An online resource for new and prospective stereo slide photographers in 2019 and beyond.
I first saw stereo slides at the Stephen Shore retrospective at the NY MoMA in late 2017, and promptly set out to shoot my own. While there are many good resources online, it took a lot of research and trial-and-error to learn what equipment to use, what I need to keep in mind when taking a stereo photo, and to work out an efficient and affordable process for organizing, mounting and viewing the slides. This site is intended to save newcomers that time and money, and eventually, to be a place for practicing stereo photographers to connect and share their tips, knowledge and work.
This is for people who want to start shooting 3D images right away. For additional information, follow the deep dive links at the end of some sections.
Done right, it’s really cool.
There are several ways to capture and share a 3D image, but this guide will focus only on stereo slide photography. These are pairs of images captured on slide film, and viewed in a dedicated viewer that magnifies and back-illuminates those slides. Other methods can produce images that are captivating in their own right, but at least from what I have seen, only this method captures the fidelity of life.
More on this in the deep dive.
There are several stereo formats, but this guide will focus on the Realist (or 5-perf) format, because it is the format that was and remains the most common and most supported. Very affordable and capable cameras are readily available on eBay, as are the mounts and viewers. It’s slightly narrower than square, and each 36-shot roll of 35mm film will net you 29 stereo pairs. It’s what I shoot.
For more about other stereo formats, like the wider 7-perf format and the much larger medium format, see the deep dive.
If you can find one and afford it, get a Wollensak Stereo 10. There is no better Realist format camera, both in terms of lenses, shutter speed, user experience and build quality. These days they run between $250-325 on eBay.
Otherwise, get a Revere 33, which was manufactured by the same company and shares the same body as the Wollensak Stereo 10, but lacks its slightly faster top shutter speed and lenses. These currently run in the $60-150 range on eBay. The Wollensak Stereo 10 was the later, premium version of the Revere 33.
The most commonly recommended stereo camera is the Stereo Realist, which established the Realist format and which is pretty much always available on eBay. It is a solid choice and a great entry point, running in the $40-90 range for the most common f3.5 model. It was my first stereo camera, and some of my favorite stereo images were taken on it. It has an unconventional layout and fiddly controls that makes it slower to work with, but the lenses are sharp and it takes a fine picture. My main issue with the camera was that the winding mechanism tended to get very tight toward the end of the roll, at least in the two models that I used, and that the rangefinder is somewhat primitive. Despite its idiosyncrasies, it has some unique strengths, like the great clamshell lens cover and a viewfinder set directly between the taking lenses rather than on top of them, making for more accurate framing. It’s also what Stephen Shore used to shoot the images that were on view at the MoMA.
A NOTE ON EBAY PRICES
Please note that any eBay price ranges cited are from late 2018. Since they do tend to fluctuate, your mileage may vary depending on when you are reading this.
A NOTE ON OLD LEATHER STRAPS
Many stereo cameras of this era come with a leather camera strap which can look and feel quite nice, but which is old and prone to snapping. Both of my Stereo Realist’s straps broke, so I would either avoid or replace the original straps on these cameras.
For other choices and additional information, see the deep dive on stereo cameras.
These are old cameras, and a lot can go wrong over the years. When purchasing a camera on eBay, make sure of the following:
Camera is fully functional (ideally recently film-tested, but this is not always an option)
Both lenses, viewfinder, and rangefinder are clean and clear (no haze, fungus, scratches, balsam separation, oil on blades, excessive dust, dirt or other issues)
Shutter is accurate at all speeds
Rangefinder is accurate
Film advance is smooth
If you are getting a Stereo Realist, make sure the lens cover is intact and working
If this information isn’t in the posting, contact the seller and ask!
Yes. Most stereo cameras don’t have internal meters, and slide film requires precise exposure. I’ve only used light meters from Sekonic, and found them to be accurate and reliable; they offer several options at different price points, and their older models can be found on eBay for decent prices. Gossen and Minolta are also reputable brands. If you can’t afford one or don’t want to use one, you can set exposure according to the Sunny 16 Rule.
You will need to use slide film, also referred to as reversal, positive, or E6. The most readily available are Fuji’s Provia 100, Velvia 100 and Velvia 50, and Kodak's Ektachrome E100. Be sure to ask for the film NOT to be cut when dropping it off for processing (E6 process).
For more on how to shoot slide film, as well the characteristics of these slide films, see the deep dive.
Unlike regular photography, you can’t just point your camera at anything and expect your brain to be able to make sense of it. There are a few things you need to keep in mind in order to have the 3D illusion work, and to take advantage of its strengths.
The most commonly stated general rule is to keep as much of the image in focus as you can. This means mainly shooting with a closed down aperture in the f5.6-f16 range.
That said, I’ve found it’s okay to let the background fall out of focus, as long as you have a clearly defined subject that is in focus. Foreground elements that are out of focus are usually confusing and unpleasant to the eye, so avoid them.
Keep the camera level (don’t tilt it side-to-side), especially if you can see the horizon. You have more leeway when the horizon is not visible, but I haven’t tried to push this very far so I’m not sure what you can get away with. If the horizon is visible and the camera is not level, the 3D effect won’t work at all. There are no issues with angling it up or down.
Close objects that get cut off by the sides of the frame are unpleasant and confusing to look at. If you are shooting a subject that is close, try to contain them fully within the horizontal bounds of the frame.
If everything in the frame is far away, it will basically look like a 2D image. (This is a function of the stereo base.) When shooting landscapes or vistas, incorporate closer elements in your composition to preserve the sense of distance.
Layered compositions with foreground, middle-ground and background elements look especially good in 3D.
No rules are absolute, push them and break them to see what else you can make work!
The snap-together plastic mounts made by RBT are far and away the best choice. They are a breeze to work with and are fully reusable. They currently run around $40 for 50 mounts on eBay or from Berezin Stereo Photography Products. In addition to Realist format 5-perf mounts, they make mounts for 7-perf, full frame and half frame formats.
For a note on medium format slide mounts, see the deep dive.
The Stereo Realist Red Button viewers are common on eBay, and an excellent choice, as are the Green Button and Black Button viewers. They currently range from $40-100. I’ve also used the Wollensak 11 viewer, which is a good alternative (I believe the Revere 22 is essentially the same viewer, with a different badge). Keep in mind these are viewers for Realist format slides. There are options like the Stereolist or Busch for 7-perf format slides, but I don’t know too much about those.
For more a little more on viewers, see the deep dive.
Lightbox or light table, and a loupe
Scissors (make sure they’re sharp!)
Cotton gloves (oil from your skin will damage the slides in the long term)
Small labeling stickers
A fine, soft-tipped marker
Sorting tray/case (I use this lidded 32-compartment box from the Container Store)
Something to pry open the mounts with
If you are using RBT mounts, I find this set of Muji drawers are the perfect size for storing them. The removable drawers also fit snugly inside the cardboard boxes that the RBT mounts come in, which is useful when transporting slides.
This is probably best explained with a video (coming soon), but for now, step-by-step written instructions can be found in the deep dive.
None yet. I just put the site up!
w a t e r o r t h e w a v e [ a t ] g m a i l [ d o t ] c o m
Thanks for reading!