Take photos to a new dimension

We spend a lot of our time here at Macworld trying to find ways to make Mac users more productive. In fact, you might say it’s our mission. So we tend to be drawn to products that promise to make our daily lives easier—system utilities, photo editors, business software, storage devices, and the like. In the end, it doesn’t leave us a lot of time for the wackier stuff that sometimes crosses our desks—the one-trick ponies and minor diversions aimed squarely at having a little fun.

But every so often, someone takes one of these one-trick ponies and gussies it up with such gusto and attention to detail that we can’t help but be curious. We just have to see what all the excitement is about.

Which brings me to Mission 3-D’s Photo 3-D 303 kit.

The Photo 3-D 303 kit lets you create stereoscopic images called anaglyphs —photos that appear three-dimensional when viewed through red and blue lenses. To create the 3-D effect, you have to take two photos of the same scene from slightly different positions. The idea is to mimic the way our eyes work; the left eye sees a slightly different scene than the right one does. Software then applies red and blue filters to each image and overlaps them. The colored lenses in the glasses then encourage your brain to recombine the photo, producing the illusion of depth.

Now, Mission 3-D isn’t the only company to offer software that will help you turn two images into an anaglyph. However, it is the first I’ve seen that solves the fundamental problem of moving the camera. See, in the process of having to slide the camera slightly to the left between photos, you also have to be careful not to move it forwards, backwards, or change angles. Good luck pulling that off.

Rather than leaving you to your own devices, however, Photo 3-D includes a camera attachment with a sliding track. You simply screw your camera on and use the built in guides to determine how far to slide your camera between shots. The kit even includes a small tripod if you don’t already have your own.

Back at your Mac, you download the photos from your camera, open the Photo 3-D software, and drag each image onto the appropriate frame. The software automatically combines the images into an anaglyph. You can use the editing tools to reposition the images if needed (be sure to wear the included red/blue glasses while editing to get it right). Then print.

The kit comes with a nice pair of plastic red/blue glasses for yourself, eight pairs of flimsier paper glasses that you can distribute to others, and a silver cardboard photo frame that holds yet another pair of glasses for sending off that special photo to someone else. All in all, it’s an impressive package.

Now, unless you’re a scientist recording uncharted territory such as Mars, there’s not much practical use for anaglyphs. Without the special 3-D glasses, your photos aren’t just ugly—they’re headache inducing. And despite the company’s optimistic suggestions that insurance agents use anaglyphs to document accidents, I have trouble seeing such photos taking off in the professional world. But then, that’s not the point. Sometimes software is just about having fun.

If you’re looking for a conversation piece at your next party and you happen to have $129 burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to check it out.

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