in cardboard or plastic mounts, and are then viewed with a battery operated hand held viewer.

Realist Viewer and Camera

As there are lots of websites devoted to the theory and principles of stereo photography, I decided not to go there. Instead, I thought it would be fun to have a simple descriptive page that shows how to get started immediately with equipment you already own (assuming you have a camera and a printer), and showcase some really interesting 3D cameras and accessories.

In a nutshell, stereo photography is created by taking two photographs of the same subject. The second frame is taken approximately 2-1/2” to the left or right of the first image, (about the distance that your eyes are spaced).

There are several great ways to get stereo pairs. Perhaps the simplest is to use a Bogen Slide Bar (at right, available at Seawood Photo of course!).

This mounts on any tripod and consists of a quick release platform that attaches to the camera, and a base that the platform dovetails into and can be slid to the left and right.

Take a photo, slide the camera to the opposite side of the bar, and take another. As long as your subject hasn’t moved, you will get a useable 3d image.

Stereo pairs can also be done hand held; simply place all your weight on your left foot, take a photo, then shift your weight to your right and take another.

Stereo cameras have two lenses and take both photos at the same instant, making this fast and easy. As both images are taken at the same instant subject movement is no longer a problem.

When the completed photos are viewed in pairs with a stereo viewer your brain automatically fuses the two images into one that has the illusion of depth.


Viewing transparencies in an illuminated or capture-the light viewer is a good way to present your images, and they are easy to do. There are several vendors online that sell stereo mounts and viewers to fit your camera format/film size, such as

All you need to do is shoot transparency film, get it E6 processed and be sure to tell your lab that you want them back unmounted. You then cut the film between the frame lines and match up the stereo pairs. With cardboard mounts you simply slide the film “chits” into the slots in the back and you are done! Plastic mounts have a front and a back that snap together with the chit placed between.

It is important to keep the images in the correct left-to right orientation. If mounted incorrectly, you get a “reverse-stereo” effect, which looks quite odd. If it doesn’t look right just remount them.

An alternative to transparencies is to make prints and use a stereopticon (above). I actually find these more fun than the slides. Plus your friends look like a giant mosquito when they use one! There are lots of old stereopticons (also called Holmes viewers) around. I’ve found useable ones in local antique shops for under $60.00. New ones are available online for under $100.

There are also more sophisticated viewers such as the table top illuminated viewer below.


Many ornate stereo viewers were produced in Europe around the turn of the century, such as this one:


The prints are easy to make. I use an Epson V750 Pro scanner to scan my transparencies. I then make a 3-1/4 x 3-1/4” print of each image and print the pair side by side on a 3-1/2 x 7” card. (Since this is an almost square image you will have to crop the image if you are using a rectangular format camera such as 35mm or most modern DSLR’s . As 6×6 film cameras on the used market are dirt-cheap these days, it might be worth investing in one if you want to make stereo cards).

Here’s a link to a Photoshop template I’ve made that will allow you to print two stereo cards on one letter-sized sheet of photo paper:  Stereo Card Template (TIF file, 26mb).  The template is a layered TIFF file that you can open in Photoshop, and drop your photos right in as a new Photoshop layer. Simply paste your photos in, arrange them so they are in place below the template layer, and print. Note that the file is 300dpi.

I like to use a drymount press to mount my images on card stock. It gives them the same weight and feel as vintage stereo cards. This is not necessary if you use a heavy weight photo paper. And I’ve found that some inkjet papers work better than others. Using a stereopticon is like looking at a print with a magnifying glass; if the paper doesn’t absorb the ink well you will see a dot matrix on the print. Arches Infinity Smooth Finish is my current favorite as it looks brilliant and pixel-less!


There are many interesting stereo options available on the used market. Here are a few:

The Stereo Realist and the Kodak Stereo 35mm cameras are inexpensive and work great. You can upgrade to a Realist Custom with matched rare-earth lenses, ostrich skin covering, and a brighter 2.8 aperture setting. A lens manufacturer named Steinheil produced a wide-angle lens attachment for the Realist and Kodak cameras in the late 50’s (below).

Pentax made a device called a beamsplitter (below) that mounts on the front of a 50mm lens. By using mirrors this takes two images side by side on one 35mm frame.

There have also been many excellent 6×6 stereo cameras. The first cameras Rolleiflex made were stereo; the Rolleidoscop and Heidoscop. Here is a Heidoscop that someone modified to use a Mamiya 120mm rollfilm magazine:

Russian cameras are plentiful today; this Sputnik 6×6 stereo camera was purchased online for under $150.00 and produces admirable results:

Incredibly, a brand new 120mm 6×6 format camera called 3Dworld is now being produced in China. It sells for around $1700 complete with a mounting jig and a very nice transparency viewer. It has a built in light meter and removable prism finder (it takes Hasselblad finders as well: I’m using a waist level to save weight). I have only just begun testing one and the initial results are better than anything I’ve seen!

So go out there and get yourself a stereo camera and add a little “depth” to your photography!

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