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Hands-on with Photosynth for Windows Phone 8

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The Photosynth app allows you to capture images in a sphere around you and combines them to a 360 degree panorama.

When Google introduced the latest version of its Android mobile operating system - v4.2 - in November last year the Photosphere 360 degree panorama mode in the camera app was the most talked about new imaging feature.

However, Windows Phone users were quick to point out that a very similar function had been available on their devices for quite some time. Microsoft's Photosynth platform for creating 360 degree panoramas was officially launched in 2008 and the Redmond-based software giant released a corresponding app for Windows Phone 7.5 'Mango' in May last year. However, it took until late February 2013 to update the Photosynth app for Windows Phone 8, making it compatible with latest generation devices such as the Nokia Lumia 920, HTC 8X or Samsung Ativ Odyssey.

Using the Photosynth 'lens'

Update: We first installed Photosynth on Samsung's first Windows Phone 8 device, the Ativ Odyssey and the resulting panoramas showed a lot of stitching errors and alignment problems. Thanks to a comment on this story we found out that officially the app requires a phone with a gyroscope which the Samsung does not have. We repeated the test with a Nokia Lumia 920 which comes with a gyroscope but the results were not much different from the Samsung's. At the bottom of this page you'll find samples shot with both phones.

After the installation Photosynth appears as a 'lens' within the camera app on your device. With the lens selected, image capture is pretty-much conducted in Auto mode (though you can lock exposure and white balance for all frames in the settings menu).

If Photosynth cannot capture a frame automatically it switches to manual capture mode, requiring you to tap the screen to record an image.
On the Samsung Ativ Odyssey we used for this test, rendering of the final panorama took around 30 seconds.

Capturing a sphere is started by tapping the screen. Additional frames are then captured as you move the camera up/down or left/right from the last captured frames. This usually happens automatically but occasionally the 'viewfinder frame' turns yellow to indicate a switch to manual capture. You then have to tap the screen again to record the next image.

If the app is unable to align the next frame the viewfinder turns red and you have to re-align with the last captured frame before you can continue. The app requires some overlap between frames and that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to capture large areas of uniform color such as the sky. That said, even in areas with good contrast and detail you have to re-align pretty often which can slow the whole process down significantly.

After the image has been rendered you can add capture information and share on social networks or photosynth.net.
The 'help' section explains the different capture modes.

Once you think you've captured enough individual frames for your sphere, you tap the OK-button and Photosynth starts the rendering process. On the Samsung Ativ Odyssey this takes approximately 30 seconds but on more powerful devices, such as the Lumia 920, take a few seconds less. After rendering is complete the end result can be shared on photosynth.net and/or the usual social networks. It can be shared either as a 2D panoramic image or an interactive panorama. If you want to use this second option, it has to be uploaded to the Photosynth website first.

Overall the capture process is straightforward and intuitive but the frequent need to re-align the framing makes it a little painful to use and slower than the Android Photosphere equivalent.

Image results

Below I have posted a few results of my test session with the app and, as you can see, they are pretty disappointing. Using a phone with a built-in gyroscope really doesn't make too much difference. Photosynth does well in adjusting the exposure and white balance across the entire image but it's the stitching that really ruins the fun. You mostly still get a good idea of the scenery the image was captured in though.

The stitching quality of panoramic images can usually be improved by mounting the camera on a tripod, ideally with a panoramic head but this being an app for mobile devices we used both smartphones handheld, as the vast majority of users would do.

Microsoft's Image Composite Editor, the Photosynth desktop app, is capable of generating good quality results from images that have been taken with DSLRs on panorama head, but it seems that at this point the mobile app isn't up to the same standards. Hopefully future updates of the app can do both improve the stitching quality of the final image and reduce the need for camera re-alignment during the capturing process.

Nokia Lumia 920 samples

In this scene, with most objects at a distance from the lens, the Photosynth image gives you a good idea of your  suroundings but the overall experience is spoiled by some fairly obvious stitching errors. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.
We see a lot of dodgy stitching in this second sample too but the Nokia handles the exposure differences between frames quite well. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.
In terms of stitching this indoor sample is one of the best I could capture. The app dealt reasonably well with the bright light shining through the window but unfortunately I managed to capture a portion of my sweatshirt. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.
 In this plaza the app struggled with both the repetitive pattern of the floor tiles and the sun just hiding behind one of the building. The end result doesn't look too pretty. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.

Samsung Ativ Odyssey S samples

Exposure and white balance are good in this panorama but serious stitching errors ruin the experience. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.
This result is very similar to the one above. You get a a general idea of the scene this image was captured in but the stitching errors don't make the browsing much fun. In this image there are also some exppsure-differences between individual frames that have not been corrected for. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.
 For this image we locked the exposure which resulted in a slightly dark overall image. Nevertheless the stitching is still a mess and the image pretty much unsuable. There are also some areas at the top of the panorama that the app simply would not let me capture, even after realigning the camera several times. Click here to open this image in the Photosynth 3D image viewer.

Comments

Total comments: 34
costinul_ala
By costinul_ala (Mar 18, 2013)

for something that you can carry in your pocket is the best around and the desktop application has other cool features. It has some obvious shortcomings on phones with no gyroscope but it is fun nonetheless

0 upvotes
peevee1
By peevee1 (Mar 16, 2013)

Is it the same thing standard on Android 4.2?

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Apr 1, 2013)

On Android 4.2 it's called Photosphere but works in a very similar way. I wrote about it here: http://connect.dpreview.com/post/4623343664/hand-on-with-the-android-photosphere-camera

0 upvotes
Wbah
By Wbah (Mar 6, 2013)

For Photosynth to work well, you need to have a phone with a built-in gyroscope. It's really unfair to blame the app for the poor results when you use such a mediocre device that lacks the necessary sensors. The ATIV Odyssey apparently doesn't even have a compass.

Try it again with a L920 or any other decent model.

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
8 upvotes
BelePhotography
By BelePhotography (Mar 6, 2013)

I totally agree.

1 upvote
xteapot
By xteapot (Mar 6, 2013)

Agree.

Comment edited 21 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

Right, I admit I wasn't aware of this. I am surprised though I can even install this app if it is not compatible with my device. As I said in the article I will repeat the test on another phone, I just don't have one here right now, so it'll be a few days. So in the meantime I'll adapt the article, and then post an update probably next week.

5 upvotes
FuzzTheKingOfTrees
By FuzzTheKingOfTrees (Mar 7, 2013)

Getting a phone with a gyroscope will also solve your problem of having to constantly re-align the camera. My HTC Mozart was always fairly ropey in photosynth but the new version on my Ativ S is very good. As for the app working on older hardware, it is still useful, you can get some good results with a basic 4-6 frame stich.

1 upvote
FreedomLover
By FreedomLover (Mar 6, 2013)

Apple Quicktime can produce gorgeous QTVR panoramas since 1994. The processing capacity of modern mobile phones is much more powerful then desktop and mobile computers were back then. So it's not like it's impossible, most software is just incredibly primitive and buggy.

0 upvotes
AndyHWC
By AndyHWC (Mar 7, 2013)

How come Apple only gives us a 2-dimension panorama on the 4s only after firmware update?

Comment edited 12 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Combatmedic870
By Combatmedic870 (Mar 6, 2013)

Lars,

Try it with a tripod, see how it work with that?

I did that with the photosphere for android and actually came out with some pretty dang good results.

I know that using a tripod isnt going to be anyones thing, BUT, you should try everything you can to get the best IQ and merging possible before posting a review(IMO of coarse). :)

Atleast then it would take any user error out of it.

If you did, then that apps is not....so good.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
gl2k
By gl2k (Mar 6, 2013)

Another ingenious and funny way of making really really bad images. Well done and thank you.

0 upvotes
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Mar 6, 2013)

Have you tried any other 360 degree apps., maybe this is as good as it gets?

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

As said in the article, Photosphere for Android is better but I haven't tried any other Apps for Windows Phone. Do you know any?

0 upvotes
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Mar 6, 2013)

I'm sorry I can't find anything except " a little painful to use and slower than the Android Photosphere equivalent' I do not see where it says how good the Android app is in comparison elsewhere. I recently downloaded Camera Pro but haven't had the time to try it out yet. I was really questioning just how well a 360 image could be taken by any app.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

http://connect.dpreview.com/post/4623343664/hand-on-with-the-android-photosphere-camera

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

I don't think Camera Pro has a 360 degree mode, has it?

0 upvotes
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Mar 6, 2013)

No I believe it does not have it but you asked if I had tried any other Apps on Windows phone, not if I have tried any other 360 degree photo Apps. I only have one phone a 920, I am interested in what Apps work well and which don't on this phone so I do not read reviews of how unrelated Apps work on other phones, maybe in two years I'll be interested in that.

0 upvotes
67gtonr
By 67gtonr (Mar 6, 2013)

I checked out your other review I think that the Android App did provide marginally better results. It seems you have a vision and are being frustrated by the inability of these Apps to reach it, I hope they improve enough so we can view your vision.

0 upvotes
EdWatts
By EdWatts (Mar 6, 2013)

On the iPhone it doesn't perform that bad.
In the instructions it says to move the phone position, not your body position when taking photos. I find this makes a huge difference.
It's often hard not to take photos at arms length and swivel your feet on the spot.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

I guess it's the other way round, move your body but not the phone :-) In any case, that's what I've tried doing but it should never work this badly. I hope I can try with another device soon but I have little hope it'll be better.

0 upvotes
nightryder21
By nightryder21 (Mar 6, 2013)

My photosynths never come out that bad. Here is one of my own taken in Fort Lauderdale. http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=5013f76e-1586-48a9-a295-974ace9520cc

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

You did not capture an entire sphere though, this is 180 degree at most. What device where you using?

0 upvotes
dtvmike
By dtvmike (Mar 6, 2013)

the images just looks bad.... think the panarama on the iphone 5 is better than this by far

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

The iPhone panorama is not a 3D sphere though, this is a totally different kettle of fish.

3 upvotes
Rooru S
By Rooru S (Mar 6, 2013)

did windows phone users tell you about the dissapointing results? Maybe they just rushed to tell they had something, even if it doesn't perform well

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

well, the user reviews on the Windows Phone store could be described as 'mixed'.

1 upvote
Nikonworks
By Nikonworks (Mar 6, 2013)

This is when you should stop a review process, give feedback to the software developer, and use your energies on reviewing something else.

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 6, 2013)

Well, this didn't actually take too long. By the time I had tried the app and shot the samples I thought it would only be fair to share the results with the world :-)

3 upvotes
FreedomLover
By FreedomLover (Mar 6, 2013)

Thank you for this review.
Typically Microsoft, an eternally buggy and moody toy, if you want good results it just doesn't work.

0 upvotes
Hobbit13
By Hobbit13 (Mar 6, 2013)

Yep, just like Windows 7 and Office 2010. Totally pointless and unstable like hell????

What are you talking about?

0 upvotes
FreedomLover
By FreedomLover (Mar 6, 2013)

I would expect a home operating system to keep personal data from leaking to bored script kiddies. Microsoft publishes gaping holes in their Windows operating system all few weeks. That's a bit buggy, isn't it ? Flame for example allowed outsiders to copy our files for years.

An important function of MS Office 2010 is to enable exchange of documents. But the format is kept proprietary on purpose, so documents will look different as soon as you exchange them with someone using other software.

0 upvotes
CyberAngel
By CyberAngel (Mar 7, 2013)

Show me a programmer that doesn't produce buggy software and I show you God
BUT
in this case gyroscope is needed...

0 upvotes
AndyHWC
By AndyHWC (Mar 7, 2013)

Photosynth was derived from Seadragon, actually not a native Microsoft product. It is not a typical stitching software. It creates a 3D model collaborated from collection of photos. The photo doesn't even need to be from the same camera. To make it work like a stitching software, I think there are some rules you needed to follow to archieve good result.

1 upvote
Total comments: 34
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