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December 8, 2011


Photosynth with Tripod

I’ve been using Photosynth (my favourite M$ product) since about the day I got my hand-me-down iPhone 3GS a couple of months ago and I’m generally quite taken with the results it produces. It is certainly more impressive – primarily because of the ability to do vertical and horizontal axis – than Dermandar and I’m a bit of a sucker for the 3D/QTVR style interaction both on the iPhone and on the site too.

On a quiet day last week I finally got the opportunity to strap my iPhone to a tripod to do a panorama of a not terribly interesting location I’m afraid. The majorly borked section was too close to the iPhone and it just couldn’t resolve it. In general though, it’s worth pursuing the tripod option.

Here he be – Silverlight required.

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  1. Dec 9 2011

    Hi there!

    Your fellow iOS users can view your panorama without having Silverlight installed by visiting your panorama’s own view page on Photosynth’s website here:

    You can also use the early HTML pano viewer (which iOS devices use) on your laptop/desktop by switching Safari’s user agent to that of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad via Safari’s ‘Develop’ menu. I have asked David Gedye of Photosynth about how long we’ll have to wait for the HTML viewer to work on embedded panos and he said he hopes soon after Christmas.

    As the team at Bing’s Read/Write World project ( ) makes progress on their work, we should see the main viewer for panoramas as well as photosynths on the main Photosynth website switch to use CSS3-3D, HTML5 Canvas, and WebGL rather than Silverlight

    As you’re obviously aware, avoiding parallax when shooting panos is essential for a good stitch (at least when using fully automatic stitching). Pano newbies may find this short YouTube playlist helpful:

    Using a tripod is certainly a step in the right direction, however unless the tripod head is rotating the phone around the camera lens (rather than the center of the phone, for example), there will still be enough parallax between input shots to cause irreconcilable differences in distances between objects.

    As a last note, whenever you’re using embed code from Photosynth, try editing the HTML switches for delayLoad to ‘false’ and (less importantly) slideShowPlaying to ‘true’. The first switch will allow your panorama or photosynth to load along with the rest of the page, rather than requiring your visitors to click it once first before it loads and the second option will allow a synth to move through its slideshow or a pano to either pan back and forth or play through your highlights (if you’ve provided four or more) without your visitors needing to manually click the ‘Play’ button.

    Your fellow photosynther, N

  2. admin
    Dec 9 2011

    Woah! Thanks for the advice Nate. Pretty comprehensive.

    Quick question: do you use a tripod generally or is hand-held more your thing?

    I am a newbie to the whole panorama thing and it is definately an avenue which I’m looking to work more with. Photosynth is a fantastic app and it’s good to see that MS are developing it and looking for non-Silverlight solutions.

    My interest in photography/creativity on the iPhone in general is one of the reasons I got one, so if you have any other suggestions of other apps in this field, do let me know.

  3. Dec 10 2011

    Apologies for the info overload. ツ I’m afraid it isn’t over quite yet.

    With regards to shooting panos, I guess it really just depends on whether I have time (Am I trying to capture a moment with people in activity? Handheld might be the only viable option.) and how much I care about the final quality (better go with a tripod if I’ve got it with me – especially if I’m planning to capture a full sphere).

    I got into Photosynth via the Windows app a few years ago, so my perspective is a little different and I’ve done my shooting with my Nikon camera and a borrowed Canon point and shoot before that. Shooting photosynths is decidedly different from shooting panoramas.

    For example, this synth of mine is decidedly not a pano (nor is it meant to be):
    (iOS users will need to download the unofficial ‘iSynth’ app ( ) to view that. Search in the app for Orbital Propulsion by Nathanael)

    On Windows, Microsoft’s panorama stitcher is called ICE ( ) and is pretty much unlimited in the resolution of panoramas you can stitch from full quality photos (so long as you have a decent amount of RAM installed).

    Since doing the 3D reconstruction that the original Photosynth on Windows was all about is still a little too taxing a calculation to do on a phone at this point, the Photosynth team made a panorama stitcher instead and the ‘Photosynth’ app for iOS is actually more like a mobile ICE app than a mobile Photosynth app.

    The Photosynth name had a lot more popularity, though, and since
    1: the panoramas are uploaded to the Photosynth website and
    2: Read/Write World is scheduled to automatically link multiple panoramas together next year, just as the original Photosynth automatically linked multiple photos, it was simpler to just call the mobile app ‘Photosynth’.

    The big differentiatior for Photosynth’s pano app, when compared to other iOS pano apps, is the fully interactive capture mode (and: an advantage over most other iOS pano apps is the full spherical pano, rather than just a halo). There is a price for this coolness, though, and that is that it is “very difficult” (read: thus far not achieved) to write full resolution photos from your camera to your phone’s flash storage, while you are busy running 3D graphics, keeping small versions of each snapshot captured so far in RAM and animating them, and doing realtime image analysis of the incoming video feed to move it amongst the already captured shots accurately and smoothly.

    What this means is that even if you have an iPhone 4 or 2010 Windows Phone and your camera sensor is capable of taking 5 megapixel shots or if you own an iPhone 4S or a 2011 Windows Phone and your sensor is capable of capturing 8 megapixel stills, the Photosynth mobile app is not capturing that resolution every time the app captures another shot, but rather a much lower resolution still.

    End result: You pay for awesome interactive shooting by sacrificing resolution. If high quality/resolution panoramas are your end goal, you’re better off just taking the photos with the regular camera app and then stitching them with an iOS pano app like AutoStitch or Pano or else a desktop pano app like ICE.

    I actually switched from iPhone to Windows Phone, but unfortunately, because the Windows Phone team only recently got the necessary parts of the WinPhone operating system built for apps like Photosynth’s mobile pano app to work, the Windows Phone version of the app isn’t out just yet, though I’m hoping to see it within the next two months.

    Because of this, I’ve really only had hands-on experience with the mobile app a few times in an Apple store (and watching people’s reviews on YouTube before that). I bring this up because a lot of Windows Phone users are up in arms that they don’t yet have their version of Photosynth’s mobile pano app. I feel their pain, but on the other hand, although Photosynth’s shooting mode is second to none (although Occipital’s 360 is a close second), the final results leave a little to be desired on my part – at least for the time being, until phones have more RAM onboard.

    What I find ironic is that by just using my Windows Phone as a camera (as I’ve always used an ordinary camera to shoot for Photosynth before the mobile app), and then stitch a pano with ICE or a synth with Photosynth on Windows, I actually get better results than I will when the Windows Phone version of the app comes out or if I borrow a friend’s iPhone or iPod today.

    While panoramas are good, what I loved about the original Photosynth was its ability to do 3D stitching (panorama stitching is just 2D stitching) and track different parts of the scene separate from the rest to create a rudimentary 3D model (the point cloud) and the freedom to move around in 3D around objects and through environments. Currently, the Photosynth mobile app doesn’t really offer anything in this regard.

    What’s coming next for it is what their team calls ‘Spin Movies’ ( ) and this is a bit of an old concept, sometimes called ‘object movies’ or, in the QuickTime VR days simply ‘objects’. (Please see: ). It’s really just an orbit of photos around an object – or you can think of it as an inverse panorama.

    For me, the mobile app will become interesting when we can:
    1: shoot both panoramas *and* object movies
    2: use Read/Write World to link together panoramas, spin movies, videos, and photos from around the web and move among them all in 3D on our phones
    3: hold up our phones wherever we are and have the viewfinder automatically track itself against every bit of imagery in Read/Write World and augment our viewfinder with the metadata and websites that those models, photos, or videos originate from or contain.

    I’ll let that be enough. Hopefully that wasn’t too roundabout for you and where I brought related threads in, you can appreciate how they relate.

    Your fellow photosynther, N

    P.S. Oh, right. Other panorama apps. Things that seem to come highly recommended by the photo community appear to be AutoStitch , Pano , and DerManDar if you’re aiming for final resolution.

    As I mentioned above, Occipital 360 is my runner up for awesome shooting mode, though again you’re not capturing full resolution at that point (and in that case, you’re fighting motion blur for the whole pano). That said, you should judge the final quality for yourself:

    As you may have noticed ツ, I’m pretty loyal to Photosynth, but at this point, as cool as their mobile app is for realtime shooting, full spherical coverage, uploading to a place where it will hopefully soon connect with others’ imagery, and very nearly instant sharing, I still look at it as more of a great pair of training wheels for new pano photographers, rather than a long term archival tool because of the current lack of resolution on phones.

    I’m looking forward to Photosynth’s pano app being updated so that other pano apps’ resolution advantage goes away, but that’s all contingent on hardware getting better and their team having the time.

    I also meant to mention yesterday that you might want to look into using the ‘Exposure Lock’ setting in the mobile app. You’ll want to make sure that the first shot in the pano is one with a lot of midtones to get a balanced exposure, but this will make for much prettier blending in the final stitch.

    If you ever shoot for a desktop pano stitcher with a regular camera, switching the focus, flash, and aperture to manual at the beginning of a pano are what you’ll want to do for perfect blending.

    The serious panorama photographer will also want a tripod head designed specifically for shooting panos, like a GigaPan, however those are rather pricey for amateurs like myself.

  4. admin
    Dec 13 2011

    Again, I am in awe of a) your patience and b) your knowledge.

    In all honesty, I am not a photographer and never will be. I don’t believe that I would take photos with a view to creating a panorama afterwards, as I quite like the immediacy of the iPhone PhotoSynth app. It’s point-move-a-bit-and-move-a-bit-more-and-repeat-a-lot and I think that really appeals to me. One thing that generally appeals to me about mobile devices is the option to be sporadically creative and not have to be confined to a planned process. However, I am quite jealous of the ability to pre-plan and set-up a pano.

    However – and totally contradicting myself (as usual), I have a particular local location which I really want to PhotoSynth and, if my iPhone 3GS and the app don’t cut the mustard, I would be interested in doing it with a camera and doing the stitch afterwards.

    Some of your tips are really helpful – in particular re: Exposure lock as this has been frustrating.

    Oh, and ‘Orbital Propulsion’ is amazing. This sort of stuff looks really interesting – much more so than panos. Didn’t work on iSynth for me though on my ye olde 3GS….

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