Testing out the new panoramic iPhone photo apps

OK, Instagram is the hot photo sharing app for the iPhone, right? Sure! But there’s a new set of apps (with a couple more on the way) that do more than Instagram ever could: let you take 360-degree photos.

This weekend I visited Yosemite with my family. A bunch of my photos are up on my Flickr page, and you’ll see the standard fare like this shot of Yosemite Falls:

Yosemite Falls reflected

The thing is, last week Microsoft shipped a new panoramic photo app that I wanted to test out. It’s called Photosynth for iPhone, you can download it from iTunes here.

I wondered how it would compare to Occipital’s 360 Panorama app, which is my favorite for doing these quick 360-degree shots. You’ve seen me use these a few times, especially when I visit something like Facebook’s datacenter.

So, while standing in Yosemite valley, I thought I’d give these two a good test out. Here’s my two shots:

Yosemite Falls with Occipital’s 360 Panorama.

Yosemite Falls with Microsoft’s Photosynth.

Neither is perfect, so let’s cover the pros and cons:

Ways Occipital’s app wins:

* Easier to use. You just start up the app, click capture, and then pan the camera around. It took one shot to make this full 360-degree view. Just move smoothly in a circle and you’ll see it capture the image.
* Easier to view. Microsoft’s app requires Silverlight, so I’ve gotten some complaints that people couldn’t view images done with Microsoft’s Silverlight app, especially on iPads. Boo! Occipital’s images work just fine, though.
* Easier to share. Occipital’s app shares images on Facebook and Twitter, where Microsoft’s app just shares with Facebook. This really sucks when you want to share an image in near real time with Twitter folks (copying and pasting a URL in Microsoft’s app on the iPhone is very difficult, too, which makes this problem worse).

Ways Microsoft’s app wins?

* Better image quality overall.
* Users can zoom the image in!
* Photosynth makes a 3D map of the world around you. Eventually this map will make it possible to join different people’s Photosynths together.
* Some people will like the “shoot one tile at a time” approach because it makes seams less obvious and also encourages you to shoot more of the scene (my Occiptal image doesn’t show the entire sky and ground, while the Photosynth does).
* Photosynth has a community where you can search for other people’s Photosynths (and other people can find yours).

Anyway, both apps are really great, and if you don’t have one or both on your iPhone you’ll be missing out when you get someplace like Yosemite that just DEMANDS a 360-degree view!

My end review:

Microsoft Photosynth: 4 out of 5 stars (not including Twitter and relying too much on Silverlight are biggest sins, if you want to view on iPad you might give this a far lower rating, like Ben Kessler did).
Occipital’s 360 Panorama: 3.5 stars out of 5. (Seams too obvious and not easy to capture a complete top-to-bottom 360-degree view).


38 thoughts on “Testing out the new panoramic iPhone photo apps

      1. I think that behavior like that really hurts your credibility. Do you think that it’s useful to post your knee jerk reactions. You’ll probably argue that the world benefits from your stream of consciousness, but I think that it’s just adding noise to an already too noisy web. What the web really needs is more thoughtfulness from thought leaders like yourself.


      2. One other thing. Over on iTunes I only have one vote. Here I have a FAR BIGGER stage. So, it’s here that I need to be more careful but I’m going back over there to change my vote. If you expect me to always be consistent or careful, then I suggest not reading me. I’m human and switch my mind often as I use something and consider other angles.


  1. Other then capture landscape, I find this category of apps useful for capturing indoor spaces..can be useful for interior designers or architects. You forgot to mention the pricing of the apps.


  2. Did you happen to play with the UScapeit app as well? Its a newcomer but curious how you feel it ranks…


  3. I’m not an iPhone user, but is it cumbersome to share camera roll photos on twitter? The Photosynth app puts all it’s results on the camera roll.


  4. I like the better quality of photosynth & like Robert, I do end up capturing more of the image.
    +1 for more sharing options & on iPad compatibility.
    occipital needs better image resolution to continue to compete, though.
    both are great apps, though – and both FREE>


  5. I hear they are moving to that in a future version. Which is one reason I didn’t hold it against them as much as I did when I first heard about the incompatibility with iPads, etc.


  6. As far as panorama photo apps go for iOS, you can’t go past AutoStitch for quality. It’s a bit limited in the sharing/web 2.0 feature department, but as a pure photography app, it’s fantastic.


  7. first picture is out of focus, the other has areas where it hasn’t joined the tiles properly and there are drop out patches , neither looks super good.


  8. Any good apps for android ? I would be really surprised if there was a good panorama app for android given its varied hardware issues.


    1. We are coming out with an android app. I agree its next to impossible to get a photosynth type experience on 99% of the android phones. We have built a traditional panorama app that works for even low end phones like HTC wildfire – Stay tuned 🙂


  9. Unless I’m missing something Occipital only works in Safari without Flash, every other browser seems to require flash to view it.

    That’s certainly what I’m getting in Chrome with flash disabled, is just a “missing plugin” message.


  10. Robert, give Sfera a try also, I love this program. Saves audio with the panorama. Here is one I took a while ago in Dallas. http://sfera-360.com/?id=0rk7VK3zFSH2 Not the greatest, but cool. Not only can you take a 360 outward photo, but one inward, like for a product 360. Probably can do so with some of the others, but Sfera is a little easier since you just move the iPhone in a circle.


  11. I agree with you on Photosynth.
    Ever since the day it was released, I always carry it around.

    I really think that Microsoft has nailed it this time.
    The app is surprisingly very easy to use and is very good to take 360 degree (not just 180 degree) panorama.
    And the interactive panorama it’s hosting on Photosynth.net is quite good too.
    Please check out my quick review here: http://bit.ly/ijq2xC
    I posted a lot of screenshots of the app. I really like Photosynth.


  12. “@Scobleizer wish I could check it out on my iPad. Microsoft’s stubbornness with Silverlight is why @occipital is way better.”

    Seems a bit ironic blaming Microsoft’s “stubbornness” with Silverlight, yet it’s Apple’s stubbornness that is holding Silverlight and Flash from being on the platform.

    People use the iPhone because it’s the “Best”, shouldn’t the same carry over to other technology, Silverlight clearly wins here, Apple should allow people to use it.


    1. Bullshit. Flash and Silverlight are proprietary systems. We already have the web that isn’t owned or controlled by one company. Even Microsoft’s Windows 8 team realizes this and is going almost wholly with HTML 5 instead of building in Silverlight.

      Steve Jobs is right not to support proprietary platforms from other companies.


      1. Two thoughts on this.

        1) If there was a native iPad app to view photosynths you would be gushing about it. Even though said app wouldn’t have a single line of HTML5 code in it AND is written to a proprietary Apple SDK. After all when talking about the web didn’t you say in your initial reactions to this app “but that’s NOT where I view things anymore” http://twitter.com/#!/Scobleizer/status/60111595803656192

        2) The photosynth experience isn’t possible using HTML5 as the standard is written today. All the best implementations of pano viewing on the web use proprietary technology: for QTVR Apple uses the QuickTime plugin, KRPano uses Flash, Google Streetview uses Flash. The Occipital experience isn’t “3D” they use a scrolling 2D window. Maybe there is an argument to be made that Occipital is good enough, but you are giving something up.

        There are subtleties in this debate by throwing out the HTML5 buzzword as a panacea you are again adding noise where thoughtful writing would better serve your readers.


      2. You’re probably right! Yes, if Microsoft supported viewers everywhere it would make the point moot. We all need to support HTML and push the standards into places they aren’t yet, like here. But your points are all good and agree that thoughtful writing here would better serve everyone. That said, it ain’t on my iPad (proprietary or not) and that sucks.


  13. Nice review…
    Some points I’d like to make.
    The first being, the lack of Twitter on the PhotoSynth App.. to which i say “Meh”… I would rather share photo’s with friends I actually know, which is how I use Facebook, and not some stranger half way around the world, via Twitter. I prefer the way Facebook allows me to set the privacy settings so that only my friends can see my posts, twitter doesn’t have that. Photos are more personal than just sharing links, and written text.
    Last Point. Do you not think you should put a disclaimer on any of your posts where you review a Microsoft product, or trash Microsoft as a company, since your employer, RackSpace, is a direct competitor of Microsoft and their “Windows Azure” product?


    1. I hardly see Microsoft as a direct competitor of Rackspace and I’m very clear about where I work. Heck, I used to work at Microsoft, I guess that even biases my reviews.

      I totally disagree with you about Twitter, by the way. Lots of my personal friends and family watch me there too.


  14. I definitely like Photosynth better, since the image quality is way better and you can make a whole sphere of panorama with the ceiling and the floor, which is great for architecture and real estate photography. Not to mention Photosynth is free, Panorama 360 costs a couple bucks.


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