Sheer nostalgic pleasure: the Viewmaster Viewer

I wish I still had a scanner with a backlighting attachment, so I could share the images.

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It’s worth mentioning that they now have a Cardboard-style VR version that looks interesting:

Not the same, but an interesting way to package it.

That said, it seems like there should be some sort of stereoscopic image viewer for Cardboard that would allow you to simulate a View-Master/Stereopticon digitally.

Google Cardboard is pretty much the new Viewmaster. Fun for an hour or so, but then I ran out of material.

Sometime in the 80s or 90s, my wife and I were at a store that had Viewmaster reels (probably some national park concession stand or something), and in addition to the usual nature pictures, they had viewmaster reels of cartoons. It just seemed wrong, because most of the characters were still 2D-flat, just at different distances from the foreground.

A couple of decades ago, I had a (film) stereoscopic camera, though it’s gone wherever old pieces of consumer gear go after a few moves (and of course film’s getting harder to find), but it was a cool thing to have.

Isn’t that what Cardboard does?

NOT a view master…

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I enjoyed creating my own View-Master reels using a View-Master camera that I acquired (used) in about 1972. This was the Mark II camera, in which the roll of 35mm film travels across the two lenses at an angle, resulting in two rows of angled images. The left-eye images were in the bottom row and the right-eye images in the top row, staggered to offset each pair by one interpupillary distance.

Aligning the frames of the processed film in the specialized manual cutter, I would punch out one pair at a time and insert them into a cardboard reel with the supplied tweezers. Once, unfortunately, the lab returned the processed Kodachrome film to me not as an uncut roll as specified, but sliced up arbitrarily and mounted in standard 35mm slide mounts. Aack!

The View-Master camera’s fixed-focus lenses were suitable for a wide range of nature and people photos, though not for close-ups in the manner of my favorite commercial reels as a child in the 1950s: fairytale narratives starring small sculpted figures in wonderfully detailed sculpted landscapes.



But seriously, that’s kind of amazing. I had no idea there was so much breadth. Admittedly I grew up with just the tail end of the Viewmaster in the 90s, and my strabismus meant I tended to close one eye and totally miss the whole point of the thing, so I never really had a chance to get sucked in. But, man, that Calvino one makes me really curious.


It’s by Vladmaster, but looks like it’s no longer available.
I guess I did buy them over 10 years ago, huh.

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I rather prefer the dark brown bakelite viewers from the 50s - of course I tend to have a soft spot for bakelite in general.

I wasn’t clear. I was thinking along the lines of an app for Cardboard that permits the user the view static stereoscopic images. With that, it should be relatively straightforward to archive View-Master reels to distribute digitally.

In other words, a direct replacement for View-Master, without the motion and head-tracking, etc. of Cardboard.

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A bit of googling later, here’s what I’ve found:

It looks like it’s primarily for viewing ~40,000 images from, but the description seems to indicate you can load your own images.

On that note, I found this:

It seems to tackle the problem of getting the View-Master reels into a format that could be used by something like the above viewer.

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Thanks to @LockeCJ for this link. It looks like Reeltool would be a way for me to digitize and thus make more shareable the reels I created with my View-Master Mark II camera in the 1970s.

I am also interested in the opposite process: start with my digital images to create new, custom film reels for viewing in a traditional View-Master viewer.

The digital stereo pairs could be from a digital camera (created by any of several methods) or could be stills of synthetic scenes exported from 3D modeling/animation software. Print the digital files to a film recorder to write the images onto conventional photographic transparency film. Cut the processed film to mount the pairs in a View-Master-compatible reel.

The few folks who have a View-Master Mark I film cutter can accomplish this quite easily with a simple file setup and efficient use of film. Alas, the diagonal film path of my Mark II cutter would mean tricky file setup and very few pairs per roll of film.

I found that there are turnkey services to produce reels from customer-supplied files, including Studio 3D

Shab Levy offers a similar service and also offers a kit for assembling your own with blank reels he sells I didn’t see a cutting description on his website, but in an email Shab says the kit explains how to do it with “only an X-Acto knife or sharp scissors”.

Not everyone would be interested in converting digital files to this older, very physical, hold-in-your-hands format. I haven’t tried these digital-to-View-Master options, but I’m tempted to as a retro way to share my sculpture designs created in in 3D modeling software, as well as for @jlw’s reasons in his original post (“sheer nostalgic pleasure”).

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OK, OK. Here’s a taste for you, courtesy of my lightbox and the camera in my ipad.

And look, you get the booklet for the Sam story!


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