This is Part 4 of the Panorama vs. Photosynth comparison. You can find the other parts here:
In this section, we discuss some of the qualitative characteristic comparison between panoramas and photosynths.
Before I move on, though, many have asked, “How about combining both?” And the answer is an enthusiastic Abso-f’in-lutely! I think that is the ultimate goal for many. I really do think there is a “best of both worlds” solution. In fact, I would argue that it is imperative to combine both to capture the world. With that said, let’s move on.
I think it makes sense to think about the qualitative aspects of this comparison in these steps: Acquisition, processing, viewing, user experience (UX) and sharing.
Man, oh man.. Photosynth soooo has the right idea here. Let users take photos with their whatever cameras, put it into a “bucket” (a.k.a. the computer), and let it sort it out for me. Only little know-how of overlapping the pictures is necessary to get your synths going. HOLY SHIT this is powerful. I saw Noah Snavely give this talk at SIGGRAPH 2006 and was freakin’ blown away. The idea of using UGC photos to make sense this was mind blowing for me.
On the other hand, panoramas are not as easy to acquire. I’ve been taking panoramas for about a decade now, and it still kinda sucks how much work it involves the user.
Panorama 0, Photosynth 1
Processing for photosynth is quite easy. You go to Photosynth.net, upload your photos, and wait a few minutes. It’s all web based so no other software bit is necessary.
For panoramas, you need to have a stitching software, e.g. PTGui, PanoTools, EasyPano. Some are free, and most are cheap. These software have become quite easy to use over the years — you just have to load the photos, press a button to stitch, and wait a few minutes.
Here’s the dicey part. In photosynth, there’s no easy way to control the processing. If you took some pictures and there’s not a sufficient overlap or the computer can’t find common-enough similarities between the photos, then you’re kinda screwed. You can’t explicitly tell the computer, “Hey stupid, this picture belongs here, and that belongs there.” Often the computer algorithm gets it wrong, and only thing you can do is to live with it or remove the photo (which can subsequently mess other things up).
In panoramas, the user can have finer controls by explicitly giving it guidance. But this notion of what we call “correspondence” is not always an intuitive thing for some.
User control vs. simplicity.. Hm. Which one wins? Call it a draw.
Panorama 0, Photosynth 1 (same score as before).
Viewing wise, I would give panoramas the advantage, just because the “standard” viewer now uses flash, which I think is a huge f’in deal! Photosynth uses Silverlight. Flash has about 97% penetration, Silverlight has about 33%. This means that Photosynth works in only about third of the computers. That sucks. Even when you have the Microsoft brand, very few people wanna download any plugins. Users expect things to just work .
Panorama 1, Photosynth 1.
UX wise, this is definitely subjective. I have my biases with panoramas. And with Google really spreading the panoramic viewing experience with their Street View, panorama viewers and user interface and experiences are becoming more common. Besides, panoramas feel a lot more natural when looking around.
Photosynth has a weird user experience for me. I cannot move around a space the way I want to — you are limited to, in many ways, where the photos are. It’s somewhat frustrating, since it really feels like a 3D environment (it actually is), but the limitations of movement (and that annoying auto-snapping to pics) seem to misset my expectations.
Due to my bias, I’m not scoring this part.
Panorama 1, Photosynth 1.
Sharing is pretty easy for both (albeit somewhat limited).
Panorama 2, Photosynth 2.
It looks like a tie using this simplistic scoring system. What do you think?