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Testing Dual MD80 Clone Mini Cameras for Stereo 3D Recording

November 29th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Shooting in 3D

Getting a pair of small and relatively cheap cameras for recording stereo 3D footage sounds like a great idea, as the smaller size can allow you to record things that are normally hard to capture with a big dual camera stereoscopic 3D rig. So I went on to find a small and cheap cameras that can fit the profile and what seemed to be the best choice was the MD80 mini camera, originally by a company called AEE and after that available in many clone forms with pretty much the same image quality. You can find the original and some clones for about $40-$60 USD at Amazon or go for much cheaper clones available directly from China from eBay for less than $20 USD. As I said the image quality is pretty much the same as they both use relatively cheap CMOS sensor and the difference is in the build quality, so you can go for the cheaper clones without worrying too much. So I’ve ordered to of the cheaper MD80 clones and when they’ve arrived I was ready to start testing them. And although I did not expect too much in terms of quality from them, I was still interested to play with them a bit in different setups to see can they be used for recording decent stereo 3D footage in some situations…

Here is an example of stereo 3D video recorded with the two cameras in a Side by Side configuration with an interaxial distance of about 1 centimeter. The depth effect is not too strong, but that was not the point of the experiment. The video was recorded with both cameras fixed on a metal plate that is not moving and they were shooting mostly static objects, although they can pretty much handle well enough with not so fast moving objects. The end result was quite acceptable in this configuration, there was some timing misalignment, because of the difference in turning on the cameras by hand and not through a single button (that can be easily modified however). The footage above was edited a bit to do some vertical misalignment due to the sensors not placed at exactly the same position on both cameras and the video was then cropped a bit to remove the timestamp at the bottom right corner (something that is not so easy to match on both cameras). Now, the timestamp can be easily disabled, but only on the original cameras, the clones do not have that function, but there are some hardware and software ways that you can work around that issue. One of the possibilities is to crop the video, but with the original low resolution of 720×480 that might not be so good idea, so you can flash the firmware with a modified version, something that is not an easy thing for the average user, or instead use a Timestamp removing plugin for VirtualDub.

The problem with the MD80 cameras is that if you use them for shooting, while holding them or they are attached to a moving object like a car, you will get a lot of the negative sided that are associated with the rolling shutter of the CMOS sensor. The use of cheap CMOS sensor without stabilization is not the best choice as this means you get smear in low light conditions, skew in some panning situations and the most annoying one being the wobble you get due to vibration and movement. This pretty much makes the MD80s unusable in low light conditions or for shooting fast action scenes with the cameras moving, but considering they come quite cheap you can still find some use for them, like for example if they are going to be fixed on a static position and shoot something in stereo 3D as in the example. So they are not that bad for some experimenting, but with the not so good overall quality, SD resolution and a few other issues mentioned, they are also not a great choice for a higher quality results…

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