Today, in a world of virtual reality, it can be argued that 3D or stereoscopic photography is a thing of the past. And it is! The first documented stereoscopic “3D” photo can be traced as far back as 1839.
3D photography, in its best intentions, blends two or more photos together in an attempt to emulate the way we see dimensions in the real world, giving the viewer a sense or illusion of depth and movement.
That sounds so amazingly awesome you would think that 3D photography would have caught on having been around since 1839 but it hasn’t. It never did.
Yet every few years, now maybe every decade or so, someone, somebody, some company attempts to reignite the 3D flame by reintroducing it to the public. This has happened not only in photography but in the movies as well. Hollywood knows it!
The results are usually the same: initial excitement which then fades quickly into oblivion.
A WORD OR TWO ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
I just wanted to note that this article is NOT about how to make 3D photos using these two cameras. That would take a whole other article! Plus while I have done a few 3D photos, I still do not feel that I am all that proficient at it.
Below is a quick shot I did with the Nishika N8000, Kodak Gold 200, and flash. Just to show how a 3D image can transform an everyday picture into something different 🙂
This was from last year and looking back now, I’m not even sure how I did it! I don’t think I remember all the steps needed in Photoshop and when I think of putting in that work for just a few seconds of fun, well, I’m glad I did it once or twice and I’m glad I bought this camera basically for my collection!
I did process the image with a retro VHS effect and added some music to give it that extra funk 🙂
Making the GIF files from these cameras require some savvy Photoshop skills. In 2004 or 2005, as a younger man who enjoyed Photoshopping all my photos, I would’ve been all over this! But in 2019, as a family man, I neither have the time nor the inclination to do it.
Ok maybe in all fairness, it’s not all that hard if you are Photoshop savvy and have a lot of time on your hands. I may give it another try should I be bored or looking for something different one weekend!
If a tutorial on how to make 3D GIFs from your negatives is what you’re looking for, you are better served seeking out the fine articles already on the web or on YouTube.
This article is strictly about the cameras themselves, some history, and my impressions of them, from the viewpoint of a camera fanatic, collector, and sometimes historian.
A lot of this stuff is available on the internet, if you scour and search. I’m putting the information all in one page for you guys!
For those of you who prefer a more dynamic video experience, here’s our video review on the Nimslo and Nishika 3D cameras. In this video, I get you guys as close as possible to these cameras without actually touching them. Basically, “camera porn” 🙂
Also in this video, we go around the world for an exclusive preview of upcoming videos and then by the end of the video I became “unhinged” lol which is my favorite part of the video! But I don’t know, you tell me!
I didn’t think I’d make another video, but you guys inspired me to do it so thanks!
THE NIMSLO 3D CAMERA
The Nimslo is a quadrascopic stereo camera introduced in 1982 by Nimstec, which was a part of the Nimslo Corporation of Atlanta, which was a subsidiary of Nimslo which was based in Bermuda. The origins of the company goes back to Hong Kong! Confusing right? It’s all business folks. You know how businesses and corporations work!
The exact year of introduction is a little vague online. Wikipedia says the camera was “introduced in the 1980s” which is technically correct but not specific.
My research and my own memory points me to 1982 as the year the Nimslo 3D camera became available to the public, at least here in the USA. In fact, a quote from an NY Times article that I’ve included below pretty much confirms it. The actual camera may have been around since 1980 and the concept before that. I may even have a magazine with the early ads…if I can find it!
I still can recall seeing this camera in the magazines and being excited by it back then, even as a kid. 1982 was also the year my favorite game console, the ColecoVision became available to the public.
The Nimslo is a quadrascopic camera. It has four lenses and takes four half-frame images at once. That is, on a single frame of 35mm film, the Nimslo takes two half frame images and with each shot it does so on two 35mm frames for a total of four half frame images. Sounds a little confusing right?
In actuality it’s not, it’s just mathematics! Just remember: two 35mm frames, four half frame images. Anyway you would get 18 photos on a 36 exposure roll or 12 on a 24 exposure roll.
The Nimslo a is a fixed focus camera with an automatic exposure system. It uses glass for its four triplet type lenses. The aperture range is f/5.6-f/22 and shutter speeds range from 1/30-1/500. The camera uses three Eveready 386 1.5 volt batteries.
“Nimslo” is not just a cool nonsensical name they thought of out of thin air. It’s the name of the cameras two creators, Jerry Nims and Allen Lo.
Although the two men are often cited as the camera’s co-creators, multiple sources point to Mr. Lo as the actual inventor. Mr. Nims appeared to have been the salesman, pitchman, “marketing genius” behind the camera.
In fact, I remember reading somewhere that Mr. Lo was quoted as saying Mr. Nims “insisted” he should also have his name (Nims) on the camera too. Whatever the case, the camera will link these two forever.
Another interesting tidbit is that the actual cameras were originally manufactured for Nimslo by Timex Corporation in Dundee, Scotland. But a workers strike there caused Nimslo to miss their delivery dates during the crucial first batch of deliveries. Talk about bad timing!
This caused Nimslo to cancel their contract with Timex and they contracted Sunpak in Japan to produce the cameras thereafter. That’s why you may have read that there’s two versions of the camera. Mine is the built in Japan version.
Despite the build up and the hype, the Nimslo never really caught on. Looking back now it’s easy to see why, but maybe back then it wasn’t, as I’ll explain later. Here’s a quote from the NY Times:
“Demand for its unusual camera system, which produces the illusion of a three-dimensional image on flat paper, has never lived up to expectations. The product was first offered to consumers last fall, with the company anticipating sales of 500,000 units for the last quarter of 1982. In reality, however, only 50,000 units were sold.” Source: NY Times, September 1, 1983.
At the time, Nimslo was touted as perhaps the next Polaroid in the photography business. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that their target audience was a small, niche market at best. And in my opinion, I believe it’s been proven that the 3D photography market will always be a small niche market.
But back then, in a world without digital photography, it’s also easy to see how one could dream big! So I give the company and its creators credit for having the vision, will, and guts to put their camera on the market. It was really something unique and different. But unique and different usually means it’s not for everybody, which means once again, a limited market.
Both the Nimslo and Nishika were originally intended to be used in conjunction with lenticular printing, which produces prints with the “illusion of depth” (as quoted from Wiki; I couldn’t have said it better!). At that time in the 1980s, only Nimslo could and would develop and print your images through their “secret” process. It seemed like a sure fire money maker!
But waiting for the prints, which could take weeks and by some accounts, months to return to the consumer was a red flag. People may not have been living in the “I want it now” era that we live in today, but even back then waiting that long for prints is a sure fire way for one to lose interest.
Today, these cameras are sought by people who will primarily want to turn their images into 3D GIF files. You have to understand, these cameras were introduced before we knew anything about GIFs or JPEG files!
As far as I can tell, no one out there today has either the machinery or the will to do the traditional lenticular prints for you. That is not to say you couldn’t find a company that might do it, but probably at a price that’s not worth it.
THE NISHIKA N8000
The Nishika N8000 is also a quadroscopic stereo camera aka 3D camera introduced in 1989 by Nishika Corporation of Nevada. The actual cameras were made in Hong Kong by Nishika Optical Systems. A little confusing? It’s a business thing remember!
Though they appear quite different in many ways, they are in fact “blood relatives” if you will. Nishika Corporation acquired part of the Nimslo company, as well as their parts and patents, and the N8000 was in many ways a continuation of the Nimslo experiment.
As a camera, the Nishika uses four plastic lenses (vs the glass lenses on the Nimslo) and has a fixed mechanical shutter speed of 1/60. The aperture range is f/8, f11, and f/19 which can be selected by the user via a dedicated aperture lever. The camera runs on two AA batteries which is used for the light meter.
The Nishika may not seem to have the same interesting background as the Nimslo but as a family member, the story of Nimslo is the story of Nishika and the Nishika is seen by many as the continuation of the Nimslo project.
“Nishika” sounds Japanese but the Nevada company apparently was not Japanese at all, just named to sound like it! Which probably to this day makes some people think it’s a Japanese camera when it’s actually made in China for a company based in the USA -)
I won’t get deep into this, but there was apparently some kind of scam involving the company marketing the Nishika, where people were duped into sending hundreds of dollars only to receive this camera as their “prize.” Look it up!
Needless to say, both the Nimslo and Nishika companies folded and went out of business.
IMPRESSIONS OF THE NIMSLO AND NISHIKA
The Nimslo is the smaller of the two cameras but appears to be better built. Not much better, but better. A disclaimer should be made right now:
I bought my Nimslo, new old stock from a seller who made it clear that it was for parts and “not working” and indeed it’s not working so I’ve never shot it. That is fine with me because I only wanted it for my collection and for $30 dollars, it’s perfect for that!
The Nishika is much larger and its build quality is placticky but once you hold it in your hands, it feels decent at first. By “at first” I mean, first impressions. But after you use if for a while, you begin to feel like this thing could fall apart after extended use.
Certain parts feel fragile to me. The film advance lever, for example, feels like it should be handled with care, like it might break off if I advance too vigorously. The film advance started feeling “rough” not smooth after using it for a couple of rolls.
On the other hand, in a sort of complementary way, the Nishika build reminds me a little of the Minolta Maxxum 7000. If any of you have both cameras on hand, put them together to see what I mean!
Some of you might remember that I did mention this on my Maxxum YouTube video. But Minolta lovers take heart, the Maxxum is much better built and needless to say, a much better camera! They’re not even comparable actually.
The Nishika is cheaper looking and more plasticky. Yet it’s also heftier and heavier than it looks and doesn’t feel so bad in the hands. Apparently, there’s a lead or metal bar inside the camera which gives it the added weight! Some people think this makes the camera unnecessarily heavy while others think this helps stabilize the camera. And some even think this was done to give the impression of “quality” to the camera. Talk about deception!
The Nishika to me looks a lot like those horrible “fake” cameras that I saw selling in those shady electronics shop near 34th street in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The picture below illustrates what I am talking about.
GLASS VS PLASTIC OPTICS
The Nimslo uses glass for its lenses, the Nishika uses plastic.
Now some of you may remember me talking about telescopes and how very high tolerances are needed to make a quality telescope. And of course I’ve used many camera lenses, good and not so good, over the years in pursuit of optical perfection (I haven’t found it!). I’m an optics guy.
But you don’t have to be an “optics guy” to know that, lens for lens, a glass lens is going to be better than a plastic lens!
So it might surprise some when I say that I see very little difference between the Nishika N8000 and the Nimslo based on my own results with the Nishika N8000 and the Nimslo samples that I have seen online. In fact, I read a Popular Photography article which came to pretty much the same conclusion.
Now why is this the case if a glass lens is usually always better than an equivalent plastic lens?
There are three possible reasons I can think of; One, the lenses on both the Nimslo and Nishika are slow to begin with. The Nimslo start at f/5.6, the Nishika start at f/8. Because these cameras are fixed focus this maximizes the chances of a sharper image from the get go. And because of the slow lenses you often have to resort to using flash with these cameras, again maximizing chances of getting sharp images.
Two, these lenses are creating four half frame images in any one shot. That is smaller than an already smallish 35mm image. And three to see any difference the glass elements on the Nimslo might make, you’d have to enlarge the images to a certain degree.
The problem is that nobody is going to be enlarging the GIF files people make with these cameras. A GIF file is basically a short animated video. And I’ve never seen a large 3D print from these cameras. Nothing larger than 4×6 or 5×7.
Now if you have HUGE prints, 8×10 or larger from these cameras I’d love to hear from you!
It’s easier to find a working Nishika than a working Nimslo. That’s because the Nishika has a mechanical shutter that works without batteries. The battery is only needed for the light meter. The Nimslo relies on the batteries for its shutter.
If you have a working model of either camera, it’s possible that it may serve you well but both the Nimslo and Nishika are prone to possible failure.
The Nimslo is well known for not working after extended periods of non-use. The culprit is usually (but not always) an issue with a lever or levers that controls the shutter. Apparently, it’s an easy fix but it does require taking the camera apart. I may try to repair mine myself, and if I do, I’ll be sure to let you guys know.
The Nishika’s most common problem seem to be shutter failure or the film advance getting stuck. While it’s cool that it has a mechanical shutter, you have to remember it’s probably not the world’s most high quality shutter!
These are not Nikon or Leica folks. They were not intended to be. These cameras should be handled with care. And if so, they can be fun to use.
PRICES & AVAILABILITY
The Nimslo & Nishika 3D cameras can be easily found, especially on your favorite auction site. but their prices vary greatly.
The Nimslo is trending at $30 for a parts/repair camera to $250 for a working model. The average prices people seem to be paying are between $150-225.
The Nishika is trending at $80-200 with an average of over $100.
I bought my Nimslo as mentioned before, for $30 as a parts/repair camera. I got my Nishika for $50.
Personally, I wouldn’t pay more than $100 for any of these cameras (and I didn’t!). In some ways, I feel like I paid too much! I mean, if you really think 3D photography is your thing, and you don’t mind paying over $100 for a working sample, by all means do it!
But once you have it, and the initial excitement is over, you’ll know what I mean. That plus the work required to make these GIF files is enough to kill your enthusiasm. Don’t pay a lot for these cameras guys!
As someone who is holding both of them as we speak, I just don’t think it’s worth it. But what do I know? I’m just a peon so take whatever I say with a grain of salt and do as you wish! 🙂
If you have one of these cameras, I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment with your experiences.
Stereo cameras have been around for a long time, and while there are much higher quality stereo cameras, for example the David White Stereo Realist, it can be argued that none has left the lasting impression that the Nimslo 3D and Nishika N8000 from the 1980s have done.
Certainly, few have the interesting and somewhat controversial history of the Nimslo and Nishika cameras.
They brought the promise and excitement of 3D photography to a whole new generation and continue to do so, based on the popularity of these cameras with people seeking 3D film cameras today.
In my opinion, these two are crap cameras at worst and decent cameras at best. Why do I call them crap cameras? Think about it; when was the last time you got excited by a 35mm camera that starts with an aperture of f/5.6 (Nimslo) or f/8 (Nishika)? When was the last time you thought a camera with plastic lenses (Nishika) and a fake lcd was a great camera? When was the last time you thought cameras with spotty reliability were awesome?
Probably never! But these are specialty cameras without a lot of competition. That’s why their prices stay relatively high compared to their low quality. Their calling card is 3D photography.
And despite the fact that 3D photography has never caught the general public’s adoration nor has it been able to live up to that promise of being the next big thing in photography, it can be argued that while not the highest quality cameras, the Nimslo and Nishika can be considered Camera Legends (though maybe not true Camera Legends) in their own right because they continue to bring that 3D fascination to a segment of the population, however small that segment may be.
If you can find them at a good price, and in working condition, then you may end up with some mighty fun cameras and certainly something different from anything you’re using today. Heck, they may even savvy up your Photoshop skills!