Stereo Photography with Twin Sony Action Cameras and Google Cardboard

Up to five Sony HDR-AS200V action cameras can be controlled simultaneously with the Sony Remote PlayMemories Mobile app for Android. I saw the potential for stereo photography with this camera system when I read its specifications. With prices dropping now because 4K models supercede this camera, for less than $500, I bought a pair of HDR AS200Vs including waterproof enclosures.

The form factor for the lightweight camera is ideal for 3D due to its slim design. For closeups I can mount two cameras side by side for a minimum interaxial separation of 25 mm without the waterproof enclosures. In the setup pictured above the interaxial camera separation is 65 mm, the same as adult humans.

I can shoot 3D 1080p video and the camera shoots JPG stills at a pixel resolution of 3104 width x 1704 height, which is lower than the specifications published on Sony's website, but adequate enough for viewing with a smartphone. Unfortunately there is no control of shutter time since everything is automatic. On the flip side this disadvantage does make it easier to use these cameras for stereo because there are no manual controls to fiddle with on both cameras.

In bright sunlight it is hard to use a phone as a camera remote control viewer. I solved this problem by mounting my Sony Z1S phone in a Google Cardboard VR viewer. The pictured viewer above is custom homemade from Google Cardboard plans version 1. I use lens for stereoscopic viewing from Berezin 3D. My Cardboard viewer looks beat up because I use it so much. With a hole cutout on the right side I can insert my finger to tap the app's shutter button. I attached my twin camera mount on top of the Cardboard viewer so I can easily photograph stills or shoot videos at the same time viewing my subjects in 3D. Sweet!

Screenshot of Remote PlayMemories app 

Photos downloaded from cameras to the phone. Not exactly same as screenshot view because I could not take screenshot with the camera in the viewer.

Merging left and right images into parallel stereo photo with Stereo Photo Maker. I can't explain the color shift in the two photos, guessing AWB auto white balance was computed differently in each camera. Of course I can correct color temperature in the photos to match using Lightroom and correct the lens distortion that is more obvious in wide shots. I use Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus 2016 to align and edit the twin camera footage to create 3D videos.

The PlayMemories app is not completely ideal for stereo photography. I emailed the following suggestions to Sony to improve their app for stereo photography, so hopefully they will implement them.

1. When two cameras are connected show the two live video full screen side by side, by moving the shutter button to the bottom right side below the two camera images. This gives a bigger display for the video which is good for viewing with a stereoscope or VR viewer like Google Cardboard. For 1, 3,4, or 5 cameras the current layout is fine.

2. My phone may not be accessible to press the screen shutter button, so what is needed is shutter release control from a selfie stick button or other Bluetooth remote controller. The phone might be on a selfie stick or mounted in a VR viewer and pressing the screen shutter button is not possible.

3. When the photo or video is transferred to the phone it would be very helpful to identify the camera source in the date/time filename as follows: for stereo twin cameras append _1 and _2 as a suffix to consistently identify the camera source. Do this for 2 to 5 ( _1, _2, _3, _4,  _5 ) cameras. This way I know which file came from which camera for later stereo editing or multi-camera usage.

For stereo photography this combination of cameras, Remote PlayMemories app,  3D viewing lenses, and Google Cardboard work quite well for me.

Fall Colors 3D

Fall Colors in 3D

Formatted for viewing with a stereoscope

Zombie Photo Shoot 3D

My Halloween 3D photos from the Zombie Makeup Photo Shoot.

Alexandra Ley, Makeup Artist (right), prepares models during the Philadelphia Glamour Photography meetup, October 4, 2015.

These photos are formatted for viewing with a stereoscope only.

Zombie Photo Shoot

Mattel View-Master VR Viewer

UPDATED 2015/10/20:

I have been eagerly awaiting the in-store arrival of the new Mattel View-Master VR (virtual reality) Viewer and it is now available for purchase from my local Target store. Here's a photo of the Mattel View-Master VR Viewer I bought a few days ago. My goal was to see if Cardboard VR apps I'm writing, need to be modified for use with this viewer. Second I wanted to see how Mattel's app's user interface works.

The viewer's operational design is based on Google Cardboard version 2. With this version you pull a lever to tap the screen for controlling VR apps that run on your smartphone mounted in the headset. The first version of Cardboard used a magnet "lever" which did not work with all phones.

I found the viewer to be solidly made and it held my phone securely. The rubberized head cup is very comfortable. There is a wrist strap but no head mounting strap, so you need two hands to operate it safely to avoid accidentally dropping the viewer. Mattel's VR viewer costs about 3 times as much as a cardboard headset, but it is worth it. One problem I had with the viewer was the lever's touch pad point often failed to retract to its home position after striking the screen, unless I quickly snapped the lever. I exchanged this viewer with Target and the replacement unit works fine. I  use a bluetooth controller/keyboard with most of my Cardboard apps making the lever less important for my apps.

I noticed the phone display is blurry when I wear my bi-focal glasses for normal vision. There is no adjustment possible for changing the viewing distance from the lens to the phone screen nor the lens separation distance to match different people. With my glasses off the screen is in sharp focus.  I have read at least one report that some people have problems with a blurry screen and they decided to return their unit. When I used the viewer all day to view my stereo 3D photos I shot, I got eyestrain. This could be a problem with my 3D photos not all being optimized for a comfortable viewing experience or the length of time I spent with the viewer (all day).

Mattel's VR viewer presents an immersive experience since you cannot see any sidewalls of the viewer's interior. You need to turn your head to see everything. The narrow field of view made watching my 3D stereo photos only partially visible, since not all of the photo was visible. This is an issue with an app I wrote to view my photos.

Following setup instructions, configuration went smoothly using a QR code inside the headset.

The viewer includes a Starter Pack disk that allows access to three sample VR apps.  My phone is an Sony Xperia Z1S (screen 1920x1080 pixels) which is not one of the supported phones for the View-Master VR as currently published by Mattel. I had a lot of trouble launching (getting the floating augmented reality image to appear in the camera view)  the three sample VR apps (Destinations, Space, and Wildlife) from Mattel. I have a hunch the issue is with my phone camera, since I was not able to easily launch Mattel's apps VR presentation consistently. It took too much time fiddling.

UPDATE 2015/10/20:
When I removed the View-Master's plastic cover over the lens of my phone's camera, I was able to launch the sample VR apps without any problems.

One annoying aspect trying to get the Mattel apps to launch with my Sony phone was a dreaded screen with the text "REMOVE DEVICE FROM HEADSET".  The only way I could bypass this screen was to fully exit the app and start all over, after removing my phone from the viewer. Sometimes I got this screen when the phone was not even in the viewer.

Once I was able to successfully launch one of the starter apps, with practice it was possible to navigate the various views and it was a worthwhile experience. The experience made me wish for a phone with a better higher resolution display. I liked the Space pack best. Not sure these apps are compelling enough to go back to try and launch again, given the difficulty launching the VR presentation with my Sony phone.

Note that phone controls like the volume buttons, camera shutter button, headphone jack, and USB port are not accessible once the phone is mounted in the viewer. Some hack modifications to the viewer I  am thinking about are to drill a hole to open an access hole to the USB port on the phone for app development.

Mattel's View-Master web site:

View-Master is a trademark of Mattel, Inc.
Google Cardboard is a trademark of Google Inc.