Evolving to a twin camera set up

written for the stereosite by Graeme Barclay, Scotland

If you are already tak­ing stereo pic­tures, well done! How­ev­er, if you desire to broad­en your hori­zons by cap­tur­ing more chal­leng­ing images, for exam­ple freez­ing motion, or cre­at­ing dra­mat­ic land­scapes, then a twin cam­era set up may be the answer.   

Like many peo­ple I start­ed in stereo pho­tog­ra­phy with my cel­lu­lar phone respec­tive­ly one cam­era, tak­ing sequen­tial stere­os. While this is ade­quate in many cir­cum­stances where there is no move­ment between the two frames, how­ev­er it is lim­it­ing. For exam­ple, back­ground move­ment, or water move­ment in rivers or the sea ruins stereo pic­tures tak­en using this method.

After three years of tra­di­tion­al pho­tog­ra­phy and hav­ing the advan­tage of work­ing along­side pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers, I soon real­ized I was look­ing to cre­ate high qual­i­ty stereo images. To do this I required two cam­eras and a means to trig­ger them in sync. I also want­ed the flex­i­bil­i­ty to have inter­change­able lens­es to enable a wide range of styles, which also pro­vides the abil­i­ty to add neu­tral den­si­ty fil­ters for long expo­sure pho­tog­ra­phy. 

Setting up

So now I have twin cam­eras. Ide­al­ly, two cam­eras exact­ly the same would be the best plan, how­ev­er, I have a Sony A6300 and a Sony A6400. These work well togeth­er. I mount­ed these togeth­er on a 30cm plate. Next, I need­ed to find a way to link them togeth­er. Sony does make a sync a cable to link these cam­eras, so trig­ger­ing one cam­era auto­mat­i­cal­ly trig­gers the oth­er. While this does work, I also need­ed to trig­ger the cam­eras remote­ly remov­ing any chance of cam­era shake. It is also much more con­ve­nient to be able to trig­ger the cam­eras from a dis­tance with­out any trail­ing cable.

This is what the entire set up looks like, includ­ing extra lens­es.

Remote control

I bought a wire­less set up on Ama­zon as well as two addi­tion­al cables. I cut off the orig­i­nal stereo jack plugs and sol­dered on an ordi­nary stereo jack cable I had. Con­nect­ing the third cable wasn’t as easy, as the colours of the wiring in this cable were dif­fer­ent from the oth­er two. I con­nect­ed an old cam­era and start­ed test­ing to see if this worked while keep­ing notes of the many failed attempts. I do not advise a tri­al and error of this type as it may dam­age your cam­era. It might be advis­able to get cables of the same type so that the colours will prob­a­bly match per­fect­ly or to seek pro­fes­sion­al or advice from your cam­era man­u­fac­tur­er. At least, all this depends much from what cam­eras and what kind of remote con­trol you include in the set up. So you might encounter some­thing sim­i­lar, hope­ful­ly you will not.

Final­ly, it all came togeth­er, and it was work­ing! I could both focus with the half press and fire with the full press of the but­ton. The elec­tron­ic shut­ter release of this type is sim­ple to use and has a pos­i­tive dis­tinc­tion between focus and shut­ter release. Final­ly, this set up allows cable release as well as wire­less release. Chang­ing from cable to wire­less could not be sim­pler. Remov­ing the jack plug from the trans­mit­ter and con­nect­ing it to the receiv­er works per­fect­ly. Instruc­tions to pair the trans­mit­ter and receiv­er are pro­vid­ed and sim­ple to fol­low.

This trans­mit­ter can either be con­nect­ed direct­ly to both cam­eras with the split­ter cable or work togeth­er with the wire­less receiv­er. The small Vel­cro tag is to keep the jack plug in place as it often drops off when left hang­ing.
This cable con­nects both cam­eras to the elec­tron­ic shut­ter release.
This receiv­er is only mount­ed on the stereo rig and con­nect­ed to the stereo cable when I want to release wire­less­ly.

Synchronisation

Now that it is all con­nect­ed, how could I make sure it was real­ly syn­chro­nized? I opened my lap­top, searched for a stop clock and let it run, focus­ing both cam­eras on the screen and fir­ing them.  My first few attempts showed there was 1/20th sec of dif­fer­ence between both cam­eras. For my approach, this was unac­cept­able. This was not only due to my using two dif­fer­ent cam­era mod­els. I began scrolling through each of the cam­era menus, mir­ror­ing every set­ting until I was suc­cess­ful. Both cam­eras were sync­ing per­fect­ly on sin­gle frame and sin­gle focus. How­ev­er, I still can’t get these to sync in con­tin­u­ous focus set­ting, silent mode or in a burst of more than one frame.

Mounting the cameras

Con­nect­ing L brack­ets to cam­eras is extreme­ly ben­e­fi­cial as this makes it eas­i­er to switch from por­trait to land­scape very quick­ly. Shoot­ing in land­scape will pro­vide more flex­i­bil­i­ty when it comes to align­ing images, espe­cial­ly for novices. My per­son­al pref­er­ence is shoot­ing in por­trait. At the point of shoot­ing I am always very care­ful with fram­ing, so I do not crop much of the pic­ture in edit­ing. 

My most recent addi­tion for stereo astro pho­tog­ra­phy is a 600cm base plate, allow­ing a far wider base where there is no close fore­ground to enhance the stereo effect. Enlarg­ing the base­line is also ben­e­fi­cial for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy.

Sony A6300 in sil­ver and a Sony A6400 (the twins) mount­ed on a base plate.

L brack­ets help to switch from por­trait to land­scape eas­i­ly.
This 600cm base plate allows to enhance the stereo effect of dis­tant objects. 

Advantages of twins 

Whilst the cel­lu­lar phone in many instances will take good qual­i­ty stereo pic­tures, which is ade­quate for social media or web­site gal­leries, there are many dis­tinct advan­tages of hav­ing a twin stereo set up for simul­ta­ne­ous stereo pho­tos.

  • Man­u­al con­trol of shut­ter speed, aper­ture, ISO and focus 
  • Aper­ture or shut­ter pri­or­i­ty or full man­u­al 
  • Freez­ing motion  
  • Con­trol­ling the depth of field 
  • Much larg­er file sizes suit­able for pro­jec­tion 
  • Shoot­ing in RAW files, allow­ing deep­er post edit­ing 
  • Mul­ti­ple lens­es, from tele­pho­to to super fish­eye wide angle 
  • Able to use Neu­tral den­si­ty fil­ters enabling very long expo­sures  
  • Gra­di­ent fil­ters for when the sky is too bright 
  • Con­nect­ing to an exter­nal flash 

All that said, I am no way dis­miss­ing the unique flex­i­bil­i­ty of shoot­ing stereo using the cel­lu­lar phone. Its cam­eras are con­tin­u­ing to improve. Your phone is always with you. There are many apps for align­ing and edit­ing stereo images, the screen size allows for instant free-view­ing, and post­ing on social media is extreme­ly quick and easy.

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Graeme Barclay (Edinburgh, Scotland)

At this point, I’ve been tak­ing dig­i­tal pho­tographs for a lit­tle over three years and stereo pho­tog­ra­phy for around six months. I’m employed with­in the finan­cial sec­tor but have had many years expe­ri­ence in hydraulic engi­neer­ing and over­com­ing tech­ni­cal issues.

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