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App Roundup: Panorama apps for the iPhone

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With Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 6, you can create panoramas from within the native Camera app, without the need to download any additional software. 

Apple’s latest software update, iOS 6, adds panorama functionality to the native camera app for iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 users as well as fifth generation iPod Touch owners. Several third party panorama apps already exist in the App Store. Has Apple rendered these apps obsolete for iOS 6 users?

To find out, I took a look at the capabilities of four of the most popular panorama apps and then compared their image quality against the built-in iOS 6 option in three common shooting situations, all shot using my iPhone 4S. These are the apps I chose:

Let's take a look at the interface and features of each app, beginning with the native iOS 6 camera app.

Panorama mode - iOS 6 Camera app

Let's start with what you get 'straight out of the box' with an iPhone 4S or 5, running iOS 6. When you open the camera app, tap 'Options' on the top of the screen and you will see a Panorama button. Tap that and you will be returned to the capture screen which now has a panorama outline for you to follow (see below).

Find the edge of your desired composition (double-tap the screen to change the pan from left > right to right > left) and press the camera icon or volume-up button to start your panorama. Slowly move your iPhone across the scene and the app will auto-capture and auto-stich your panorama. When you are finished with your capture, press the camera icon or volume up button again.

iOS’s panorama capture locks the exposure on the first frame, so if you are in a mixed-light situation, parts of your scene may be over- or underexposed. You can manually set where the app locks exposure and focus by tapping the screen before you start your panorama.

Maximum output is a 28 megapixel, 10,800 x 2332 resolution image for a 240 degree image capture in either landscape or portrait mode, with a 16-second capture time.

Pano

Pano has by far the most labor-intensive interface of the apps covered here. Instead of using the iPhone’s accelerometer to measure the viewing angle, Pano relies solely on the user to manually line up the photos. Tap the camera icon on the bottom of the screen to take your first image. You will then see the shot you've just taken superimposed over the scene as a low-opacity layer on the left of your screen. You use to this to align the next image.

Pano requires you to manually line up your previous photo with the next photo in your series. With clear, complex scenes, Pano is not exceedingly difficult, but when you are faced with something like a beach or desert, lining up photos in Pano can be tricky. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to make sure that the photos are at least slightly overlapping.

Be aware that Pano resets exposure and focus for each individual shot in your panorama series. You can tap to re-focus before taking additional photos. But there is no way to lock your exposure for successive images.

Pano claims a 24 MP, 4.6 mb output is possible, though I was unable to achieve those results. Capture times took as long as 3:10, and both landscape and portrait capture is possible.

Photosynth

In Photosynth, you start your panorama by simply tapping the screen. From here, you are basically painting your panorama on a black and white checkered grid. It takes about a minute to capture each panorama.

As you move your phone slowly across the scene, Photosynth will take photos automatically or you can manually add photos by tapping the screen. Photosynth allows you to add photos vertically as well as horizontally so you can capture a fuller view than the iOS panorama feature. When you are done with your panorama, tap 'finish' on the bottom right of the screen and the stitching process begins.

Depending on how many photos you are using for your panorama, stitching will either be near instantaneous or take several seconds. The result is what Microsoft calls a 'full-sphere panorama.' Viewing the panorama in-app is stunning as you can navigate the scene virtually (see a cool example of one from Pulpit Rock, Stavanger, Norway ). Photosynth maker Microsoft says the app is limited to panoramas of about 5.5 megapixels for a full sphere.

Upon export, though, the photos loose a bit of their magic as they are flattened to a typical 2.5 MB for a 4096 x 2048 flat image with a lot of distortion. Photosynth does not crop your panorama, so you have some jagged edges to clean up in your photo. 

By default, Photosynth resets exposure for each individual photo of your panorama. In mixed-light situations, this can make your scene more evenly exposed, but may also cause seams in the stitching. Alternatively, you can lock the exposure on the first frame by going into settings and choosing the 'Exposure lock on' option.

Capture time takes as long as 1:20, depending on the scene. Both landscape and portrait orientation panoramas are possible.

DMD (Dermandar Panorama)

To being your panorama, tap the Start button on the bottom of the screen. Next, turn your phone slowly from either left to right or right to left to connect the yin-yang shaped icons that appear at the top of the screen.

Yin-yang symbols at the top of the screen provide visual cues of your panning progress.When the yin-yang halves connect, the app captures a new photo to add to the panorama. You'll see a reminder to hold your phone vertically if you start to tilt and the yin-yang icon is a good visual aid to see if you are going too far.

By default, DMD resets exposure for every photo in the panorama. But you actually have two options for locking exposure. Just tap the sun-shaped icon on the home screen. The 'Locked' option will lock exposure based on your current image, ignoring the brightness levels of the various panorama photos.  Choose 'Locked on start' to lock exposure on the first frame of your panorama.

The app produces a max 10.6 MP/1.6 mb image. Capture time is around 40 seconds for a full 360 degree image, but only in portrait mode.

360 Panorama

Much like Photosynth, 360 Panorama allows you to paint your panorama onto a grid. You start the panorama by tapping the circular icon on the bottom of the screen. From there, you move your iPhone slowly across the scene and 360 will automatically take photos and add them to your scene.

360 Panorama offers a grid to help guide your image capture. You can capture images both horizontally and vertically to create a full spherical view. When you are finished, tap the icon again and your photo will immediately save and you are taken into a viewing window.

The 360 Panorama app locks exposure on the first frame. But unlike the iOS panorama, you cannot tap to choose the point on which to lock exposure. 

My highest image output was 4.2 MP and 1.7 mb. Both orientations are possible, and capture time took up to 1:30.

Summary: Interface and features

For simplicity, you cannot beat Apple's native panorama option in iOS 6. There is no guesswork; you simply open the app, tap and pan. The iOS app can't match the more advanced spherical panorama capabilities of Photosynth and 360 Panorama, however, and it lacks the additional exposure lock option found in DMD.

Next, let's take a look at the actual images.

Comments

Total comments: 3
ghostcat
By ghostcat (11 months ago)

if your mobile is not iphone, that's no problem, you also can make panorama photos as you wish, you can use panorama maker(www.arcsoft.com/panorama-maker/) to help you. It creates panoramas like professionals. My mobile is samsung, I always take photos with my mobile, then do panoramas on my computer with it. wow~~the feelings are perfect, especially the 360 panoramas(www.arcsoft.com/topics/panorama-maker/make-360-panorama.html) and 3D panoramas. thus you can share with friends who use iphone. they will envy you, believe me.

0 upvotes
GURL
By GURL (Oct 12, 2012)

http://www.philohome.com/tripod/shooting.htm ... a tripod is heavy and bulky but a "philopod" could be helpful as each shot should be taken from the very same point (if you want perfect stichs.)

1 upvote
Dean Holland
By Dean Holland (Oct 11, 2012)

Thanks for the comprehensive write-up and great detail! The final set of images beautifully illustrate something else I've found with the iOS6 stitching app: it dynamically removes flare from pictures as you create the pano. There's very little flare (purple or otherwise) around the lights.

One extra suggestion for a stitching app is Autostitch Panorama. I now has a Photosynth-style interface, or you can stitch together shots taken in your favourite HDR app for great sky and ground. I've found in tests that it gives more accurate stitching than all the others with the possible exception of the iOS app.

2 upvotes
Total comments: 3
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