I apologize for the delay in publishing parts 2 & 3 of this article. Our dear friend and mentor M Henry Jones was informing me on part 2 of this article and was to be featured heavily in it, but M. Henry Jones passed away in June of this year. It has been an emotionally stressful undertaking to continue writing it without his knowledge, wisdom, humor & friendship.
I was up in Newton, Massachusetts about a month ago for the PHSNE Show (the Photographic Historical Society of New England), tagging along with my boyfriend and his father to buy, sell & seep up as much camera history & culture as I possibly could. Please check out my previous posts here and here for more details on the show & my finds.
At the show, my boyfriend happened upon a trio of twinned cameras rigs with some very simple, but rather ingenious, mechanical designs for shutter syncing.
Here are the three 3D rigs, as seen at the vendors table at the show.
These unique rigs and their mechanical modifications have since, impressed upon me a newfound interest into the history of twin rigs and the roles they have played in the history of stereo-photography. Even moreso then the rigs themselves, I am interested in discovering information about the tools and techniques that stereographers have developed throughout the years to capture simultaneous pairs of photographic images with them for stereoscopic viewing.
Twin rigs can employ pairs of nearly any two cameras ever designed for single photographic capturing. I suspect that they have contributed immensely to stereographys short but incredibly diverse and robust history of three dimensional image making. The extent to which they have actually contributed ultimately remains an invisible history within the broader history of stereo photography. There are few references solely dedicated to the twin rig, their makers, or to the tools and techniques developed for their use. This is ultimately the base of my new research and my inquiries are the locus of this article.
Twin-rigging typically begins with acquiring two cameras that are as identical as possible. Persons who are very serious about their twin rigs even take it to another level beyond simply procuring the same make and model of camera. Their acquisitions get tightly focused even further into matching the optical elements to an even more exacting measure. Lenses are matched far beyond just their mere focal lengths. Serial numbers are researched in efforts to match as closely as possible two lenses manufactured from the same factory, from the in the same production run, from the same run of coatings received by the lenses. All this is a preemptive measure on their part. An effort to narrow down as far as possible, the likelihood of the glass to match with the most precisely identical outputs as to minimize any resulting problems in post, such as editing, matching, windowing and aligning resulting images for stereo format outputting and ultimately viewing ease.
To my knowledge, no commercial manufacturer of consumer cameras has ever retailed two together for the explicit purpose of twinning for stereo shooting.
Essentially, two general categories of twin rigs exist- production quality & home made. Multimillion dollar twin rigs, built for the explicit purposes of professional needs, such as the professional rigs that filmed stereoscopic 3D blockbuster hits like Avatar. The resulting films are prized for their 3D clarity, 3D communicability and 3D view- ability by of audiences of all ages worldwide.
The average stereo-photographer can also afford to build their own twin rigs to their specifications, budget and capabilities. The vast majority of twin rigs in stereoscopy’s collected history are home made apparatuses. Since all stereographers face essentially the same challenges in post, the cameras are rigged together with the most exactness and precision possible available to them and within their budgets.
There are some standards that do exist in the pro-consumer category, such as those set by the digital cinematic capture line manufacturered by maker Black Magic. Their standardizations made stereoscopic pairings of cameras possible and with the offered luxury of the greatest deal of ease, especially that of a rig of that magnitude offers. They have automatic hardware recognition designed specifically for stereoscopic and multiscopic synchronization, and it is the only example I can think of for pre-designed Stereoscopic shooting for single capture consumer products. https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicpocketcinemacamera
Barring Black Magic (GoPro’s as well, are also notoriously used for stereo and multi-syncing capabilities), the variety and differences between each and every individual twin rig that I’ve come across is incredible! It is a testimony to humankind’s endless creative and inventive signature that each and every contribution to the history of stereo photography is thus signed with. Each and every rig is not only different in it’s design and paired choice of cameras, they often apply new way of thinking to solve the shutter syncing problem. It has so far, been a wonderful history to study and I’ve only just begun to peek into it.
There are of course, both pros and cons to twin rigs.
The pro’s are the level of control a stereographer has when capturing their stereo image, the option “towing in” (which is a debatable capture technique among many stereo-experts), the ability to adjust the baselines between the two cameras, the ability for lens choice to shoot closer or further away subjects with exacting depth specifications and the ability choose output format, lens focal length, shoot for macro or hyper applications, the ability to shoot multi stereos involved in lenticular imagery and even holography. I can go on and on for quite some time just talking about many the many pros involved in twin rigging. In fact when I listed them on paper, the pros columns were many and they towered over the few scribbled words in the cons column.
The trade off interestingly enough, is a big & powerful con, in fact, I refer to it as the twin-riggers’ only natural enemy. It has just as much as an impact in itself as all the pros do listed together. There is a single main trade off -and this particular con of twin rigging is the enormous caveat- how to synchronize the shutters?
How to capture a single moment of exposure shared between two separate machines?
Finger syncing, (at least when referencing stereography) is the action of pressing two shutters on two separate cameras at once and as simultaneously as humanly possible. It is an action that has been repeated by stereo-photographers throughout history in an attempt to mimic the simultaneous shuttering a manufactured stereo camera is designed to posses. We have, throughout stereo photography’s history, used dual camera set ups. We still do it now,-with the technology that defines the past 20 years- the smartphone! This is not a “history” in its past tense of the words form, it is our ACTIVE HISTORY, still being used today and we’re always developing new ideas and new methods and techniques and even new means and ways to capture imagery.
The history of the most tried and true technique- the history of finger syncing, that is- is something I admittedly don’t know much about. I’ve honestly never really given it much thought until I discovered the twin rigs that inspired this article. I’m only a few weeks into my research and my new found interest in it has grown immensely and grows still with every word I type in this post.
I’m wondering with whom this technique might have originated? What was the first photographic stereo image produced from this method, or at least what is the oldest we know of? How many techniques and devices were created to produce simultaneous captures from two separate cameras in our individually collected history? Are there instructional, DIY type articles to be to found on creating a twin rig in early notable journals such as published by the London Photographic Society in the mid 1800s? Or, Perhaps the technique originally originated in France?
I suddenly find myself asking a lot of questions on this subject and suppose my research on the matter has only begun in earnest.
Perhaps the answers to these questions are all commonly known to my fellow stereo-historians and researchers, or to my stereo-friends, colleagues, & mentors (who hopefully won’t ever tire of me querying them as often as I do) please, contact me with any applicable information you possibly can. I thank you for your troubles in advance.. Rest assured, as soon as I find out any concrete answers, I’ll be sure to follow through with an addendum to update to this post or perhaps even another article and written chapter.
the Brownie rig.
The Brownie rig happened to be purchased by my good friend and fellow stereo-historian, my Senior, Ron Labbe. He has since displayed it prominently in a lighted case in the Church of the Third Dimension among other notable items in his stereo collection. To those reading this who know Ron, or know of the lore of the Church of 3-D, I hope this tidbit of information will impress upon you the significance that this artifact commands both in its lighted display case as well as in our collected history.
The Brownie rig is a pair of Brownies housed in a wooden box. The box itself is painted flat black inside and out and has a hinge at its bottom- a drop front- which swings open and down at the front and exposes the cameras’ pair of lenses to the world. On the inside of the box’s front lid, circular indentations are milled out and gradually stepped further and further into the wood. Those two indentations are allowances for the lenses on the two cameras when snapping the box lid shut. Inside the box, the two cameras are affixed at the bottom- I forget how at the moment (of course front cover of a brownie simply slides off to load and unload film) and there is a small section on the right hand side divided separately from the two cameras with a small piece of wood. This space remains empty as it was built with exactly enough room to allow your finger to depress the shutter of the camera on the right side without having to remove the pair from a its box to depress the shutter. A great deal of thought an effort obviously went into the creation of this twin-rig and it was very much created for the explicit purpose of stereo shooting. That’s why me and Labbe were looking at it in the first place.
Of course, the ingenious design of this stereo-rig is the bent metal rod that is threaded through a guide attached to the bottom of the box, which simultaneously depresses the shutter of the LEFT camera the moment that the shutter of the camera on the RIGHT is depressed. Essentially, it is an early, dual shutter device invented to circumvent the need for “finger syncing” both cameras at once. With the stroke of just one single finger, both shutters are engaged and near simultaneous exposures result. It’s simple.. and elegant.. and archaic.. and from the looks of it, was most likely quite effective at creating a stereo pair that would be extremely viewable.
The .gif posted above illustrating it’s mechanics in action. As you can see, it shutters both cameras simultaneously (or at least as far as the eye can tell, obviously a shutter tester would be necessary to know the actual timing of the two, but I’m sure for all intents and purposes, it did the trick).
There was a note displayed in the hinged front of the cameras’ box. A piece of card, yellowed from time, torn on one corner above a diagonal crease from a previous fold. The fold line creates a margin in which information was carefully written in pencil, scribed diagonally along the crease. In both cursive penmanship and block lettering the following words can be read:
Just an aside: If anyone reading this knows of any information about a stereographer, photographer, tinkerer or machinist named Malcom J Littlefield or can come forward with any other pertinent information about this stereo camera set up, please respond in the comment box at the end of this article or send me an email. A quick search on the internet has not yielded any additional information. I don’t believe Ron Labbe, who is one of the first stereo-historians I would have checked in with on a matter such as this in the first place, is also unaware of whom Malcom Littlefield is in the realm of stereo-photography. I’m sure we would both be delighted in finding out more about the maker and users of this twin rig or any confirmable stereo images produced by it.ilicia benoit, author and investigator of this article 🙂 please feel free to contact me.
There were two other twin camera rigs on the table offered for sale from the same vendor. These rigs both housed pairs of a much more modern camera, an iconic 35mm film point & shoot from the late 80s, to be exact. These two rigs shared between them, a foursome of the Ricoh AF40’s. I failed to ask the vendor any additional information about their purchase- the geographic location they were purchased at, weather it was from an estate sale or erroneous items from a private collector, etc. There are a pair of warranty cards included in one of the boxes. Each card bears similar penmanship and has a sparse amount of information filled in.An unknown retailer, a town I must look up and a turn of phrase that confirm the intended purposes of these cameras to these cards. 3-D. Their serial numbers are 3 digits apart! This is an excellent crop of stereo camera.
Either way, at the end of the camera show, the AF-40 landscape and portrait rigs were both in my possession and here they are, again, in all their twin-rigged glory. Take them in.
Now then, I cannot confirm yet at all, who Malcom J Littlefield was and if he is the maker or user of these rigs. Even though the note in the Brownie rig mentions his name, it is merely a starting point for further research- although obviously Malcom J Littlefield is the only lead I’m currently researching 🙂 I have no actual or factual information on the maker or designer of ANY of these rigs. This is my job as a researcher of “stereoscopic varieties”..
When I purchased them, it was for reasons entirely unrelated to their previous users or makers or my newfound interest in the history of twin rigging and twin rig shooting techniques. I purchased them for their ingenious, homemade design sensibility as well as their potential continued usability. My interest, in finding their maker and in the history of this specific technique was quite sudden. It has been very much peaked though, so to speak, because of cumulative diversity in their individual design’s. I don’t think they have been categorized recently, I certainly have found very little on twin rigs, but the differences and varieties that I have already found are simply in-numerous.
Were these designed and machined together by Malcom J Littlefield as well? I still can’t rightly say at this point, although I have discovered additional clues. Inside the lid of the cardboard box which housed the landscape rig I purchased was a pad of fabric on which cushioned the rig. I removed it to search for more clues- and I did! Underneath the pad of fabric, written in black magic marker and ball point pen on the inside of the lid, reads the following:
If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face I don’t know what will… :). An aside at the side of this is written “Batteries will last for 2,500 pictures (no flash) or 250 (with flash)”
I’ve not tested it myself but I’m aught to believe what this box lid tells me, there may have a lot of truth to it.
There were still rolls in the portrait style (vertical) rig but they were only loaded and never shot. Batteries have leaked in both cameras though and have corroded the battery compartments to the point that the film had to be removed in a darkroom My boyfriend Sam had the rolls processed and they were both blank. I’ll write more on the portrait rig in Part 2 of this article.
the landscape rig- with Ricoh AF-40’s
In the meantime, let’s look at this landscape rig, is coupled together on a simple homemade rail fashioned from an “L” bracket and has a coupled shutter fashioned from a metal handle. It is exactly the type of handle you would find on an old dresser drawer, in fact I believe my grandmother had this exact handle on the drawer of her nightstand when I was a child. A screw secures a nut at two points at each side of the handle and they depresses both the shutter buttons on both the cameras at once. The tip of the end of each screw can be driven further into or out from the handle allowing for any minor adjustments to be made to have each end strike level and true, engaging simultaneous exposures from a coupled pair of cameras with a single stroke.
This rig happened to be my favorite of the three, I’m happy I came home with it. I’ve taken it out of the box and carried it around the house by its handle like a handbag, posing with it in my bathroom mirror, wondering what outfit I own will pair best with it because I plan to wear it out everywhere this summer. After a quick cleanup & fresh batteries, the cameras were very much, good to go. They arefirmly attached to a very simple rail, fashioned from a flat steel bar with holes for the 1/4 20 screws drilled in. It has a patina that seems uniform throughout its findings and a layer of dirt is expectedly caked evenly around the cameras and their furnishings. I imagine that perhaps once these cameras were coupled that they stayed coupled and the rig may be as it is now-as it was originally designed and built- so said the inside of the box lid, back in 1982.
I live-streamed some video of breaking down the landscape rig and basic camera operation in the videos below, which are archived on my Instagram account
I only briefly mentioned earlier that there were two warranty cards belonging to the cameras that were included in the box . They were dated May 17, 1985.
The serial numbers of the cameras on the warranties are only 3 digits apart.
These cameras were most certainly purchased for the explicit purpose of stereo shooting. I’d bet my reputation on it.
The portrait rig, is certainly the most modern of all three. It most likely had been machined by a professional in a shop. It is constructed from a lightweight aluminum or alloy, with weight-lessening holes punched out throughout the rig (which I believe is a construction technique which also strengthens the metals integrity) and has an ergonomic, vertical grip hold on the left side. I will be writing more on the portrait rig in Part 2 of this article.
While my knowledge about the origins of twin rigs and synced shuttering might be a bit short sighted to say the least, I do know for a fact that it is a tried and true method used by stereographers throughout history and in fact is a very popular method still in use today by novice and professional stereogtapher alike.
One of the most notable purveyors of this technique is also one of the most celebrated stereographers in the world today. David Hazan, is a contemporary stereographer who creates anaglyph formatted stereographs in a traditional red/blue complimentary color scheme. Until recently, his prolific body of work was captured on a pair of Sony RX-1’s mounted on a simple rail with hand grips and captured using the finger syncing technique. Here are some of my personal favorites from his online portfolio that spans over 7 years.
David’s body of work is enormous and it crosses the nearly impenetrable 3D-2D visual media barrier. It is beautiful and human and is loved by a vast majority of everyone who’so sees it. I would check out his Instagram, here @dddhazan or his Flickr page here. Grab yourself a pair of anaglyph glasses and immerse yourself in his amazing portfolios of work.
Sam and I speak regularly with David and sat down with him a little over a year ago after dinner one night in Highlight Studio at The Penumbra Foundation. We spoke of the pertinent 3-D topics of the day, his shooting technique, the need for manufacturers to consider building a new quality digital stereo camera and the bizarre absence of artist control of intended format & presentation of stereoscopic images in the stereoscopic communities. An audio recording of this conversation will be posted with permissions granted, shortly.
David now shoots with a new rig with a custom electronic dual shutter, but the vast majority of his work (and all the work posted above) were created with the rig pictured above and below. His technique?
As this article is a bit long, I am dividing it into two parts. This concludes Part 1 of “INVISIBLE GIANTS-The Untold History of the Twin Rig & Shutter Syncing”
I hope you are looking forward to Part 2 & 3, which will be published shortly.
All words & imagery by: ilicia benoit, unless otherwise noted.
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