Stereo Cameras  –  Vintage Camera Type

Typical Stereo Camera Traits

Construction: metal
Lens Quality: medium to high
User Controls: comprehensive

Stereo Camera Characteristics

Stereo cameras are characterized by having two or more taking lenses that are capable of simultaneously recording multiple photographs—all from slightly different perspectives—of the same scene (the distinction of having multiple taking lenses excludes twin lens reflex cameras from this category because although TLRs have two lenses, one of them is used only for composition). Once recorded, the images can then be viewed through a special device (typically referred to as a stereoscope) which will simulate a three dimensional scene.

Although stereoscopy was first invented by Englishman Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, the Scottish physicist and mathematician David Brewster is typically credited with applying that knowledge and inventing the stereo camera in 1849. However, stereo photography would not become popular until the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London when French photographer Jules Duboscq so impressed Queen Victoria with the concept that news spread like wildfire. Over half a million stereoscopes were sold over the next five years, marking the first wave of popularity for stereo photography.

While viewing stereoscopic photographs was popular, the masses were unable to easily make their own images until the turn of the century when stereo cameras became readily available to the public. Cameras like the Kodak Stereo Brownie, Voigtländer Stereflektoskop, and the Rollei Heidoscop grew in popularity as stereo photography enjoyed a resurgence.

Stereo cameras became trendy again in the middle of the 20th century when models such as the Stereo Realist, Revere Stereo 33, and Kodak Stereo became fashionable once again. Many of the companies that made these cameras also offered matching stereoscopes as well as film processing services that would return custom-mounted slides ready for viewing. Other examples like the Nishika 3-D N8000 (which came a bit later) allowed owners to use negative film which, via Nishika’s mail-in service, could be transformed into lenticular prints.

In addition to releasing stereo models, many companies offered conversion lenses for their interchangeable lens cameras such as Nikon’s Stereo Nikkor and the Zeiss Ikon Stereotar. Other eccentricities in the stereo photography family include the GOMZ Sputnik: a fantastic tri-lens reflex camera, the vertically-oriented Italian-made ISO Duplex, and the X5 3-D SLR which was made of two Nikon FM10 cameras grafted together by the German firm RBT-Raumbildtechnik GmbH.

Interested in starting or growing your own collection of stereo cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 254, 303-304, 332, 375, 579, 660-661, 680.

“Stereo,” Camerapedia,

“Stereographs,” Victoria and Albert Museum,

“Charles Wheatstone,” Wikipedia,

“David Brewster,” Wikipedia,

“Jules Duboscq,” Wikipedia,

Vintage Camera Lab