What’s wrong with using those colored glasses to see 3D?

Anaglyph. Some say it was developed in 1853 by Wilhelm Rollmann in Leipzig, Germany. Hardly cutting edge technology by today’s standards.  The development and use of anaglyph imagery ignores the fact that separating color (a form of data compression) is a bad idea for human vision given the physical properties of the human eye. The human eye has limited color vision capability as compared to luminance or brightness. The inside of the eye has receptors called cones and rods with the cones providing the eye’s sensitivity to color. And the cones are primarily concentrated in a tiny area in the macula called the fovea centralis  in an area about one one hundreth (1/100th) of an inch in diameter.  Pretty tiny huh? But wait, there are three different types of color receptors with response curves weighted in relation to the primary colors red, green and blue. So the real estate in the eye for any given color is perhaps LESS THAN four one thousandths (4/1000ths) of an inch or about the thickness of a human hair – or a speck of dust.  So where you might think there were billions of these cones in the eye to see color, you’d be wrong.  For seeing the color blue for example, there are only about 140,000 blue sensitive cones.  Given that there are roughly 8 million shades of blue possible in a 24 bit image typical for a computer monitor you can see how that might be limiting.

So, here is Wilhelm in the ninteenth century with an idea that using filtered blue color in one eye and filtered red color in the other eye is a good idea for showing a 3D image. And here we are in the twenty-first century STILL USING IT!  It was a bad idea then, and it is a bad idea now.

But there is more. The brain now has to take a limited compressed blue color signal from one eye and  a limited compressed red color signal from the other eye and merge it into a binocular image and make sense of these weird non-natural signals from each eye to somehow reconcile to a natural color image. Like that’s going to happen? NO it isn’t going to happen! That’s why the color looks so muted and unnatural. IT IS unnatural! It is IMPOSSIBLE for it to BE natural.

With so much missing information it is not hard to understand that the nuance of color shift as presented from different perspectives in each eye is obliterated. This most definitely has an impact on the perception of 3D and it is no surprise that people have used every trick in the book to emphasize 3Dness as a way to compensate for all that is lacking with anaglyph.

Color, shading, texture, highlights, motion and parallax are all intertwined with regards to the information they convey to us. These properties together are essential for the formation of a natural binocular image that is merged within our brains.

To a lesser extent, polarized glasses also diminish the “realness” of 3D. But they do indeed have a negative effect in addition to the cumbersom dumb glasses you have to wear.

The solution is no glasses or glasses that have negligible color loss and minimal distortion. I’m not sure what those glasses would be. Perhaps some kind of optical correction for parallel or cross view images or shutter glasses with super fast refresh. But the preferred truest method is autostereoscopic or glasses free 3D.  The WORST is anaglyph.

This is the 21st century and it is time to demand BETTER technology for multi dimensional imaging. And it is time to demand BETTER multi dimensional imaging.



Filed under 3D Photography, 3D Video Monitors

6 responses to “What’s wrong with using those colored glasses to see 3D?

  1. Louise

    Hi, I came across your post about anaglyph glasses as I was reserching an old 3d film camera I found while op-shopping.
    The camera I got works off standard 35mm film, and uses 3 mirrors to take the photograph.
    It comes with its own glasses and viewing station.
    I have just brought the camera today, so have not used any photos taken with it yet, but have tried the viewer with my normal photos, and found them to give a whole new perspective.
    When I look through the glasses at my hand (real life, not photographic) it simply narrows the deph of field so that my hand is sharp and the background blurred. I believe it is this that gives the 3d effect in this case.
    When looking at my normal photos, the results are still amazing, brining out far more detail the looking at them normally, but not quite 3d.
    I agree with you that limiting the colour our eyes see would be bad if it was to become part of our standard tv watching at home.
    I wonder if they could use the glasses like I have for movies etc?

    Or even (expensive) set up cinimas that are like the inside of the glasses with the mirrors so that people wouldn;t have to wear the glasses.
    GOt me thinking now, wish I was more technically advanced!
    Feel free to contact me at lskorpil@hotmail.com, would love to hear your thoughts on the camera I have got!

  2. There are many different “solutions” for presenting each eye with a slightly different image (or grossly different when you consider the colored glasses). All solutions are an optical illusion and some clearly work more convincingly than others. I prefer autostereoscopic since this eliminates the need for glasses or special viewing equipment. Glasses always induce some sort of issue and can mask the excessive crossing of eyes that might be required of a poorly engineered image. There have been many 3D film camera attempts but so far there hasn’t been a successful universal 3D camera for everyone because there are many issues involved in making a decent 3D photograph. I believe that if you can’t make a decent regular photograph, a 3D system probably isn’t going to help you. On the other hand, they are great fun to play with much like viewmaster images. Perhaps in 5 or 10 years their might be a plenoptic camera with sophisticated software that will do a pretty convincing job. Until then, it is fairly difficult to create professional quality 3D content. As a hobby, fantastic fun! But still can be a pain and that’s why most don’t take a lot of 3D photos…

  3. Hi, Its lovely to see such a supporter of 3D, but please don’t bash the anaglyph glasses so much.
    They have their place.
    In the same way the cheap camera in your Nokia Phone is not a DSLR, anaglyph will never be top of the 3D food chain, but there is a case for bottom entry too.
    I post a lot of 3D photos on my flickr page now, in anaglyph because its the quickest easiest way for people to see them.
    Want better? Good! Have nothing else? it will do.

    • I can’t get on the anaglyph bandwagon… sorry. It is fatally flawed in my humble opinion and should go away. Loreo has some very cheap solutions and there are others including the simple cross your eyes method. With the coming of active shutter glasses (cheap and good) I see no reason to beat the dead horse of anaglyph. It has never been a good idea. Call it bashing if you like, but if it looks-smells-tastes like a… well then…

  4. Ar4ijs

    Where are your references? This isn’t scientifical, just your thoughts.

    • If you look through a pair of anaglyph glasses don’t you see compromised color integrity? What more “scientifical” evidence do you need? If you don’t think the color integrity is compromised then you would be a very unique individual. I’m not saying that isn’t possible – perhaps you don’t have any rods or cones in your eyes. But for the vast majority of people having one eye look through one color filter and the other eye a different one… the flaw in this approach seems pretty obvious.

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