Though 3D-capable cameras are nothing new, two new additions to Sony's 2010 Cyber-shot line are notable for their 3D-shooting capabilities: they're the first everyday point-and-shoot cameras that offer 3D imaging capabilities, and they create 3D photos with a single lens.
The Exmor R CMOS-sensor-based Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 and Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 look a lot like last year's DSC-WX1 and DSC-TX1 Cyber-shots, but they improve on those cameras' already impressive bag of tricks by adding a 3D panorama mode and other new in-camera settings. A third new Sony point-and-shoot camera, the CCD-sensor-based Cyber-shot DSC-T99, lacks the 3D panorama feature.
To create 3D images, cameras traditionally use a dual-lens system, with the two lenses spaced about as far apart as a pair of human eyeballs. After shooting, two slightly offset images are overlaid, and a visible 3D effect is achieved by using one of many presentation options (among them, red/blue anaglyph filters, different methods of polarization, or viewing the images with the naked eye on a specially treated screen).
The WX5 and TX9 work around the dual-lens system with a creative rejiggering of Sony's Sweep Panorama mode. Using the cameras' 3D Sweep Panorama setting, you press the shutter button once, pan across a scene, and the camera stitches together a panoramic image that can be viewed in 3D.
In the 3D Sweep Panorama mode, the camera calculates what a dual-lens system would capture at different points in the scene and create a similarly offset image. When the image is viewed through special glasses on a compatible HDTV set, the resulting image shows a 3D effect; true to Sony's proprietary-technology-happy reputation, the only way to obtain the proper 3D effect is by viewing the images on a 3D-capable Sony Bravia HDTV while wearing the company's Active Shutter 3D glasses.
That's a big investment just to properly view 3D images shot with these cameras, but the effects are impressive. At a recent demo, sample 3D panorama images viewed through Sony's Active Shutter glasses on a Sony Bravia HDTV showed stunning depth-of-field effects, and foreground elements truly looked as if they were popping out of the screen.