28 February 2013

Road Testing the Photosynth Panorama App

Microsoft's Photosynth Panorama App is a mobile phone app that lets you capture 360 degree panoramic photos. These can be viewed as swipable panoramas on your iPhone, iPad or Windows Phone, shared online or exported as simple jpgs.

The key advantages of using the Photosynth Panorama App are its ease of use, the fact that it costs nothing to download or use and and the impressive range of ways you can use and share your panoramic scenes.

The app works with the camera in your mobile phone or iPad, showing your progress as you shoot multiple views from a single vantage point and helpfully suggesting which views to add to the panorama. The software then stitches the multiple views into a single panoramic scene. You can geotag your location as you shoot and there is an option to save all the individual photos as well.

After shooting your scene, the app prompts you to upload your panorama, (or “pano” as the app developers call them) to Photosynth.net. From there the panos can be viewed online, publicised through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook or embedded your own webpage. Studio 425 recently added a Photosynth pano to the Flying Cloud Cafe's website to show off the cafe's stunning riverside location in Teddington. This free panoramic scene was created without the need for any costly software such as Photoshop or specialist equipment more advance than an iPhone 4s. Geotagged panos are can also be embedded in Microsoft's Bing Maps.

Naturally there are some disadvantages to using a camera-phone to create panoramas. Image resolution is limited and most camera phones struggle with low light levels or very contrasting light levels. For instance, our night time view of London's riverside, below, struggles to maintain focus in low light without a tripod. Likewise, our panoramic view of the Barbican Centre Sculpture Court (top) struggles to cope with changing exposure needed for 360 views looking both towards and away from direct sunlight.

Another small gripe is that you cannot fully control the centre of static 2D views when exporting a jpg from your mobile. This, however, is a minor point as the app preserves the original composite photos, which you could “photomerge” using Adobe Photoshop if you what to have more control over the exact stitching process.

So, while we at Studio 425 are definitely sold on Photosynth Panorama as a handy mobile app for capturing and sharing free panoramic photographs, there is one last point the make. The “pano” part of Photosynth is actually the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what Photosynth software can do. The full Photosynth process uses photos from multiple viewpoints to create navigable 3D environments based on point cloud modelling. At the time of writing, this was only possible via desktop software. However it seems that a mobile app that effectively turns a typical camera-phone into a mobile 3D scanner is the next logical step. Watch this space!