50s Stereo Photography

Favorite Stereo Photography Equipment of the 1950s

This page is by no means comprehensive - manufacturers produced hundreds of cameras, viewers, and accessories. This page just shows some of the common makes and models I prefer with comments about why.

Stereo Cameras

The stereo boom (approx 1947 - 1961) produced about 50 models of cameras using a variety of film types. The Stereo Realist was among the earliest cameras produced on a large scale and created the American standard for the era. Using 35mm cartridge film, the camera produces 29 image pairs from a 36 exposure roll which, when mounted and viewed as a single image, creates a nearly square frame. Most cameras feature synchronized leaf type shutters (usually T&B - 1/200sec), coupled aperatures (f/3.5 - f/22), and a film plane focusing system. Many models coupled the viewfinder and rangefinder and some offer a bubble level. Plug adapters allow use of a modern flash unit. None of these cameras include automatic exposure metering.

realist.jpg Stereo Realist 3.5 - The granddaddy of American-made stereo cameras. Although funky to use compared to today's ergonomic standards (five mechanical steps to take a shot!), the Realist is stout, reliable, and commonly available. The flip-up lens cover will perfectly match the flip-up sun shades on your eye glasses. The viewfinder, found on the bottom of the camera back, is among the largest and easiest to see through and, because it views through an opening between the lenses, it's parallax free. Of the custom accessories available, most were made for the Realist. One drawback is most models offer a top shutter speed of 1/150sec. Also, just about every one of these things has a light leak problem but it's easy to fix. The sleek retro black leatherette and brushed metal finish is a design classic. The 3.5 is only one of many Realist models. Street price: $130 - $180
revere.jpg Revere 33 - The great second generation camera. The Revere offers an automatic film transport and shutter cocking mechanism, a coupled rangefinder and a shutter button on the right side of the camera (the Realist's is on the left). The top shutter speed is 1/200sec - really important for those hand-held shots. The Revere 33 is stout, easy to use, has excellent lenses, and makes an handy self-defense weapon. The film advance and rewind knobs are a bit small as is the viewfinder, but this camera remains my personal favorite. The brown leatherette and curvy brushed metal combo surely created the rear fin phenomenon in automotive design of the time. Street price: $160 - $200

Slide Mounts

Taking the stereo picture is one thing. Equally important to the whole process is mounting the image pair. Presumably because of the small profit margins, slide mount availability comes and goes. The Realist's original mounts are no longer made. Another important manufacturer, EMDE, also bit the dust. Find out what you like and buy a lifetime's worth. Key considerations: cost, film protection, and film adjustment ability. Although you can use lowcost cardboard slip-in and heat seal mounts, don't. They're crummy. Here's my recommendation on how to approach the mounting issue:

albions.jpg From lower left to upper right: The Universal Cardboard Foldover, European, Realist, and Half Frame.

Albion mounts are made of die-punched aluminum. The film fits into slots above and below the film openings. Once positioned, you must use tape to hold the film in place. The Albion mount by itself is not sturdy enough for less-than-careful handling. Most users of Albions place the mount inside a cardboard foldover which is then finished with tape. $14 for 50 mounts + $5 for 50 cardboard foldovers.

For my money, the Albion's can't be beat. The thin aluminum edge is crisp, vertical adjustment is large and easy, and with the foldover, the mount is rigid enough for handling.

Slide Viewers

As with cameras, the '50s produced many kinds of stereo viewers. Most models are hand-held, battery powered, and made of Bakelite (an early form of plastic). The better models offer interocular and focus adjustment and multi-element lenses. Some manufacturers produced table top models that held up to 24 sides in a magazine. Although only one person can view a slide at a time, the viewing experience is astounding. Viewing an image through a quality viewer is the purest form of stereo (IMHO). Not only is the optical geometry closely integrated with the stereo cameras, each image is projected onto the retina directly with no visual clutter (like the side-by-side format of this web site) or crossover "ghosting" from anaglyphic (red/blue) processes or polarized projection.

viewer.jpg The Stereo Realist viewer - This viewer offers achromatic lenses, focus adjustment, and interoccular adjustment. With two D cell batteries, it gets a little heavy - about 1.5lbs. Although AC models are available, I prefer the cordless option. Also, low wattage incandescent bulbs tend to be yellowish. I recommend a nice new halogen bulb and cleaning (if not repainting) the white relective backing inside. Both Realist and European format viewers are available, with the Realist more common in America. Not surprisingly, a lot of these have been dropped. If you don't mind repaired chips and cracks, the price is usually a lot less. Street price: $100 - $160

Slide Projectors

I'm not sure which is more entertaining: projecting slides in stereo so that a group can experience the image together, or just seeing your friends and family all wearing the same black thick-framed glasses. Either way it's a lot of fun. Stereo projectors use polarizing lenses and the polarizing glasses you wear to present to your eyes only one of the two images: L for L and R for R (duh). You must use a true silver screen for the effect to work - a common glass bead screen will scatter the polarized light. Optimizing the viewing experience is especially important - the geometry of stereography is less forgiving when using a projector. Slides should be mounted for spatial continuity (and slightly different than for hand-held viewers), the room should be very dark, and the best seats are in a specific spot between the projector and screen. And, unfortunately, the fans on these things are LOUD.

tdc.jpg The TDC 716 Stereo Slide Projector - This projector features two 750 watt bulbs for a brighter image. It comes with two slide advance mechanisms - one single slide bar, and a Selectron Tray that offers semi automatic feeding from a 30 slide tray. Several ajdustments are possible including focus, vertical, and horizontal tilt. The multi element condenser lenses and polarizers are of high quality and are easy to clean. Street price: $400 - $600 depending on accessories. Selectron Trays: $20 each
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