Microsoft Photosynth arrives on iOS

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In the beginning there was Autostitch. A quick devolution later, “You Gotta See This!” saw the light of day. Now, Microsoft has brought their Photosynth technology to iOS. With a price tag of $nothing, no native iPad resolution support and an image capture system somewhere in between the two above, is it any good?

Photosynth’s image capture system is as close to a child of Autostitch and YGST as you can get (ignoring the fact Photosynth has been around for ages). You hold up your iDevice, move it around, and it will take pictures whenever it’s in a position where it both can get new info from the picture and have enough info to place it with the others. Basically, you just move it around until the crosshairs turn green (rather than yellow or red) and it will beep and take a picture. You then continue doing so until you get bored or consider yourself done. As long as the crosshairs are placed correctly it will take pictures automatically, but you can also do it manually if the two of you disagree on what constitutes useful new image data.See the video below for a quick demonstration- and yes, I know you can hardly see anything, blame the sun and the lack of full color e-ink displays.

Unlike the other two apps (where Autostitch represents all normal panorama apps), Photosynth uses a proprietary 360 degree file format only usable on Bing Maps and photosynth.net. Instead of making a single image file, it creates a 360 degree (if you did take pictures all around yourself) space that you can navigate using the touchscreen (on the iDevice) or various controls/the mouse (on a computer). This is practically identical to how Streetview works in Google maps, but made by you. Because of this format though, you can only upload to Bing Maps and Photosynth- forget about saving to the photo library.

The biggest drawback of the app is definitely lack of import functionality. It’s perfectly possible to put together existing images this way so I don’t understand why they would limit the app, but then again it’s not technically made for the iPad (it’s an iPhone app) so it’s neither made for a device that can import images from a camera nor made for a device with a dual core CPU (iPad 2). Fix that, Microsoft!

Results

Here are the results of using Photosynth, along with a similar image taken with YGST!, Autostitch (iPad camera) and Autostitch (Canon 300 HS). I wouldn’t keep any of these frankly, not even the Canon one, as the conditions today basically requires the ability to set all camera controls manually to compensate for the sun messing with automatic settings. I really need to get the CHDK beta onto my 300HS, but that’s another story.It’s also worth noting that it took roughly 2-3 times as many photos to make the iPad panoramas as with the Canon one because of the iPad 2’s awkward focal length (it’s not exactly wide angle…), meaning that stitching images is more complicated because there are more pieces.

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As you can see, the Photosynth system works pretty well, but is severely limited by the iPad 2’s camera- especially when pointing directly towards the sun. It would work better on an iPhone 4, but until Microsoft makes a dedicated iPad app that allows photo imports this is more of a toy than anything else. It also missed the alignment in a couple of spots, e.g duplicating our bell tower, but nothing major. Still, it’s free, so why not get it? As for YGST!, it lost it so completely in this test that it makes you wonder how they ever released it as a paid app and manage to sleep at night.

 

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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