The Stereo Vivid is a 35mm stereo camera first made in 1954 by Three Dimension Company (TDC). TDC happened to be based right here in Chicago, Illinois, and was a subsidiary of Bell and Howell. They made a few different stereo cameras, but the Stereo Vivid was the most advanced model in many regards. Stereo photography has always been a passing interest of mine, but last month I took it upon myself to buy a stereo viewer, along with a few different stereo cameras, and attempt to make my own stereo views. The Stereo Vivid is the first camera I tried out.
One reason I bought the Stereo Vivid is because it's just such a beautiful camera. I figured that even if it didn't perform well, it could still look great on my shelf! The top plate is especially handsome with its aperture and shutter speeds dials that are synched up with a mechanical exposure calculator. It's up there with the Exakta VX when it comes to overall aesthetics.
Besides its looks, here are some things I like about the camera. The combined viewfinder/rangefinder window makes for smooth and rapid operation. I enjoy the position of the focusing knob, as well as the shutter release. I found it comfortable to focus with my pointer finger and control the release with my middle finger. The shutter makes an adorable little wind-up robot noise. There is a little level within the viewfinder that makes it easy to straighten out compositions. The scale on the focusing knob makes calculating depth of field a breeze! Overall the build quality feels top notch.
Now some things that irked me. The camera can be a bit limiting when it comes to its maximum shutter speed, which is a measly 1/100 of a second. This makes capturing any kind of moving subject difficult, and also means it can be difficult to shoot in bright sunlight even with ISO 400 film. Another limiting factor is how the camera can only focus down to 4 feet. What's odd is that the focusing knob lists distances down to 2.75 feet, but due to a plastic stop, the knob cannot turn past 4 feet. Due to a known manufacturing defect, frames slightly overlap, so you lose a bit of information on the sides of your negatives. Because the viewfinder window is positioned over one of the lenses, and not between the lenses, close-up compositions usually turn out a bit skewed due to parallax error.
The idea is for the camera's two lenses to create two nearly identical photographs, with the perspective shifted slightly in each photo. Upon looking at the photos aligned next to each other in a stereo viewer, the brain combines the two slightly different perspectives into a 3-D view. On a standard roll of 24, you can get 16 views (32 individual images). I scanned and printed a few negatives to make into stereo cards for use with my 1901 Underwood and Underwood stereo viewer (viewable above). For the cards, I cut out 3.5" x 7" rectangles using mat board. I printed each image 3" square and pasted them together in the middle of the mat board, using gel medium. The resulting 3-D effect is amazing. Unfortunately it is impossible to convey the effect online, but all the effort is well worth it. Below are a few of the cards I made using the TDC Stereo Vivid.
Over the next few months I plan to test out a few different stereo camera models to see which one I like best. I'm looking forward to experimenting with this new medium!