Report : Apple iPhone 5's Panorama Function Covers All The Angles And Tips

Taking panorama pictures isn't new, or exclusive, to the iPhone – but Apple appears to have got it right.

The day after Apple unveiled the iPhone 5, I noticed a sardonic tweet from one of the people I follow:

I laughed at the time – obviously, it's a reference to Instagram, and Facebook's acquisition of what seemed to many a useless company for $1bn – but once I had my hands on a review unit of the iPhone 5 and began using the Panorama function in the camera, I began thinking that actually there was some truth to it.

Now, taking panorama pictures isn't new to the iPhone – it's been available through apps for some time – and isn't exclusive to Apple; Samsung in particular and Android in general, and Nokia too, have had implementations of panoramic picture-taking for some time.

But there's a key difference between what Samsung offers, for example, through its Galaxy range, and what the iPhone 5 (and later on Wednesday, with the iOS6 update, iPhone 4S) can do.

With Samsung, you choose the panorama setting: you take the first photo and then get a green onscreen "target" with which to frame the next picture. You stand in the same place and move around, and once you've finished it stitches the photos together.
That gives results like these (linked on Flickr, some used with permission above and below). It's noticeable in pictures like this one of Trafalgar Square that there's unevenness and even a hint of "fisheye" distortion – where objects in the middle of the range are compressed relative to the edges.
Or there's this one of West Lincoln (CC-licensed, but NC – so again can't feature it here, only offer the link) – where again there's some evidence of the stitching in the angle of the tower in the right-hand distance.

That's not to say those are bad panoramas – in fact, they're very good. But I suspect the requirement to stay in one place is limiting.

By contrast, the iPhone 5 (and 4S) Panorama function lets you move around as you take the picture. You can move the camera up and down (though it creates problems for the system) or towards or away, or even – see below – around. It's the sort of thing that I think is going to be hugely attractive to photographers looking to create an alternative view of things. Expect too that there will be accessory makers building devices to carry phones, or the equivalent of Steadicams that will be able to move the phone really fast to build all sorts of different views of the world.

Once again, it's not that Apple is first with a panoramic setting. But including it in the iPhone 5, and back-loading it to the iPhone 4S (as will happen with iOS6), means that suddenly a lot more people are going to be generating them.

Here is a collection of Panorama photos that I took using the review unit from Apple. (CC-BY licensed, which is why they're shown here)

The originals are on Flickr; they're best viewed on a large screen if you can.

Here's one that really has a panorama, taken in a rural setting. Notice that there's no "fisheye" effect in the middle:
Here's one inside a car, so a much more restricted field of view. Here, there is some distortion, because the objects aren't all equally distant:
Of course, once you start thinking about it, the fact that you don't have to stay in one place means that you can do some interesting things with the Panorama. Such as circumnavigating my (long-suffering) colleague Helliene Lindvall's head:
Alternatively, you can move the phone extremely slowly, so that you get the maximum exposure. In this case I moved the phone/camera as slowly as possible, taking about two minutes to move a distance of about 1m.

Oh, and since you're wondering – has already been registered by someone. Though not, apparently, for iPhone photos. We'll see.

iPhone 5 panorama tips :

The new iOS 6 might have done some damage to the iPhone’s mapping app, but the camera’s refit is one of the best we have seen from Apple. We have had an iPhone 5 for a few days now and all we find ourselves doing is snapping pics using the new panorama mode.

Capable of capturing images up to 28 megapixels in size, get it right and some of the snaps that come out of panorama are the best we have seen on a smartphone. It isn’t easy to get the absolute best from the new iOS 6 camera function, so here are a few pointers to get you started.

How does it work?

If you have updated your phone to iOS 6 then the panorama mode should already be built into the camera app. It is up and running on our iPhone 5 and 4S, but not on the iPad.
To start up panorama, simply open the iPhone’s camera application and hit options. From there you should see a menu drop down, with panorama listed at the bottom. Tap that and the new function should fire up.

Then you should see a long strip sat along the middle of your iPhone’s screen, with an arrow pointing to the right. Press the camera button below and then start moving the phone to the right, all the time keeping the arrow as much in the centre as possible. The end result should be a panorama stitched and saved into your iPhone’s camera roll.

How do I use it?

If you aren’t careful when using the panorama mode, then most of your shots will come back either wobbly or poorly stitched. Take your time trying to keep that arrow as centred as possible. If you get this right, then images shouldn’t look jagged or bent when you look at them in the photos app.

Also try to think about exposure and varying light. If one side of a street, for example, is very bright and the other very dark, when you try and stitch them together in a panorama it will look very odd.
Don't forget you can have even more fun with AE/AF lock that lets you lock the exposure of an image. You can use this to great effect to get more dramatic lighting effects, keeping things darker or lighter. To use it effectively press and hold on the screen where you want to lock the AE/AF before you start your panorama.

So get the light balanced, keep things steady and finally do things slowly. The app will tell you if you are moving too fast, but do things even slower and you should get the best possible results.

How do I take a good photo?

Once you have the actual technique down, then comes the really hard part: how to take a good panoramic photo. You are lucky in that the iPhone does away with the need for expensive lenses and a big dslr.

The hard part is working out where your panorama is going to end. You don’t need to take the entire length of the panorama. You can hit stop on the app at any time and images will be stitched together. Think about this, as often you get distracting elements such as lampposts into shots by accident. Don't hit stop at the right time and you will get things like right angle rivers or oddly shaped streets, unless this is the effect you are going for.

Also before you start taking the panorama, have a think about where you are standing. Start in the wrong place and the photo can only turn out wrong. Don't be afraid to try things differently either. Vertical panoramas can be just as stunning. Aim the phone up at the sky for example and hold it in landscape, tracing details like trees and the tops of buildings, to get a very cool effect.

Then there is composition. Most wide-angle and landscape shots closely obey the rule of thirds. We don’t want to get bogged down in photography technicalities here, but essentially try to line up the horizon in either the top or bottom third of a shot, keeping interesting elements either one third in from the left or one third in from the right.

In layman's terms, don’t stick your subject directly in the centre of a shot. Think about where your horizon is so it doesn’t intersect the centre of your subject. Say you were photographing your family or a friend in front of a big, wide landscape: make sure the horizon is positioned in such a way that it doesn’t cut their heads in half. The bottom line really is take your time and you will get a good shot.

What to do once you have your photo :

So you have the panorama you want, what next? There are plenty of apps that will send prints from your iPhone’s camera roll, the problem is that panoramas will be squashed, simply because of their length.

You could print images off larger, going for something like A3 or A2 size, the problem is that there is going to be a lot of excess photo paper. A brief search on the web and there are plenty of companies that offer special panoramic printing. Posterprint, for example, will do you a panoramic print for £7.95

Thanks to iOS 6, you can also share shots directly to Facebook and Twitter. The panoramas do turn out fairly low resolution, but sync things with your Photostream or iPhoto and upload them and you should have a high-resolution original. Alternatively email it to yourself and make sure you send the full size.

More than just panoramas :

The iPhone 5 camera isn't just about letting you take Panoramas. To see how the iPhone 5 fairs as a pocket camera, check out our dedicated iPhone 5 camera review where we look solely at the performance of the phones camera and see how it compares to a top of the range Nikon D4 DSLR camera.
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