Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 dual-lens 3D shooter to sell for $500

Previewed at the IFA 2011 show in Germany in September, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1 is a new 3D-capable compact point-and-shoot camera available just in time for the holidays.

By most accounts, the economy is still in the doldrums, but camera manufacturers seem to think some of us have money to burn, coming out with niche-market point-and-shooters with high-end price tags just in time for the holiday season. First there was the admittedly cool but pricey Lytro Light Field Camera (starting at about $400), and now Panasonic seems to think folks will be willing to plunk down $500 for the ability to snapshoot in 3D.

The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1, first announced at IFA 2011, follows in the footsteps of the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 (and its predecessor the Real 3D W1), with a dual-lens/dual-sensor design that produces 3D and 2D still images as well as 3D or 2D HD video. Selling for $100 more than the $400 Fujifilm 3D W3, the 3D1 is a step up from the Fujifilm model (which is just over a year old and ripe for an update). Though it's slimmer and lighter than the 3D W3, the Panasonic 3D1 sports a similar design, using two 4x zoom lenses with folded optics as well as a sliding front-panel lens cover. I prefer Panasonic's use of wider-angle zoom lenses (25-100mm equivalent for 2D stills, 30-120mm for 3D stills, and 27-108mm for video).

Both cameras have similarly small sensors (1/2.3-inches, which are typical for compact cameras), but the Panasonic delivers 12.8 megapixel images vs. the Fujifilm's 10 megapixels. More megapixels on a same-size sensor would typically mean poorer low-light image quality, but Panasonic opted to use "high-sensitivity MOS" sensors, which may mitigate any loss in quality.

Like the Fujifilm, the Panasonic can shoot two 2D images at once, each using a different angle of view with independently controlled zoom functions, and the Panasonic can even shoot 12-megapixel 2D photos and 1080i full-HD 2D videos simultaneously.  It's also much speedier, with the ability to shoot 8 fps in continuous shooting mode.

The biggest difference between the cameras, though, is the Panasonic's full touch-screen operation. The screen itself is a 460,000-dot 3.5-inch touch screen (whereas the Fujifilm has a higher-resolution lenticular display) and most of the cameras features are accessed through the touch-screen menus. There are no mode dials or rocker buttons--in fact, save for the shutter button, zoom lever, on/off switch, dedicated video button, and a 2D-3D toggle switch, there are no external controls to speak of. The dual-lens shooting options, for example, put the touch screen to good use, allowing you to touch on the image preview for each lens and control the zoom on each independently and intuitively.

The 3D1 also sports the usual assortment of point-and-shoot features, such as Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, with optical image stabilization, AF tracking, automatic scene selection, face recognition, and automatic/intelligent ISO control and exposure. There's even an Intelligent Handheld Nightshot feature, that layers multiple consecutively shot images to create brighter night scenery shots.

While you can't view 3D images on the camera itself, you can view 3D photos and videos on Panasonic Viera 3D TV and Blu-ray Disc players that support the AVCHD format.

The 3D1 will be available in December for $499.99.

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