Introduction
People of the web, I give you the David White Co. Stereo Realist. In the wise words of Big Lez, this camera is fuckn' skitz mate. For some reason you, my dear reader, are getting the conclusion first. I'm handing you the beans. The climax has come, a little too early, and now here we are. 
Realist. An important word to consider. I secretly pride myself in being a broker of realism, a vessel of truths that consider the universe and my place in it. I feel very comfortable in my understanding of why and how what is, is. I've seen and done a fair bit of shit and it's not all that often something breathtaking occurs, especially regarding cameras, until recently. I came across a series of stereoscopic photographs taken by Harold Lloyd, one of the great-three silent movie actors from the 20s. The London Stereoscopic Society have a great selection of them here. The photographs that I am referring to specifically deal with the Lloyd family Christmas tree, and his daughter Gloria. Breathtaking doesn't even cut it. I was in Lloyd's fucking living room with a twenty-foot fully loaded Christmas tree. I was experiencing the stereoscopic images using a homemade stereo viewer I cobbled together using an old pair of binoculars and even at that low a resolution, they were astoundingly visceral images that were simply ALIVE. ​​​​​​​
I had to know what camera these were taken on, the last time I'd seen something so incredible was when I projected the E6-process slides I've shot over the last decade in a dim room onto a sixty-inch screen. My soul grew a little bit that day, and it was the same with this. After what seemed like seconds of research, I had found out that Lloyd had been one of the largest advocates, or in modern terms 'influencer' behind the Stereo Realist, and had amassed an archive of hundreds of thousands of stereo-images covering Hollywood, and particularly the Beverly Hills area of his estate, as well as behind the scenes documentary shots, portraits including Monroe, and everything else one could imagine. Five days, one eC*nt purchase and one deeply saddening story behind how the camera came to be for sale, I had a Stereo Realist 3D camera. This camera was in excellent condition and had been restored by a former David White Co. engineer called Zak. It was intended to be used for a fella's university project but unfortunately, for whatever reason, no more university projects ever came to be from this particular guy, or any other projects, and his parents sold it. Any camera that comes to me in this sort of way is a life-keeper out of respect (like my FE2). Genesis out of the way, this is my experience with the David White Co. Stereo Realist camera (yes you have to say the whole fucking name whenever talking out loud, don't @ me). 
Quality & Price
The Realist is a pretty modestly priced camera considering what it is and what it does. This is largely down to the versatility of the format versus standard formats such as 24x36 35mm. For example, any lab in the country can handle standard 35mm frames without issue, many of them, however, get fucked in the mouth when it comes to weird frame sizes, sprocket hole exposure and other bastardised methods of image capture. The realist gives you 29 stereo pairs on a 36 roll, which in my opinion, is pretty damn good. Yes, there is a decrease in mm² film area, but that does not seem to matter as much as one would assume. Image quality yielded from the f/3.5 David White Anastigmat lenses is very good, especially when stopped down. The brain of the viewer of stereo images seems to take a slightly different approach to realise high-quality images in three-dimensional space than regular images. I seem to find that when I am viewing a 3D image that is slightly out of focus or has undesirable traits such as motion blur or other oddities, my brain seems to make up for these deficiencies, and these otherwise problematic traits that spoil 2D images do not have the same subtractive effect when viewed in 3D space, rather quite the opposite. But I digress, the lenses are pretty damn good. The build quality of the Realist? I think you may be starting to realise I have a pretty hard, sorry, soft spot for this camera. The build is excellent. It feels great, looks great, many will disagree, but I say you are wrong. Look at the Realist's buggy little face and try not to fall in love. 2020 was hard, but be patient and allow yourself to be vulnerable again. 🙏🏻
To sum up the price/quality debate: worth the money, no doubt, but see the note below regarding scanning and projecting, it requires a fair bit of work and there are hidden costs in the true usability of the Stereo Realist. Especially if you intend to view the images as was originally intended on a silver screen in their three dimensional, wondrous glory. N.B. Concerning the frame spacing, they don't line up correctly with standard 35mm spacing lines. Many auto scanners like the Fuji SP2000 will shit their pants unless you go frame by frame. So that's what you've gotta do. It isn't too bad, you've just got to do a bit of clever photoshop actions work to save yourself bucket loads of time (automate your shit people) and get the pairs together (BEWARE! left is right and right is left, thank me later). Then you're ready to view on a digital screen as a pair OR project in 3D on a silver screen, which is fucking awesome. Beware, however, it requires quite a lot of work, either digital or analogue, to project 3D Realist images, as well as costing quite a lot of money, far more than the upfront cost of the camera itself. If you think that print/screen stereo photography is astounding though, wait until you see it projected on a silver screen! It is, without doubt, the most worthwhile experience in photography to see an image you have taken of something in 2021 projected onto a silver screen. It's like déjà vu but from a third-person perspective. An honestly unique experience that I recommend to everyone. If you can't be bothered to shoot some images like this yourself, come see my show later in the year. 
Controls & Layout​​​​​​​
Fiddly? Maybe a little, I won't lie to you and say it handles like *insert-your-favourite-camera-here* but it is fully workable and does not fall into the category of 'not useable, it's a literal piece of shite' which is always nice. Winding, cocking, firing, aperture, shutter speed, and focusing all occur independently of one another which can lead to one or two accidental double exposures if you completely ignore what the camera is screaming at you. A little hole in the top plate of the camera tells you where you're at, red means no, silver means go. Happy days. It's a bit fiddly, it's got the split image type range finder popular with the U.S. made rangefinder cameras such as the Ektra, which I fuck with. Focusing is achieved via a rotating dial on the right-hand side of the camera which certainly takes a little getting used to. There is literature out there that shows the correct position of holding a Stereo Realist with a weird sort of crab-like claw manoeuvre. Next to the split image viewfinder window, there is a separate viewfinder window for composition, which is extremely well implemented in this camera. The viewing lens sits between the two taking lenses, which allows for parallax-free framing which is an incredibly simple yet effective design. David White, slaying it. The camera winds on using a dial on the user's right located in a recess adjacent to the top plate, with a button that allows you to override the wind lock and continue on your merry way to the next shot when required. Which is immediately after you've just taken a shot. Just do it. Thank me later. 

The shutter mechanism, as mentioned earlier, is not connected to the winding system, so make sure you wind on after you've taken a shot if you don't wish to accidentally cause a double exposure (though double exposures in 3D are mind-bendingly good fun, as discussed later on). You cock the shutter with a little lever that pokes out between the lenses, it feels a little fragile and probably is. The shutter speed is changed using a dial that surrounds the viewing lens which also feels very fragile and again, probably is. I think you're supposed to set the shutter speed before you cock the camera, at least that's what I do. Mine really doesn't seem to like it if I don't. In various forums and literature, I have found several people to suggest that there is supposed to be a little resistance when the shutter speed selection dial is rotated either way over the 1/25s mark, which my copy does. This is completely normal and is simply a symptom of the shutter speed mechanism, so don't panic if your copy does too, it's not fucked. 
EDIT: Since the time of writing I have acquired and handled a few more Stereo Realist cameras. The later models released had red dots relating to the perfect hyperfocal distance, aperture, and shutter speed for 3D images on the standard colour film used in the 50s and early 60s. In addition to this, they also have strange little pull-out knobs on the rear left of the camera. This is used to activate the new double-exposure mode, as revisions in design added a double-exposure prevention system which prevented the shutter button from being depressed after an initial exposure had been taken. Feels a little crude, however.
Rewinding the camera is a slow and agonising process that could have been easily improved in pretty much any way, including replacing the dial with electrified razorblades. But many great cameras come with their unique caveats, and with 29 shots per roll on a 36 standard, you are not going to be changing film as frequently as say a Fuji GW690. There's a plus right there!  The aperture value is easily changed by rotating the lens to the correct aperture value desired by the user. The lens aperture mechanism is interlinked, and both irises contract and expand simultaneously which is always pretty mad to watch after a fat one. The lens' aperture values range from f/3.5 to f/22 or from f/2.8 on the more exotic lenses used on the Stereo Realist model 1042 or f/2.8 rare earth lenses on the 1050 custom. Neither of which I can afford. Stopping down the lenses a little allows one to shoot quickly and easily using the hyperfocal distancing scale conveniently included on the inside of the lens protection cover for one's leisure. 
Using the Camera in the Field
Using this camera in the field can be, bizarrely, whatever kind of experience you want it to be. Just be aware that is going to be somewhat linked to the results you are trying to achieve. For example, you can run and gun with this camera, not a worry. It can be quick, carefree, and you'll still likely achieve great results, even if things aren't perfect, the 3D effect of the images can be so immersive that your brain just seems to make sense of it all and it just works. However, if you're looking for something pretty sharp, with a deep-set depth of field, especially in challenging light, it can be a very slow and purposeful journey to making that final desired image. I have to really think about things, and in the correct order, to achieve that crisp and life-like 3D immersive image I yearn for, reminiscent of Lloyd's Christmas Tree slides shot on Ektachrome, all those decades ago.  
Another factor to consider is lighting, I often find that the addition of a flash adds much to a photograph. The hot shoe is a bit of a bitch. It has this 'lump' type terminal connection that seems to only work with the camera's original flash system, which seems to be almost entirely flash-bulb dependant or incredibly rare. I've heard of a fair few people simply filing off the lump and reporting completely normal manual hot shoe triggering off the centre contact with no issue whatsoever. I haven't taken a file to my Realist yet, but when I do, I will update this review to reflect the results. I say will, as I want to make better use of flash in my stereoscopic work and hot shoe compatibility is a must. I would love to shoot flashbulbs all day but that solution does not offer repeatable longevity and I prefer the 'feel' of the flash to be consistent across the entire body of work if possible. Flashbulbs are far better though. Once the learning curve has been ridden the user is left to find the Realist entirely unobtrusive in operation and is a stellar performer in the field.
Viewing the Results
As mentioned earlier, double exposures in 3D can be extremely interesting and bizarrely effective. The viewer's eye can easily discern between the layers, and objects that exist at the same depth seem to meld together. I will be exploring this concept in future 3D photographic endeavours with great focus, especially when combining portraits together, or with different environments. Shooting a model against a black background, then shooting a landscape, for example, could yield some exciting and unusual concepts. 
The only slight issue one may face when embarking on their own personal Stereo Realist love affair are the means to view the breathtaking results. Again, I don't mean to sound like a 1950s camera advertisement, but the 3D output of the Realist is so substantially different to conventional 35mm photography that breathtaking seems like a fucking injustice. Anyway, moving forwards, viewing these stereo pairs can be a bit of a bitch. You actually need additional tools at your disposal, which many consider being the formats largest drawback. Yes, I know things like the Nintendo 3DS use correction-free methods of 3D implication, but I don't have that. I came across a newspaper article from the 1950s written by a journalist who had spent some time in Moscow. He alluded to a method of 3D cine-projection he saw utilised in the city that achieved full 3D immersion without the need for any type of additional lenses or spectacles to work. I suspect that the technology used was a large scale parallax barrier with some sort of method for increasing the angle of view to accommodate cinema-style seating and a larger audience than the individual. Not pertinent to this review, but of great interest none the less. I use two different viewing methods, one of which is far from ideal, the other requires a specific film to be used and mounted in 5p slide mounts that are as rare as rocking horse shit. 
3D print viewers are the first method of allowing the photographer to see their work in 3D space, some allow for the viewing of stereo pairs up to 12" in height or more, which is pretty damn good and is quite immersive. Other types of handheld viewers allow for the viewing of much smaller pairs, or stereo slides, similar but far superior to the Viewmaster viewer system. The second, and my preferred method is the projection onto a silver screen of anodised aluminium. I use a Hawk model III projector from the 1960s, finished in a stunning beige hammer-tone I must add. The downside: you gotta shoot slide film. I love slide film, and can dev my own E6 in the studio, but sometimes I just can't be bothered, and I just send it away. You can project colour and black and white neg for sure, but you just get a 3D negative image. It sounds cool but the novelty wears off fast. When you finally have it all together though, it is simply incredible. There are not the words in the entirety of the English language to adequately translate the sense of transportation a well-projected stereo slide can imbibe. Digital 3D projection will likely be where I land, allowing me to shoot all types of film, scan, and then project using tandem 4K digital projectors. This allows a greater degree of creative freedom and is far easier to manage larger libraries of stereo work for viewing, but is going to be fucking expensive. This will hopefully be how I project my 3D project later in the year if possible. 
Conclusion
I usually have a balanced conclusion, or at least a fair amount to say, but I've already been writing for ages and what more is there to say? I said at the start that I had blown the metaphorical load and I wasn't lying to you. But, if you need me to say it again: in summary, this camera is shit-hot, the results are fucking astounding, but you gotta work for it. There are many hidden costs to both your time and your wallet. Is it worth it? That be on you. But honestly, I think yes.​​​​​​​
Back to Top