Introduction: Make a 3-D Stereoscope Slide and Video Shooter

Picture of Make a 3-D Stereoscope Slide and Video Shooter

Stereoscope Slide & Video Shooter

3-D is a really hot topic these days, and for those of you with lots of cash, Panasonic just released a new 3-D video camera that will connect to the new 3-D TVs, so with several thousand bucks you can get in on the 3-D action with home movies.

Step 1: History

Picture of History

Meanwhile, if you just want to have a little fun, this project might be appealing. See, my family has always enjoyed getting out our ancient Victorian Stereopticon Viewer and we have an amusing pile of old slides from the era. I believe ours dates back to my Grandparent's youth around 1900. I did see a set of slides on Antiques Roadshow from the civil war, and these were worth thousands.

But these antique viewers and sets of common slides are often available on ebay for around $100, and I also saw some very cute wooden "Holmes Stereoscope Kits" for sale there recently for $39.95. These antiques are admittedly primitive, but fun to pass around in the parlor after dinner.

At one time in the late '70s I made a rig using two Polaroid cameras mounted side by side that could more-or-less fire the two cameras simultaneously. These could be stapled or taped to a card and viewed in the Stereopticon viewer quite well. But very often there would be a miniscule delay with one camera or a slight difference in color or exposure, so the slides were never all that great. Today, the same thing could be done using two digital cameras, but the same disadvantages would exist. Plus, video would be challenging and require special software, etc.

Step 2: Idea Development

Picture of Idea Development

I was thinking about looking for one of the original double lens cameras that I assume were used to produce the original slides, but then had an idea. Why not make a device that will shoot the two images side-by side with almost any single camera and easily produce the 3-D prints and/or video images? Of course, many still cameras shoot both stills and video, not to mention new small HD video cameras that also shoot still great still pictures.

The 3-D photos would be easy to reproduce on any color printer as long as you have Photoshop or any software to size the prints at about 6 or 7 inches wide. When you shoot video (ideally 16 x 9 HD) with this device, you should be able to open the video file on your computer or iPad, size the image width to about six or seven inches on the screen, and watch it with a Stereopitcon viewer for astounding 3D home movies. I was so sure this would work that I decided to give it a try.

Step 3: Basic Layout

Picture of Basic Layout

My son the SpaceClaim, Inc. CAD software founder (for real) sketched a basic drawing with the mirror, angle, and size lay-out, and based on this drawing I ordered two sets of front surface mirrors -- the small ones are 2" X 3" and the large ones are 5" X 7". These are available from several suppliers, including, where I paid about $45 with shipping for the four mirrors.

Step 4: Materials and Decisions

Picture of Materials and Decisions

I happen to like working with acrylic and made most of the parts from scraps lying around the workshop. But wood could easily fill the bill for most of the elements. The top and bottom plates are 1/4" material and measure 4 1/2" X 18". The posts that support the top are 1/2" material, 5 1/8" high -- just enough space to clear the large mirrors. I used a few pieces of 1 inch thick acrylic for the mirror supports -- but all of these could be made from wood as well. Frankly, the top is probably not really needed, but I decided one would help shade the lens and protect the mirrors. The top also provides an upper bearing hole for the convergence adjuster that I eventually added, but that whole system is not really necessary for you to start shooting.

Step 5: Mounting the Mirrors

Picture of Mounting the Mirrors

For the mirror support blocks, I carefully checked the 90 degree angle of my jointer and made one long piece for cutting these to length to be sure all of the mirrors would be true vertical when mounted. The small mirror mounts have both the 1" base plus a 1/4" thick extension to raise them to the necessary height. The mounting blocks are just glued to the glass side of the mirrors with a dab of Gorilla Glue. I advise drilling the mounting holes prior to attaching the mirrors, using a drill press so the holes are reasonably accurate as well. The large mirrors are mounted with the bottom edge of the mirror sitting directly on the base, and the small mirrors are mounted at the proper vertical height to be centered in the 5 inch high large mirrors.

For the mirror positioning, I printed the CAD drawing full-size, taped it to the bottom plate, and used a center punch to mark the exact locations of the mirrors. Please note that the drawing shown is my original and is a bit battered plus has some random lines that are to be ignored.

Step 6: Mounting a Camera

Picture of Mounting a Camera

You will have to build the rear camera mount to match your camera, both in terms of length and height -- the vertical distance from the base of the camera to the center of the lens should be designed so the lens will line-up with the center of the small (and large) mirrors. In this case, I used a 1 1/2" wide piece of 1/2" thick material that is glued to the bottom of the base plate and extends 5 1/2" beyond the rear edge of the base. I put a slotted hole in mine so I could fool around with the camera to mirror distance. For the EOS 7D, a 1" elevation block brought the center of the lens up to the center of the mirrors. This does not have to be anything fancy, but it is very important that the camera end up level from left to right -- the eyes have an amazing ability to converge on the horizontal plane, but they don't do very well when there is a vertical miss-match between the left and right.

Ideally, you will want to be able to slightly swing the large mirrors on their single mounting screws to make the two images converge correctly for the distance to the selected elements of your photo. This is what your eyes do naturally at all times so that your left and right images converge properly, and of course, proper convergence is a key element of professional 3-D shooting.

Step 7: About the Convergence System

Picture of About the Convergence System

When doing my initial tests, I simply left the screws on the large mirror mounts slightly loose and manually set the two sides so the left and right images appeared to be similarly composed. I could compare the positions of the two mirrors to the base plate to keep them more-or less equal, and found that this was accurate enough. But the process was clumsy and I eventually added a more convenient system to quickly adjust the two large mirrors for convergence. This is the most complicated part of what otherwise is a very simple project, actually.

There are probably many ways this convergence control could be designed, but I used a small cam on a shaft that pushes a 1/4" aluminum rod rearward. At the end of the rod there is a piece of plastic that pushes on a pair of aluminum rods -- one that is attached to each of the large mirror mounts. Holes for these rods are also best made prior to gluing the mirrors onto the mounts, and with my system there are also small holes for pins that hook onto the return springs. The return springs attach to the outside ends of the large mirror mounts to pull against the cam, push-rod, and mirror rods. I also used little push springs on the large mirror mounting screws to allow them to move quite freely but stay flat against the base plate.

Step 8: Summary

Picture of Summary

The use of acrylic for the cam and the push-block allow for tapped set screws -- this is also true of the control handle on the top. But there is no reason these parts could not be carefully made from wood and glued in place on 1/4" dowel stock. My upright posts for supporting the top are also acrylic -- cemented to the base and tapped for #10 / 24 machine screws to hold on the top, but wood posts and wood screws would do just fine.

The photos are admittedly a bit difficult because of the unintended reflections of various surroundings that invariably show in the mirrors when you try to photograph this device, plus trying to see the shiny and/or clear acrylic parts in this prototype.


trike road poet (author)2010-09-12

Now all we need is a 3-D viewer (Stereo-opticon) to go with the prints and we have a total system.
Anyone have some ideas?

GaryF27 (author)trike road poet2015-12-17

Any off the viewers for google cardboard can be had for around $30 on amazon. The new viewmaster uses the same idea, but is much more polished. Keep in mind, you will need a smartphone to put into any of these devices.

I am going to try and make a much smaller version and use it with the google cardboard VR headset

burdaug (author)tom.wynnowen2015-09-04

hi Tom, did you get anywhere with your idea these guys are close to what we are after

The little cardboard viewer looks great to me. I am going to order one and play with it. Thanks, phil

First, there are the antiques, and then I recall someone making one that was plastic and cardboard recently.

You know, this ought to make a nice project! I smell an instructable here! And a camera jig to allow shooting the stereo pictures with a neat common point focus allowing for interpupillary distance offset from a fixed tripod mount...hum-m-m-m-m-m! Wheres my sketch book?

I have been making things using my Epilog laser out of 1/8 inch (3mm) plywood. Maybe I could make a stereopticon. The tricky part would be the lenses, since they would have to focus on a point which would probably be about a foot behind the two pictures, but I could imagine it!

The lenses focus on the image plane, (the pictures) I found a rough plan for a stereo viewer, This is a good starting point at least.

mrmagica (author)trike road poet2015-02-08

perfect : ) just what I was looking for, thanks

I wonder where to get lenses?

You may NOT need lenses, the viewer separates the two images and presents them for viewing so the brain can integrate the images for the stereo view.

I'd scale the viewer from the drawing to the size prints you are going to use, and try it from there. You can check with any local astronomy club in your area, they can help you if lenses are needed.

OK, I think you are right if one were to print images large enough so that your eyes didn't have to strain to converge or focus. I am extremely old, and so I need to use reading glasses to see anything closer than about 5 feet. This might mean using prints that would be about 3 feet X 3 feet! Maybe this is worth a try...

Just wear your readers and look through the holes in the face plate and you ought to be OK!

Will definitely give this a try

thepelton (author)courtervideo2010-09-16

There are places to purchase lenses through the mail. Two I can think of are and edmund scientific.

courtervideo (author)thepelton2010-09-14

With respect to the lenses, the ones on our antique one have a focal length of about eight inches. But they are also slightly prismatic -- maybe 3/16 in. thick on the inside edge and almost 1/4 in. thick on the outer edge, and to make matters even more complicated, they are angled slightly inward!

I do have a little folding "post card" viewer that has very simple lenses with a focal length of only about five inches, and it works quite well also.

much easier to just cross your eyes

courtervideo (author)freakmonkey2010-09-20

Yes, as trike road poet said, a lot of folks have trouble crossing their eyes and getting the images to "come together." Plus, the cards have the image for the right eye on the right side, etc, so when you view it with crossed eyes, each eye is getting the incorrect picture and the 3D is weird. I did make a test print with the images switched, and the crossed eye technique works great for those who can do it.

Maybe this DIY prism can help for those of us who find it difficult to cross their eyes, to view side by side cross eye images :- Posting a link for the instructable.

It works beautifully !! Let me know what you think. :-)

Some folks just can not focus that close, the viewer allows every one to see the effect easily.

There are many foldable viewers available.
I prefer this one from an austrian 3D photographer:
You can prepare your stereo cards with Photoshop or with StereoBookMaker.

thepelton (author)pixelpartner2010-09-14

Mother made stereoptical pictures by taking two shots from different places of the same object. She sometimes got 'ghost images" because someone walked into the picture before the second shot was completed.

courtervideo (author)thepelton2010-09-14

Saaaay maybe this is just the ticket for a new ghost thriller movie!

Yes, that looks like a sweet little viewer. The model shown above is mighty sweet also.

That's right. I mentioned in the instructable somewhere that they are often available on ebay, and the last time I checked there were some nice looking kits on there for $39.95 or something.

Miguel AgustínM (author)2015-05-06

Hi! I would like to know the angle between the two little mirrors... the sketch shows some 125° but in the end which angle where used? should it be fixed to that? Thanks!

I just did my best to measure the angle that I ended-up with, and it is 115 deg. I must admit, however, that my main disappointment with this project is the rather narrow field of view, which is limited by the mirror size and focal length of the moderately wide lens I am using. After wishing for a stereo system that is much wider (we recently visited Bryce Canyon Nat Park, where you have these amazing but very wide views, for example) I bought a second little 16 megapixel Nikon and mounted it along side the one I already had. I just try to press the two shutter buttons at the same time. More work sizing and pasting in Photoshop (and remembering which is right and left) but the results are awesome.

Thank you very much, so fast answer!

Cambenora (author)2015-04-23

Cool idea. I've been thinking of doing something like this for a while. Now I might try it. :-)

techknowdroid (author)2014-02-27

A very nice instructable. Will try to make one for myself.

BTW, Here is a DIY prism which can be helpful for those
of us who find it difficult to cross their eyes to view side by side
cross eye images :- Posting a link for the instructable.

It works beautifully !! Let me know what you think. :-)

Absolutely brilliant!!!

fado1986 (author)2013-02-17

Hi. First of all, really nice intructable, so glad I finded it. Second, Im trying to replicate your device, but there arent enought measurements of the hole thing, angles for the mirrors, distance between the small and large mirrors, distance between the lens and the small mirrors, ect. I just wanna ask you if you could help me with the missing measures, and also if you have tried to make it a little more portable. Thanks

mickeynurse (author)2012-10-22

Can you elaborate on the angles that the mirrors have to be positioned? I tried 45 and got two different images (like the photo was cut with a scissor). I am guessing the outside angles have to be a bit narrower in order to show the same object.

courtervideo (author)mickeynurse2012-10-22

The rig actually does produce two images side by side. There is a photo of one of the printed stereo pictures shown under step one of the instructable. When you use the stereoptigon viewer, your eyes blend the two pictures into one.

khourig (author)2012-01-06

By adjusting the angle of the large mirrors, you are changing the parallax angle. It would be great to also be able to adjust the spacing. This could be done, to a point, by adjusting the angle of the small mirrors. This page has a great discussion of what spacing and parallax works best for people viewing the imagery.

courtervideo (author)khourig2012-01-06

The biggest parallax issue with my rig and some of the ones shown on the link you added is that the spacing is too wide -- for normal 3D the spacing between the two images (or two cameras in some rigs) should be about the same as the spacing between a normal person's eyes. My rig, where the spacing is too wide gives an exaggerated amount of apparent depth, which is cool but unnatural. But I chose to use large mirrors with wide spacing so that a fairly wide angle of overall view could be obtained.

longhairedartist (author)2010-09-12

If with the front pair of mirrors you arrange a top and bottom mirror(instead of left and right), angled leftward on top and rightward on bottom, you only need to tilt the camera and the front pair with respect to the rear set of mirrors (a slight 10 degrees or so) to even up the horizon. With this method you can achieve a wide format aspect ratio, with the left eye set on top and the right eye set on bottom of each camera frame.

I was toying around with the idea in a 3D program to see if it was possible to get the wide angle shot. Directly in front of your camera you will split the view in two, the top side directed leftward and the bottom side directed rightward. You have to slightly tilt the camera and this set of mirrors with respect to the back mirrors, in order to have a horizon cutting across the middle of both the top and bottom mirrors. It would be easiest to micro adjust the rest of the angles by sight.

OOOOHHH I get it! Very interesting idea! Have you actually tried it?

I was getting pretty close to matching up the images in the 3D app, but I was only interested in knowing if it was possible. Plus it takes some time to nudge the mirrors and render them, a bit like fooling around in the dark. Your angles should be very close to the same as you have now. Your first pair is just moved to top and bottom position instead of left and right. And you'll see the sky in the top mirror and the ground in the bottom until you skew this pair (and the camera) with respect to the rear pair...
I found a source of $1 mirrors at the dollar store so I might just try to assemble something LOL

I think I would be tempted to try mounting the small mirrors on a single, simple post and make the vertical adjustments with the large mirrors.

Holy Cow! I am way too stupid to understand what you are talking about. Is there any way you could post a sketch of this??

Kent (author)courtervideo2010-09-13

There is (or was) a product that did this. It was called "View Magic", and it was made by Dimension Press, Harvard MA. It it essentially a dual periscope, with one eye going up and the other down, so that when a pair of 4X6 prints were viewed, each eye got the correct image. I have one, but I doubt they are still sold.

DeadlyDad (author)2010-09-24

I little FYI: If you hold your mirrors against a block of wood cut to ~5 degrees less than 1/2 the angle of your small mirrors (As they seem to be about 120 degrees apart, that would be 60-5=55 degrees.) Slide the mirror, reflecting side up, along a strip of emery cloth until you get down to the surface. When you put the two mirrors together in your rig, the small gap between them will be gone.

courtervideo (author)DeadlyDad2010-09-25

Yes, thanks. I did do this on the one I built.

DeadlyDad (author)courtervideo2010-09-25

Ah. Sorry. I must have missed that. BTW, I passed your idea on to the group working on structured light scanners ( ), as this could be a good way for them to avoid having to use 2 cameras.

courtervideo (author)DeadlyDad2010-09-25

Wow, that is some extremely cool video.

DeadlyDad (author)courtervideo2010-09-25

Definitely. I've already got a projector on the way that I got off of eBay, and, once I've gotten everything working well, I plan on setting up a service for creating 3D computer models of native artifacts, so non-local museums can display items that wouldn't survive the move in real life. A few local craftsman have expressed an interest also, for an online store that would let customers 'handle' the things they make.

courtervideo (author)DeadlyDad2010-09-26

How does this technique compare to holography?

About This Instructable




Bio: 45 years as a professional documentary film producer. Now using state of the art HD digital studio and equipment specializing in projects about global food ... More »
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