Microsoft Photosynth review


25 Aug 2008

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Doesn’t it seem like something is missing when you simply chuck a load of snaps up on a photo sharing site and they don’t seem to do the scenery justice?

Say you have just been to see the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids at Giza or maybe Stonehenge – the awesomeness of these sights could be captured so much more efficiently, and as I discovered after checking out Microsoft’s new Photosynth programme – the answer is 3D panoramic views.

I’ve always been a fan of the 3D panorama and while I will browse Flickr contentedly, I will linger for a while longer on sites like Panoramas.dk, which has some beautiful shots of the New York city skyline.

I imagine creating my own version from scratch would involve painstaking work in Photoshop, carefully overlapping all my pictures, so I got excited when I found out that Microsoft Live Labs has created a free programme that does all the legwork for you.

Microsoft’s Live Labs has been developing this technology for a few years now in conjunction with Washington University in the US and a preview version was released back in November 2006 but not intended for general use, so only a few select institutions including NASA and the BBC got a chance to try it out.

Basically, you install a small piece of software. (Warning: if you’re on a Mac, it isn’t supported yet, so Windows users only need apply). The Photosynth software then allows you to upload a series of shots and spends time analysing these for common points, which it then uses to stitch the pictures together to create a scrollable, explorable panoramic view of your snapshots.

It is best to stand in the same position when taking these shots and the more the better so that you end up with a seamless, fairly high-resolution result. I decided to be non-adventurous and go for a panoramic view of my workspace, taking 36 shots of the area in and around my desk.

Obviously, you could be a lot more adventurous and go for a complete 360 shot, mapping the floor, ceiling and the entire area in front and behind you, but our example demonstrates how easy it easy to snap a few quick pics, transfer them to your computer and upload them onto your Photosynth account.

Live Labs provides you with 20GB of storage space – you cannot download these images for yourself so the finished result can only be viewed from the Photosynth page. Also, there is no private mode yet so your pictures go public once uploaded but remember it is free and the results are pretty cool!

When you have a look at the panoramic views loading you can see how Photosynth stitches all the images together because the black framework shows up thousands of these tiny white pinpoints that are used as a basis for finding common ground between the pictures.

In other words, a full 3D model is then created from your series of pictures (which I would love to be able to take and build as an actual, virtual, 3D, SecondLife-esque model).

The more pictures you use, the more ‘synthy’ the image will be – ours only reached 86pc but the end result still looked good enough.

So next time you go to the Notre Dame cathedral or ancient Roman ruins make sure and take as many pictures as possible so you have one cool 3D panorama to show to your friends and relatives on your return instead of an hour-long slide show!

By Marie Boran

Pictured:Photosynth preview of the Piazza San Pietro, Rome

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