Apple's new iOS 6 Camera app makes Panorama capture easy
Going wide, shooting tall
Instead of creating immersive QTVR movies, the iOS 6 Camera app simply captures huge, stunning conventional photographs. And it does so with remarkable ease, guiding the user's pace and trajectory with an arrow indicator driven by the built-in digital compass and gyroscope.
While existing pano apps stitch together a patchwork of images that reach up and down and around in a full circle that's best viewed as a dynamic, interactive movie-like view, Apple's new Panorama feature incrementally captures and outputs up to a 28 megapixel 10,800x2332 resolution image that is suited for printing, Facebook Cover images and inclusion into photo books.
Despite being limited to 240 degree views, the resulting Panorama images capture views wider (or taller) than is possible with even the most extreme wide angle lens, even wider than a typical fisheye lens (but without the distortion).
So rather than thinking of the new feature as a limited QTVR pano, it's more accurate to describe it as "virtual" wide angle lens that makes it easy to capture either spectacular horizons or dramatically tall figures (like buildings, below) that simply won't fit into a normal camera's field of view, but without the optical distortion of a fisheye lens.
Panorama processing vs. a wide angle lens
Apple has continually upgraded the iPhone's optics with each generation, significantly widening the picture that can be taken with it. However, there are still very real constraints on the angle of view a compact smartphone can capture.
One option to widen the field of view is to add an external lens, which a number of third parties offer. Olloclip, for example, is a friction-fit, double sided external lens device that fits either a closeup Macro lens, a Wide Angle or a 180 degree Fisheye lens (which just by itself is considerably thicker than the iPhone).
These lenses allow you to capture more with each shot, although they involve some (or in the case of the Fisheye, a lot of) distortion. They also do nothing to enhance the iPhone's native capture resolution. They can, however, be used in both photo and video modes, enabling the capture of a variety of creative shots.
Below, photos of the Golden Gate Bridge captured with the standard iPhone 4S lens, then with external wide angle and fisheye lenses, and finally an iOS 6 Panorama from the same location.
Below, the same series of shots taken from the highest southwest corner of San Francisco's Dolores Park.
The new Panorama mode only captures static images, and takes longer to do so. You also have to have a moderately steady hand and your subject has to remain relatively still. As with taking HDR shots, moving subjects may simply disappear or be clipped partially out of existence, as the bicyclist who passed while this Panorama of the Embarcadero was being captured.
The detail captured in iOS 6 Panorama shots (in contrast to adding external lenses) allows you zoom in or crop images after you've taken them, sort of like the opposite of Digital Zoom. You also don't have to carry around any external lens package, as Panorama does all of its magic in software.
If you're feeling really creative you can capture Panoramas with a wide angle or fisheye external lens attached, resulting in some really unique shots. Outfitted with a fisheye lens, Panorama mode captures even more than 360 degrees to create really strange images.
There's another fun trick the Panorama mode can capture, which is detailed in in the next segment.