Panoramic, 3D photo apps put to test for journalists

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360 Panorama shot inside the Ohio Union at Ohio State University. Hint: To view on a computer, click with one finger while swiping left to right with another, then releasing.

 

Think of the possibilities.

You’re in the middle of an intense news scene that words alone cannot describe. A fire has engulfed a block of houses, or a multi-vehicle crash shuts down the interstate.

Or maybe you’re writing a travel piece and stumble into a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. Or maybe the town’s star football player just got a new tattoo or broke his nose.

Two-dimensional photos are great. Yet what journalist hasn’t come across a scene that could be captured much better in 3D or panorama?

Time was (just a few years back) your photo staff would have to rent a GigaPan mechanical device to rotate a series of cameras, then spend hours calibrating and testing it. Kiplinger has one of those in storage.

But now a number of apps allow you — Reporters! Photographers! Anyone! — to capture surprisingly good-quality 3-D and panoramic images with simply a few taps on your smartphone.

After hearing a lot of buzz at recent journalism conferences, Kip decided to check some photo imaging apps out. We asked a photographer to test drive several. To be sure that they’re basic enough for everyone, we wordy types gave them a whirl, too. Big surprise: The photog liked them so much he decided to use them on assignment for his newspaper.

What we found:

Hint: Tilt mobile devices up and left to right when viewing Bubbli images.

Bubbli

Free for Apple devices

This app, around since 2011, was purchased last year by Dropbox. Our photographer had never heard of Bubbli, and was a tad skeptical when we explained he needed to pan his cell to the sky, then down to the ground while rotating his body around an imaginary axis that would anchor the camera.

The result is a seamless, spherical photo or “bubble” that goes a step beyond standard 360 apps in it incorporates zenith and nadir — ground and sky. Viewers see all sides of the image by swiping the image and panning their devices up, down and across.

Once you’ve taken the shot, it takes a few minutes longer than some apps to stitch the pieces together, but the end product is impressive. Even when passersby traipsed through the scene, their images were not streaked or disjointed. The photographer’s response: “Oh, wow. It’s damn-near perfect.”

The bubble can be uploaded and viewed in Twitter and Facebook or downloaded to your phone’s camera roll. Or email it to yourself, open it on a computer, and retrieve the embed code to download onto a website.

Tips

  • Pan the camera with your wrists only, being careful not to move your arms up, down or out. Anchoring your elbows at your side is helpful.
  • Choose or mark a focal point on the ground and keep the camera centered over it. Move your body in a circle around that point as you make the image.
  • As with all panoramic apps, you must sweep your camera very, very slowly to reduce mismatched seams or blurry spots on the image.
  • Average file size: 14 MG

Fyuse

Free for Apple and Android devices

Not quite a video, but not a photo either, Fyuse bills its images as “interactive representations of the world” and “spatial photography.”

Whatever you choose to call it, Fyuse photos are cool. Viewers start with what looks to be a 2-D image, then tilt or swipe the screen to see the image shift to another angle. The effect feels almost holographic. For news purposes, these images work really well with a subject or specific object within an environment.

Before you shoot, swipe the orange tab at right of the screen to choose Selfie, Group, Object 360 or Vertical Panorama modes. The app’s Instagram-like tools and features allow you to apply filters and trim the images. The results can be shared on Twitter, Facebook, texted, or viewed within the Fyuse platform. They also can be uploaded to a website.

Tips

  • Ask your subjects to stand still while you are making the image, though slight movements, such as opening and closing eyes or smiling, can add interest.
  • Give yourself a wide berth to circle your subject. Getting too close makes the image feel cramped.
  • Selfie sticks can make it easier to steady the camera. Otherwise, use both hands, elbows anchored at your side, and walk in a slow, steady arc around the subject.
  • Having a foreground object and a background scene works well with Fyuse. Make sure you pan in the direction that the app indicates and move very slowly.
  • More tips at http://blog.fyu.se/
  • Our file size: 17 MG

360 Panorama by Occipital

For Apple ($1.99) or Android ($2.99)

Reviewers agree 360 Panorama is one of the better panoramic apps, yielding cleaner images with mismatches in tone than other apps.

To use, simply tap the button and slowly pan, overlapping photo “tiles” until you go full-circle. Wait a few seconds while the program stitches and voila! Instant panorama.

This app works best to create a single-layer panorama; we attempted to use the grid to add a second layer (a la Bubbli). The results were disjointed. There is a sound recording option that we found difficult to operate.

The embed code for 360 Panorama images can be retrieved by logging into Occipital’s website and tapping on the image.

Tips

  • When shooting in this app, stay within the gridded guide, our photographer said. Be careful to “keep your parallax even,” pointing your camera so that the image tile is a 90-degree rectangle. This will ensure that your tiles align and your walls, buildings, signs etc. are straight up and down.
  • Turn very slowly as you photograph. Moving two quickly will cause blurring.
  • Occipital recommends that you keep your circle of motion as tight as possible and make a single smooth pass with your camera.
  • Average file size: Less than 400 KB
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