The Man Behind the 1950's 3-D boom: Seton Rochwite (pronounced Seeton Roshewhite (hard " o ", like in "Rose) was the inventor/designer and originator of the five-sprocket stereo system.
1945 Stereo Realist Nov first ad mentioning
Seton Rochwite promoting camera to come
SETON ROCHWITE, FPSA
November 22, 1904 - July 18, 2000
Inventor of the Stereo Realist camera
Some remembrances and history
by Susan Pinsky, APSA & David Starkman, APSA
The Man Behind the 1950's 3-D boom: Seton Rochwite was the originator of the
five-sprocket stereo system.
Seton Rochwite, the inventor of the Stereo Realist camera, passed away on July 18, 2000, having almost reached the age of 96. We found this out almost a month later, at the August meeting of the Stereo Club of Southern California. Part of the program for the evening was a "Stereo Fair" (a show-and-tell of sorts) and one of the items that we happened to bring with us was a "Stereo 50" -- a 50 slide sequential viewer. Just because it was interesting we decided to bring one that we had filled with 50 slides of Seton that we, and others, had taken, since we first met him at the Photographic Society of American (PSA) Annual Convention in 1978 held in Denver, Colorado.
1979 Seton Rochwite with Susan Pinsky PSA Hartford CT by David Starkman
When we first met Seton we were in our first year of publishing "Reel 3-D News". Having already done a lot of research in 1950's magazines we were amazed that the inventor of a camera introduced to the world in 1947 was still alive -- and very active as an award winning stereo photographer. We were both in our late 20's, so 74 seemed "older" to us at the time. We had no way of knowing then that we would continue to know Seton, to see him almost every year, and exchange Christmas cards for another 22 years!
Christmas Card from Seton & Isabelle - 1981
Seton enjoyed our young interest and enthusiasm in stereo, and, from the beginning was encouraging and always forthcoming to us with suggestions and information about 3-D. Thanks to the encouragement of Seton and many other "old timers" we got quite involved with PSA and the PSA competitions, to the point where Seton was one of our endorsers to receive the honor of APSA -- Associate of the Photographic Society of America. However, that's another story.
The story of the Stereo Realist camera is unusual in many ways. The main point being that it was not commissioned to be designed by a major camera company, after a time of great research and development. It was based on the third stereo camera that Seton had built for himself for his own stereoscopic hobby. All of the key aspects of the camera, viewer, and slide mount were designed by just one man. And by the mid 1950s over 40 brands of stereo cameras were on the market copying this same format. HE was the man and this was the 3-D camera responsible for the stereo boom of the 1950's.
1979 Seton Rochwite and friend both looking into Stereo 50 sequential slide viewers
1979 Seton & Isabelle Rochwite at Hartford, CT PSA convention by Susan Pinsky
1981 Seton Rochwite seeing the new Nimlso lenticular camera PSA Salt Lake City UT Charlie Pipers hand by Susan Pinsky
1981 Seton Rochwite seeing the new Nimlso lenticular camera Photographic Society of America Salt Lake City UT by Susan Pinsky
1983 Isabelle & Seton Rochwite San Francisco CA PSA by David Starkman
1950s Stereo Realist with flashbulb setup by Tommy Thomas
1979 Seton Rochwite with Photographic Society of America Progress Medal, Hartford CT by David Starkman
In 1979, we did an article for "Reel 3-D News" on the history of Seton Rochwite, and the cameras that he developed. We did this partly to share the history that Seton had shared with us, and partly to honor him as the recipient of the Progress Medal Award at the annual Convention of the Photographic Society of America (PSA) held at Hartford, CT in 1979.
1947 Stereo Realist prototype camera made by Seton Rochwite
Seton shows David Starkman some of the items that were donated to the California Museum of Photography. Susan Pinsky & Isabelle Rochwite are in the background. (Stereophoto by David Hutchison)
Following are some updated excerpts from what we had written:
Rochwite had been interested in stereo photography since 1929, and in photography in general, since he was 12 years of age. There is no doubt that he has been one of the great contributors to the art and science of photography.
Seton's outstanding contribution to photography was the invention of the Stereo Realist camera. Prior to World War II, stereo photography had been limited to larger format cameras, and because of the sheer size and/or bulk were of limited scope. It was the advent of color film in the 35mm size in 1936 that created the opportunity for the introduction of an appropriate 35mm format stereo camera.
Seton was a lighting engineer at what is now the Wisconsin Electric Power Company. "I first saw 3-D pictures in 1929 when I did some photofinishing for my boss, Irving Illing. As soon as I viewed his black and white glass stereo slides, other types of photography lost their appeal to me."
1985 Realist inventor Seton Rochwite holding his prototype at CMP
- Stereo by David Hutchison
1985 Seton and Isabelle Rochwite prototype equipment donation
by David Starkman
Charles Desmarais, CMP museum director & Seton Rochwite at 1985 equipment donation by David Starkman
Seton Rochwite designed the Red Button Stereo Realist viewer to help round out the requirements for enjoying the exciting 3-D slides the Stereo Realist camera produced. He even designed the Realist Logo.
Seton built his first stereo camera in 1930. It was made up, essentially, of parts from a pair of Kodak box cameras. It took adequate pictures in black-and-white. Better cameras of American and German manufacture could be purchased at that time. Seton elected to make his own, probably as much for the fun of designing and building it, as for enjoying its use later on. His second camera, built in 1932, was of all-metal construction and used a pair of 50mm Certar f/4.5 lenses in Vario shutters with interlocked focusing and aperture adjustments. Neither of these cameras was particularly significant in itself. The self-assigned task of designing and building them gave Seton the experience and confidence to go ahead when the time was right for a third experiment.
When Kodachrome was introduced in 1936 (in 35mm format in 1938) Seton was quick to visualize its significance in connection with stereo. Here was a natural marriage- a chance to combine the inherent realism of color with stereo's built-in depth effect. He assumed that the big camera manufacturers would see it the same way. He waited for them to bring out the ideal stereo outfit - a camera designed to use 35mm Kodachrome. He waited, but nothing happened.
Nothing kept on happening.
Seton finally decided that if he wanted his dream camera he would have to build it himself. He started shopping around for a pair of used cameras to provide parts and lenses, meanwhile wondering what would be the best picture size to use. The combination he came up with became the standard of the stereo field in the 1950s. He selected a pair of Univex Mercury cameras with 35mm Wollensak Tricor f/3.5 lenses that had been worth $25 each, new, in 1938. That's where the 35mm focal length of modern stereo camera lenses came from.
He chose the 5-perforation-wide picture on 35mm film as a most economical size, one his lenses would cover well, and a most convenient size for which to design a stereo film transport system. He did not remember if he had seen the film transport progression that had been invented by Colardeau in the 35mm Homeos camera of Jules Richard, but he essentially updated that same idea from a 4 sprocket to 5 sprocket (square) film format. This allowed for a 70mm lens separation, with half of two frames available between each stereo pair. This created virtually no wasted film, and allowed for 28 or 29 stereo pairs on a 36 exposure length of 35mm film. That's the source of the Realist stereo-picture format.
The camera was finished in 1940, along with its companion viewer. Seton's first slides had to be mounted for viewing, and the most convenient glass for him to use came in 3 1/4 x 4 inch lantern-slide plates. Cutting one in half gave him two pieces 1 5/8 x 4 inches, which is the over-all size of the Realist-format standard stereo mount. Thus, most of the basic elements of modern stereo evolved, not in a big research laboratory, but in an amateur's home workshop. The David White Company of Milwaukee became interested, but the war intervened, and it was not until 1947, that Seton's camera was placed on the market as the Stereo Realist, which started the 1950s stereo boom, which continues to this day.
Upon Illing's encouragement, Seton took his camera to the David White Company. The Milwaukee firm, founded in 1900, specialized in the production and sale of precision optical instruments. Seeking new products to replace those they had produced during the war, David White bought Seton's designs for the camera, viewer and home mounting kit. Seton then joined the company in 1943.
During the years 1943-47 Seton designed and developed the Stereo Realist camera, including giving it its most descriptive name and logo design. The camera and its companion slide viewer appeared on the American market during the summer of 1947. By the middle of the 1950s Kodak, Revere, Graflex and TDC followed suit with their own cameras.
1985 Seton Rochwite holding the original prototype of the camera which became the Stereo Realist. (Stereophoto by David Hutchison)
1985 Seton Rochwite some Realist donation prototypes to CMP April Riveride CA
by David Starkman
1985 Isabelle Rochwite, David Hutchison and Seton Rochwite
at California Museum of Photography, Riverside by Susan Pinsky
1985 David Starkman with Seton Rochwite at CA Museum of Photography, Riverside donating prototypes by Susan Pinsky
1985 Seton Rochwite donation at CA Museum of Photo April by Susan Pinsky
1985 April Seton Rochwite signing donation papers with Charles Demarais
by Susan Pinsky
Perhaps the most beautifully designed stereo camera is the almost-unknown Contura, which Seton designed for Stereo Corporation in Milwaukee. It resembled the Stereo Realist, including the bottom rangefinder. The lenses and the shutters appear to be of Ilex manufacture. It had a lens aperture of f/2.7 to f/22. Shutter speeds B to 1/100. Rangefinder focusing. The shape, the center knob, and saddle leather trim make it an unusually graceful camera in appearance. Like the Stereo Realist and Kin-Dar it also had a left hand shutter release button, although Seton was right handed. Seton designed the technical details of the camera, but the sleek look of its design is due to the work of the visual stylist Brooks Stevens, who designed racing boats, and later the Excalibur automobile!
Later on Seton developed the Kin-Dar attachment for the Exacta camera, permitting close-up photography in 3-dimensions of small moving objects at a distance of 3 to 13 inches, which, in itself, is an outstanding contribution.
The Kin-Dar camera was an assignment by Kin-Dar Corporation of South Milwaukee to design a camera that would take good stereo pictures with a minimum of effort, and could be made to sell for less than $100. The Kin-Dar camera resulted, with a price tag of $99.50. It retains some unusual features similar to those of the Realist, like a left-hand shutter-release button and viewfinder window placed at the bottom of the camera. Other details are entirely different - it is focused by a large knob at the top center of the camera, which moves the lens board in and out instead of shifting the film within the camera. A single window at the back of the camera serves the dual purpose of rangefinder and viewfinder.
Contura 3-D camera by David Starkman
In the 1970s he developed the polarizing filter attachment for the Realist camera, which proved of immeasurable value to stereo enthusiasts throughout the world.
1954 Worlds Fastest Lenses trick Stereolusion by Tommy Thomas
He applied for, and received, a patent on a new stereo system designed for the mass market which was designed to make stereo photography almost as simple as the popular 35mm itself. It was intended to use 16mm film, and would have brought stereo photography to the masses in the same pocket size camera as 110 film, which was popular at that time.
The Progress Medal of the Photographic Society of America is awarded annually to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to photography or an allied subject. Seton Rochwite certainly fit that description.
We are grateful to Seton Rochwite for creating the camera(s) which made it possible for all of the 3-D enthusiasts throughout the world to enjoy the many fascinations of three-dimensional photography.
1979 Isabelle and Seton Rochwite PSA Hartford CT by Susan Pinsky
1984 Seton Rochwite at PSA Convention Chicago IL by Susan Pinsky
Information for this article was compiled and reprinted from contributions by Joseph P. Fallon, Jr., "Stereo Today" by Robert L. McIntyre, "Seeing Double Two: The Stereo Renaissance" by Steve Coppinger and Barbara Beniak, Greg Taylor at Stereo Photography Unlimited, Three Dimensional Projection by Earl E. Krauss, and Susan Pinsky's interviews with Seton.
1985 Isabelle and Seton Rochwite in Calif Museum of Photography parking lot
by David Starkman
PSA Convention Ron Labbe Seton and Isabelle Rochwite by Susan Pinsky
The following is the text of the obituary, sent by his daughter Susan Richardson, as it appeared in the Loveland Reporter Herald, Denver Post and Casper Star Tribune.:
"Seton Rochwite, of Loveland, CO, a retired consulting product engineer, died 7/18/00. He was 95. He was born November 22, 1904 in Princeton, Wisconsin. After the family moved to Hartford, Wisconsin he attended Hartford High School. After his graduation in 1924 he went on to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, graduating in 1929 with a degree of Electrical Engineer. The first 14 years of his career were as a lighting engineer with The Milwaukee Electric Co. In 1943 he designed a stereoscopic camera utilizing the newly announced Kodachrome Color film. He named it the Stereo Realist and it caused a worldwide revival of interest in stereo photography and is still the standard by which others are judged. Two years of his career were spent as a staff member at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Leaving there in 1952, he began a career as a consulting product engineer in both the photo and medical instruments fields. In 1977 he and his wife Isabelle left California where they had lived for 14 years and moved back to Loveland to spend their retirement years. She preceded him in death in 1995 shortly after they had celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary and just 2 days before her 91st birthday.
For many years he was active in photo exhibitions worldwide receiving many medals and honors. He had achieved the rating of Master 1 for having had over 755 acceptances with over 171 different pictures. In 1979 The Photographic Society of America presented him with it's highest honor, The Progress Medal, for his achievements in photographic equipment design. He was an honorary member of three camera clubs - The Photo Pictorialists of Milwaukee, The Oakland Camera Club and the Rocky Mountain Camera Club. He was also a member of Tau Beta Pi, national engineering honor fraternity.
He is survived by two daughters - Sue Richardson of Casper, Wyoming and Sally Kustka of Bowie, Maryland, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren."
In a recent posting on the "Photo 3-D" mailing list, Allan Griffin, a mutual friend, added these thoughts:
I remember well, way back in the early days, Seton had only just completed his add-on "Realist Polariser" project. I was able to admire the Realist polarizer attachment care and attention to detail which went into the engineering and production. Even the engraving, which identified the three element attachment, was done with infinite care. On subsequent visits, after being offered one of his hallmark Dry Martinis, I always had to go down to the basement and look over his complete and most impressive small project workshop. Seton was a most organised person. His stereo-slide filing system was a wonder to behold when compared with my own, and that of many others! I was able to discuss at length details concerning the evolution of the Realist camera and the 4 x 1.5/8" Realist stereo slide format. Seton said: "It was simple. I just took a 4" lantern slide of the time and cut two slices off it of appropriate height"!
Seton Rochwite at his workbench by Isabelle Rochwite
1989 Seton Rochwite PSA Scottsdale AZ with Ron Labbe by Susan Pinsky
1985 David Starkman and Seton Rochwite at Calif Museum of Photo
by Susan Pinsky
1985 Ed Earle, Susan Pinsky and Seton Rochwite at Calif Museum of Photo
by David Starkman
1985 Isabelle Rochwite donating their prototypes at Calif Museum of Photo
by Susan Pinsky
1984 Seton and Isabelle Rochwite PSA Chicago IL luncheon by David Starkman
Prior to this, and at the same time, the makers of the French Verascope f-40 had settled for a 4.1/4" long 35mm standard stereo slide. This was eventually dropped in favour of the Realist 4" format because of the sheer volume of the Realist popularity. Seton never did acknowledge that my Verascope f-40 or Belplasca 7 perf format was a nice format in its own right and at one stage (25 years ago) he was visibly upset when he learned that I was shooting sports and hypers with my Konica Twin FS-1s. He seemed to feel let-down if folks were not shooting 5 perf Realist exclusively! After I learned this, I never again raised the subject of anything in the realm of wider formats, but allowed the Realist to remain king in its realm, thus ensuring the continuity of our long friendship!
1983 Susan Pinsky, Howard Frazee, Seton and Isabelle Rochwite at PSA San Francisco convention by David Starkman
1985 Seton Rochwite and Pat Whitehouse International Stereo Union Congress Washington DC by David Starkman
As Ray Moxom mentioned, it is indeed rare to find an inventor who stayed with one of his inventions for life, enjoying the artistic and creative potential which it introduced into his life. Further, Seton told me that the people who shot stereo (mostly in the ranks of Stereo Division - PSA) turned out to be his favourite people - people who proved to be those with whom he found a great deal in common. The fact that he achieved Master Stereographer 1 level when more acceptances were required than is the case today, speaks for itself. We were at the 1987 PSA event where Seton was awarded the Progress Medal for service to photography in general - and in particular, stereo. His address to the PSAers present was a highlight. With no notes, the address was from the heart, in parts emotional, and in total, eminently memorable. The standing ovation was prolonged and heartfelt.
To close, may I simply say that my life has been the richer for knowing Seton Rochwite at the personal level as well as at the level of competitive stereo photography. I'm sure he would forgive the personal references above. It was a privilege to know him.
-- Allan Griffin, Hon.PSA, Pymble, Australia
1983 Seton Rochwite and Howard Frazee at PSA San Francisco convention
by Susan Pinsky
1985 David Starkman and Seton Rochwite at Calif Museum of Photo
by Susan Pinsky
1983 Seton Rochwite at viewer at PSA San Francisco CA by Lou Smaus
1985 April Seton Rochwite Nick Graver David Starkman David Hutchison
Calif Museum of Photography by Susan Pinsky
1985 Seton and Isabelle Rochwite with prototype donations at Calif Museum of Photography in Riverside CA April by Susan Pinsky
In April 1985, Seton and his wife Isabelle donated their vast collection of prototype photographica, that he had created since the 1930's, to the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, California. We were fortunate to be on hand, along with NSA members David Hutchison, Nick Graver, and Ed Earle, curator of the Keystone-Mast stereoview collection, to witness the donation.
We feel privileged to have known Seton (and Isabelle, his wife of more than 69 years), and hope that we have been able to share just a little of the incredible significance that this kind and gentle man has had on all of us who enjoy the hobby of stereo photography today. We will miss Seton, but his spirit and his images will live on, and beyond us, in full color 3-Dimensional Kodachrome.
For more information on Seton and the 3-D history of his contributions see "Stereo World" July/August 1988 "A Visit with Seton Rochwite" by Mark Willke.
- Susan Pinsky and David Starkman, Culver City, California, August 2000.