Panoramic images are powerful. If a picture is worth a thousand words, panoramas are worth an order of magnitude more (IMHO). And yet, panos still are not prevalent (and perhaps not relevant enough). Herein lies the premise of this blog.
I’ve been taking digital panoramic photography for about a decade now (tried analog panoramic photography many years longer a la David Hockney), pretty close to the time when digital cameras started to become more consumer friendly. I remember in either 1999 or 2000 during grad school, going to the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston around 1 AM, and talking my way in to try to take some panoramic imagery of their lobby for my research. (Had to ask a few times to finally get a “yes” from someone… anyone ). By the time I was done with a couple of (high-dynamic range) panoramas, it was pas 3 AM. I was using a heavy Bogen tripod, Peace River Studios 3Sixty pan head, and a digital SLR (I think it was a digital Nikon D1). These all belonged to MIT (I was a student and couldn’t afford these wonderful equipment). The panorama I took was multi-rowed and multi-exposured. So it took over an hour to take a single panoramic image.
Panoramic stitching programs didn’t exist much then, especially for HDRs (high-dynamic range imagery — I will talk more about these in some other post). I used a stitching program written by a bunch of folks in the MIT Computer Graphics Lab. It literally took hours (perhaps close to a day) of number crunching to correspond, warp and stitch each photograph. And often times, the algorithm would fail — and I’d only find out after all that waiting via visual inspection. Basically, the whole experience sucked (by today’s standards).
And finally to view the panorama, I used a quite expensive SGI machine (totally expensive and overrated) using OpenGL and some viewer I had to code up. Ugh. What a pain in the ass.
Today, I can take a panorama in less than a minute, and it would then take me a few minutes to stitch and display on a web browser. What a difference a decade can make thanks to convergence and improvements in various technologies!
And yet, panoramic photography still has not gone “main stream.” Everyone who has a digital camera can (potentially) take a panoramic imagery, and there are a lot of digital cameras out there. Tens or even hundreds of billions of digital images are online which can extrapolate to potentially billions of photos taken every day throughout the world. BUT how many panoramic photographs are taken by consumers in comparison? My guess would be about 1 percent of 1 percent. It’s hard to answer this question without further research (hence the “part 1″ of this blog), but I do have some thoughts as to why:
- Hardware — it’s gotta be as simple as a point-and-shoot.
- Extra hardware — we don’t always carry around a rotating head and a tripod (Well, not everybody). It has to be as simple as carrying a camera.
- Software — nobody wants to spend their weekend stitching panoramas. Well, almost nobody. Either the “stitching” step needs to disappear all together or be as simple as clicking a button.
- Viewing — to view a panorama, a special viewer is needed. Every computer pretty much has an image viewer. Every computer should have a panorama viewer.
If these are requirements for panoramic photography to be prevalent as consumer photography, then perhaps the bar’s too high. Dunno yet. More thoughts about this later.