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Using Five 3D Cameras to Bring You the World

Panasonic pursues the Holy Grail of panoramas: simulating travel.
January 11, 2013

Making images has always been about simulating the experience of actually being there. Throughout the history of spectacle, panoramas in particular have attempted to simulate the experience of travel. In the early 1800s, for instance, a craze for 360-degree panoramic painting swept the art world; “audiences flocked by the thousands to witness the latest spectacular representations of nature, battle scenes, and exotic locations,” writes one scholar. With the advent of photography, this impulse carried over into a new medium, most memorably in Eadweard Muybridge’s San Francisco panoramas.

The impulse to make realistic panoramic images in an effort to virtualize the experience of visiting an exotic locale approaches its logical, and technological, conclusion with a new system reported on by Diginfo. The system is dubbed, “DIVE into World Heritage 3D,” and was shown off by Panasonic at the Digital Content EXPO 2012. The concept behind it is simple enough; deploy the absolute best cameras, en masse, and then display the content on the absolute best screens, again en masse. More precisely, the tech uses five 3D cameras to shoot, then five HD plasma panels to display.           

Spare no expense, seems to be the motto; the suite of five AG-3DA1 cameras alone would cost $105,000 at market price. “Imaging technology is progressing every day,” Masaru Kojima, the manager of Panasonic’s Content Planning Center, says in the video below. “Today we’re using full high-definition, but in the future pixel counts are likely to grow, as well as the size of the displays themselves. We’d like to be on the leading edge as those sorts of devices become available.” While most of us are taking advantage of the “good enough revolution,” snapping pics and viewing vids on our iPhones, Panasonic wants to do this right.

And joining in the long tradition of panoramas-as-simulated-travel, Panasonic has teamed up with UNESCO to photograph seven world heritage sites. There are currently 962 such sites, per this helpful site and map; the Panasonic video squad has their work cut out for them.

Merely to judge from the video below, it seems like the goal here is to so dazzle the senses as to approximate the sense of actually being in another place. One wonders if there is some photographic analog to the Turing test; does photographic imagery attain a new status if, someday, people can be duped into thinking they’re actually visiting an exotic locale, when in fact they’re surrounded by technological artifice?

For a deep dive into the anatomy of an AG-3DA1 twin-lens 3D camera, check out Panasonic’s site. The company goes so far as to call it a “step closer to natural human vision.”

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