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How NOT to Display 360s

April 20th, 2010

I ran across some 360’s that are the old restricted vertical field of view 360s and I feel obligated to explain why these things look awful and you should not use them. You used to see them on real estate tours all the time but now days they are used less. I’m not going to link to the most offensive examples because I don’t want to publicly intimidate agents or photographers. This is an example of what they look like.

The reason people do these kind of panoramas is they are easy and don’t take any special equipment. But let’s face it, they look like crap! They use a wide angle lens with a normal tripod. They put the camera in portrait mode and shoot 6 or 7 or 8 overlapping images to create a 360 panorama. Then after stitching, the 360 tour just displays the stitched image with no processing by the web viewer. The photo to the right is a 180 degree section of one of these cylindrical panoramas that I shot a very long time ago. I shot it with my Canon 16-35mm oriented in portrait mode so the vertical field of view is 96 degrees and it took 6 shots around to cover the complete 360 degrees. I shot this on a standard tripod. The curved lines are awful.

Here’s the problem with these kind of 360s: Whenever you try to display more than about 100 horizontal degrees of view on a rectangular image you start to get serious distortion. The usual way a 360 panorama like this is projected on to a rectangular surface is called a cylindrical projection. Cylindrical projections result in an image where straight lines are shown as curves and the longer the straight lines are the more they look curved. In a horizontal line through the middle of the image there is no distortion but at the top and bottom the distortion is becomes exaggerated. The curved lines in this type of 360s are very distracting and disorienting to viewers. My belief is that it’s better to do nothing at all than these types of 360s. Even the most visually unsophisticated viewer can see that this is a wacky way to display a home. Do yourself a favor, and stay away from this kind of 360s!

Here’s what you have to do to shoot a real 360: You have to capture the whole vertical field of view in 360 degrees by using a panorama head that allows you to shoot two either several rows with a 16mm lens or better yet, about 3 fisheye shots that can be stitched together into a equirectangular image that is used by a web viewer to display one rectangular section of the total 360 image in a rectangular view like this. This 360 was shot by , Jook Leung one of the masters of the 360 medium. This kind of 360 takes special equipment to shoot, special stitching software and a lot of practice. Oh, by the way, Jook shoots this kind of 360 handheld, without a tripod.

Update: Thanks for Marcus, Scott’s and Chris’s help  with clarifying what I was ranting about here. Yes, I’m complaining about viewers and the tour hosting sites that use 360 viewers that don’t do what 360 viewers are suppose to do… display a 360 image without curved lines. Chris’ excellent example demonstrates that the example I gave can be displayed much better with a real 360 viewer.

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21 Responses to “How NOT to Display 360s”

  • Of course if you look at a stitched image as a static image it looks unusual. But put it into a viewer that displays it as a rotating image, and they look fine. Sounds to me like you shot from the hip on this one and missed the target. As well as putting down very fine work that is done around the world by lots of RE photographers.

  • @Zac- The point is that most of the viewers don’t do anything but rotate the image and they don’t look fine.

  • I think what Zac is trying to say is that much of the fault is with the player, not how the 360 was captured. You can shoot a perfectly fine cylindrical panorama with a superwide [~15mm FF] and pano head, put it into the right player with the right settings and you won’t see the curved walls etc. which I agree are a very poor and outdated way of displaying a 360 image.

  • Yeah, the viewer is at fault here. It’s not projecting the image into a virtual cylinder, rather it’s just panning across the stitched image. If it rotated it correctly the experience would be totally different.

    This is not shot poorly; it just doesn’t have a very wide vertical field of view: http://www.openstudio.fr/jquery.panorama/img/atelier.jpg

    I’ll email you a .mov from that file.

  • Nothing wrong with the way it was shot….its all in the program used to assemble to actual tour and the viewer itself.

    I took the same jpg file used in your example Larry and put it into the program we use for our tours:

    http://rstours.ca/multimedia/test5

    This took 20 seconds to make so there are of course settings that would be adjusted to fine tune it and the size/quality of that jpg (297kb) is very poor for nice sized virtual tours, especially a full screen one.

  • @Chris, Scott & Marcus- You guys are absolutely right the issue is not so much the shooting but the displaying of the 360 images that I’m complaining about. Thanks for the great examples of how this image can be improved with an appropriate viewer.

  • I don’t quite get the point of this blog entry either. Vertical lines stay vertical in both your first example and also in Jook’s shots. But horizontal lines will be curved, no matter how you do it–when you look at the flat photo. It is indeed a 3D viewer that makes the difference and which straightens out the horizontals as it spins around. Using a wide-angle lens and a tripod, taking 8 – 12 portrait shots and then stitching them together carefully works just fine.

  • I think the point of the post is that agents and tour providers should pull their fingers out and start displaying 360’s with 21st century technology, seeing as we’re at 2010 already. It’s just ignorance / lazyness to have not got around to using a decent player yet.

  • Ultimately, I believe that it boils down to what our customers (real estate agents and their sellers) want, not what we, the real estate photographers think is a better or worse photographic medium or virtual tour viewer technology. It’s been my experience that here in Silicon Valley, most agents are willing to put up with a little bit of distortion in the stitched 360 images, in order to better show large rooms, yards, etc.. Additionally, the general feedback I’ve received from these agents is that they prefer a flat stitched image that plainly scrolls across the viewer over spherical images that have a “3D effect” because the latter makes them feel “sea-sick” when they view them.

  • I’m working with a programmer who is trying to display my 360-degree pans without correcting for the distortion. They look awful. He says he’s hesitant to use the existing viewers as they require Flash. Does anyone know of a 360 viewer that is not flash-based?

  • Clark, take a look at the java based pure player from immervision:
    http://www.immervision.com/en/multimedia/multimedia_products/multimedia_products_2_1.php

    PTViewer still works too:
    http://www.fsoft.it/panorama/ptviewer.htm

    They don’t play as smooth as flash though, and don’t have the same slick fullscreen options either

  • Well, I have to agree with Larry’s post.

    I do a ton of these. I have two large clients that I do about 60 of them a month for. I moved to a new area just as the market took a dive a couple of years ago and these things pay my bills so I LOVE that my clients want them. But, really they are the worst. The saving grace is they are cheap to produce and they are bundled with pretty much “out of the camera” stills for a low cost photo shoot. For low end properties they at least give people an idea of what the place looks like. The funny thing is, for the same money they can get really nice looking HDR stills that I think show the places off better and probably get more interesting but there is something these clients like about movement.

    I appreciate that the customers want them and pay for them. There have been months in the past few years where these vt’s have been my entire income. But, from a viewing experience they are crap. I understand the problem is with the playback software. The software could be better, it could clean up the distortion, smooth out the playback, etc.. But, this technology has been around for years and years and we still have all the issues. Tells me no one really cares. The software is good enough for the clients who want this type of thing.

    I really think people would be better with video and HDR stills but the price is a bit more for that. So, I guess these will continue and as long as I have clients that want them I will continue to shoot them.

  • Just a question. I currently subscribe to one of those Realtor virtual tour companies. Unfortunately, the viewer for my service is not great – It pans across a stiched image. Do you know of any companies that use the appropriate viewer?? Would love the help!

  • Gary – I would put in your panos in the viewer like this:

    http://rstours.ca/multimedia/test5

    For whatever you are paying the company you use now for their junk.

    Takes me 10 mins to put one together and i could give you the embed code for where ever you wish to add it.

  • Chris – What software are you using to create that tour?

  • Dan, if you click on the image the help box say’s it’s a playing via the KRPano flash player: http://krpano.com/
    But, you could also use FlashPanoramaPlayer or Pano2VR for similar quality / features.
    http://flashpanoramas.com/player/
    http://gardengnomesoftware.com/pano2vr.php

  • I haven’t been a fan of stitching for tours. I thought they were too much trouble anyway. Looks like now the industry is moving to video tours anyway. What are your thoughts on that?

  • We sell to a lot of clients looking specifically for the virtual tour. Our tour does capture the full vertical and horizontal planes. I have never liked the warped look that many tours have. I think that many people and clients have been turned off by tours because they have seen many low quality tours on the market.

  • I like real full motion video so much better than slide shows. Always feel like the slide shows are slooooow. And the same images recycled you already made the real estate buyer sit through. He or she bolts, flits if you make them waste time and tease. Sound from the real 30 frames per second experience is the way to roll. It takes the viewer to the property if done right and sound needed for that beam me to the place Scotty. Slide shows don’t have natural sound and usually scripted copy talking over the buyer not to them one on one. And audio not timed, in tune in many cases with the slide show.

  • Has anyone tried this 360 lens for RE photography? I’m retiring this year and want to get into the business. http://www.0-360.com/camera.asp
    You have a great site with tons of info. Thanks!

  • @Donna- My recommendation is not to bother with this kind of lens. You end up with a very small image on one frame which yields a small low quality 360 image. This kind of 360 was cool back in 2002 or 2003 when 360s were just becoming popular but this kind of 360 is not going to impress anyone these days.

    If you must do 360s you need a fisheye lens, a panoramic head and good stitching software. I actually don’t recommend beginning real estate photographers do 360s because it’s very hard to get paid for your time. Agents don’t want to pay what you need to charge to recover your equipment costs and time investment.

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