ImageTech 3Dfx: Triple the lenses, triple the fun

ImageTech 3Dfx front
A front view of the plasticky ImageTech 3Dfx 35mm camera. It actually feels less cheap than a lot of other plastic cameras from the 1990s. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The ImageTech 3Dfx isn’t actually a great camera or anything, but I just couldn’t resist the headline. It is 3D, though!

Lomography.com calls it a Three-eyed Alien Mutant Camera in their extensive review — which you should check it out for even more fun tricks that I didn’t try.

The ImageTech is designed for lenticular printing and takes three images offset slightly from one another. It’s not quite the same as stereography, but it’s similar.

The basic idea of lenticular printing is taking three slightly dissimilar images, cutting them into narrow strips, and interleaving the strips. The print is then covered with a lenticular lens — a sheet of plastic that has ridges parallel to the interleaved strips, which allows only one of the complete images to be visible at any given angle. Changing the viewing angle creates an animation by switching between the frames, or can change the image completely.

The first memories I have of lenticular printing, which was popular in the 1980s, are of 7-11’s Slurpee Baseball Coins. When you had a productive Saturday helping Dad with his honey-do list and stopped off for Slurpees on the way back from the hardware store, you peeled a little paper cover out of the depression in the bottom of the paper cup and found these “coins” featuring some baseball players whose names you probably didn’t know (because you were like 6 years old). But the animated effect made them really awesome by kid standards, and you always looked forward to the next Slurpee.

Unfortunately, lenticular printing is complicated and expensive, and the brief explosion of plastic 3D cameras designed for the technique in the 1990s fizzled quickly. But that means they’re cheap and plentiful in thrift stores (who hasn’t seen a Nishika N8000 at Goodwill?), and you can easily animate the scanned frames using Photoshop these days.

ImageTech 3Dfx imageset
The ImageTech 3Dfx makes sets of three images like this. They’re similar, but not quite the same — the three lenses are side-by-side, and the end frames sort of mimic the distance (and differing viewpoints) of two human eyes. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Vital stats

According to Stereoscopy.com, the ImageTech was introduced in 1996. It has a 27mm lens, fixed 1/100 second shutter speed, and fixed f/9.5 aperture. Actually — it has three of each.

It takes 35mm film and has a built-in flash that takes two AA batteries. The flash is turned on by means of a yellow button on the front panel, like most single-use cameras, and a note printed on the back cover recommends always using the flash.

It loads and unloads in typical cheap-camera fashion, with a little take-up spool release button underneath and a big yellow shutter release on the top. There’s double-exposure prevention, a thumbwheel for film advance (which cocks the shutter, too), a tripod socket, and a simple viewfinder.

That’s it.

Using it

Ever used a disposable camera (like the Ilford HP5+ single-use camera)? Then you can use this. The only difference is it can be used more than once — you can actually load and unload film without destroying the camera.

I didn’t really intend to write so little, but there simply isn’t a lot more to say.

I made my test photos on a walk with Kate and Batta in late winter 2016, and was mostly looking for subjects with a lot of separation between the foreground and background so the 3D effect would be visible.

Per the note on the camera, I used the flash for most of the test shots. I used ASA 400 color negative film and had it processed normally. I scanned the images and followed a really simple Instructables guide to make them into 3D animated GIFs.

So have a look at a few examples — shot on expired drug-store film, and therefore color-shifted and underexposed — and consider picking up the next funky plastic lenticular camera you see in a charity shop.

Bicycle bridge
A cycle bridge over Cherry Creek. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Batta in 3D!
Batta in 3D! (Daniel J. Schneider)
Cherry Creek and post
Cherry Creek flows behind this capped pipe. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Recycling dumpster
A Denver recycling dumpster in a parking lot. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
ImageTech 3Dfx 35mm camera
Author Rating
3