April 22, 2013
Q&A: Panoramic iPhone Shots

This week’s question is from my dear friend Kaytee.

Q: How do I keep the camera steady for the panoramic setting?  Where should I train my eye when trying to keep the arrow straight? -Kaytee M., New York, NY

A: I’m the first to admit, I don’t know everything.  When Kaytee first asked me this question, I didn’t realize she was talking about a function right inside the iPhone camera!  Lo and behold, it’s not a separate app; it’s something that takes advantage of your camera’s full recording capabilities.  And, I spent the weekend figuring it out so I can answer Kaytee’s question for you.

When I first tried the function, like Kaytee, I had trouble keep the arrow aligned, as prompted by the function.  (You tap the camera button once, then pan around, then tap it again to end your panoramic shot.)  The camera kept telling me to slow down.  “This thing hates me!” I thought.

I texted Kaytee saying, “Are you sure you want to learn how to use this?  Maybe try the Photosynth app instead?”

But, undeterred, I returned to answering the question at hand.

So, here’s how to keep it straight: Hold the camera steady on your starting point.  Lock your elbows in a firm position so that the camera doesn’t shake, and you have a good, strong grip.  Tap the camera button once, then begin to rotate at the hips, keeping the camera at the exact same height (this is why it’s helpful to have your elbows locked).  Do not raise, lower, or tilt the camera.  Focus exclusively on rotating your entire body from the waist.  Imagine there is a turn-table at your navel, slowing rotating your torso, as your keep your feet firmly planted.  Your arms and head should turn with your torso – do not separately move your arms or the arrow won’t stay straight.  When you reach the stopping point, tap the camera button again. 

Hot tip: Do not move the camera from its position when starting and stopping the recording!  Hold it steady with one locked elbow and start and stop the recording with the other hand.  Use both hands when panning, for extra stability.

In answer to my own question, I compared using the in-camera panoramic function with the Photosynth app.  The Photosynth app is much simpler to use, in that you can move the camera around in any direction, and tap the screen when you want to add a frame.  When you’re done, click done, and it stitches the photos together.

The top two images are samples where I used the iPhone panoramic function, and the ones below were captured with Photosynth.  My initial impression was that Photosynth was more intuitive, and it also created more manageable file sizes.  The iPhone panoramic files are huge, and crashed VSCOcam and Camera+ when I tried to save color-correction edits.  They are also large enough that they should be emailed at a slightly smaller size, or they can take quite awhile to send.

However, when I looked at the photos side-by-side, there was no question that the extra size of the iPhone files also meant much higher quality.  The images from panoramic are extremely sharp and detailed.  Photosynth’s files are decidedly more grainy, and lower resolution.  So, if you want to be able to tilt and compose your shot more manually, or to take a vertical panoramic (see below) Photosynth will be great for that.  But if you really want a high-res horizontal panoramic, it’s worth taking a few moments to master the art of rotating yourself steadily for iPhone’s in-camera setting.

Hope that helps!  Thanks so much for submitting your question, Kaytee!  Please post follow-up questions in the comments below.


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