Sunday, August 24, 2008

Microsoft's Photosynth: taking the "photo within a photo" to the next level

Woman with robot-like patience prepares to synth a room.

I can't believe I'm blogging about a Microsoft product (Mac fan that I am), but it's hard to resist when that product is FREE and fits the August Monthly Special so well (Really it does. Just see the end of paragraph four). Photosynth is a new way of viewing (and taking) photos. Not unlike a gaming environment, a synthed photo offers a 3D immersive experience.

A "synthy" photo (their cutesy term, not mine) is composed of oodles of photos stitched together to form something way beyond those stitched panoramas you've seen. But the look is not unfamiliar. If you or someone you know plays video games that involve navigation through a virtual environment, then you know the look, except in this case the environment might be your dorm room or the reception hall of your wedding. And of course, the most important part is that unlike similar photo techniques in the past, you don't need expensive specialized tripods or programming skills to get good results.

They make it look easy. After viewing the instructional video, I'd say that the biggest skill you need is patience, specifically a high tolerance for taking photos of every inch of your scene. Watching the perky blond demonstrator point and click her way around a living room like some neo-hipster stepford wife on overdrive made my head spin. A robot or perhaps a small child bribed with bonus allowance money might come in handy for the picture-taking part of the process.

For the creative mind, I'm sure the artistic possibilities are many, but my first impression was that synthing is a fairly mechanical process from start to finish. Nevertheless, I welcome the creative challenge. "Synthy" (Really? Must we use that term?) photos are by their nature photos within photos posing as a single unified image. Want more explanation? Check out the slightly anemic yet informative youtube videos about Photosynth and the "Seadragon" technology behind it.

My only beef with this new service is that it currently does not support the Mac OS. The only way to view or do Photosynth on a Mac is to run it in PC mode (VMware Fusion is on my MacBook Pro, but I still hate booting into Windows for anything other than Netflix streaming). When I clicked to see a synthed (sounds better than synthy, doesn't it?) photo I got the following message:

Unfortunately, we're not cool enough to run on your OS yet.

Are you mocking me, oh great and powerful Microsoft, just because my computer is played by the young, self-assured, thin guy? Fine. Be that way. I can wait. The patience training will come in handy once I start synthing.