Sunday, May 5, 2013

View Master 3D Memories

Third dimensional nostalgia

While poking around an old carton from the past, I discovered a long lost friend; No, not some art book from grade school, but a cherished toy. A View Master and a dusty bag full of old but great sceneries - from the Atlantic ocean to the mysterious Egyptian Pyramids, from the Inca caves to some volcano in Fiji, from the moon to the Amazon forests and a lot more to activate and flood my nostalgia buttons.

Many of us remember the View-Master from childhood, but few remember its extra dimension of depth. For those curious or have never heard or seen a view master, it a photographic reel in a cardboard disc containing 7 pairs of miniature slide film images - 14 total film chips per reel. When placed in a View-Master viewer, each image in each pair gets presented separately to each eye. Somewhere inside the brain, these images combine to produce one 3-D image. The images on View-Master reels are taken with a special dual-lensed camera whose lenses are spaced 2.5 inches apart; roughly the distance between two eyes. 

While View-Master cameras are no longer made today, they can be found on Ebay and other used markets for various prices depending on the model. Although they take regular 35MM slide film, you’d still need to shell out roughly some top dollars for a View-Master film cutter if you wanted to pursue View-Master photography as a hobby. 

Luckily, there are cheaper 3-D cameras out there on the used market - mostly cameras from the 50’s, when 3-D had a more enthusiastic audience.. While it’s far from being interactive, one could still say that the View-Master, and stereoscopic photography generally, was a good first stab at Virtual Reality. The realism of stereo photography is striking; especially when (a) it’s in color - most of us have only viewed black and white "anaglyphic" images with those red and blue glasses, (b) it’s done with slide film where you peer into a viewer in front of a light source - this pulls you dramatically into a picture, and (c) the subject matter of the images is itself striking. From the 1940’s to the 1970’s, View-Master photographers set out to conquer the world - stereoscopically that is. 

A variety of foreign and domestic travel reels were produced, but many can only be found today at garage sales and antique shops. Luckily for us, however, some of these reels are still being reprinted. Those who really dig the View-Master experience may want to hunt down older viewers with glass lenses, the ability to set the focus, and internal illumination with a battery powered light bulb. While viewers can sometimes be found in toy stores, I’ve yet to see any of the "scenic" reels in stores.Until then, I'll hook on to my new found collection.


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