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Full Screen Flash 360 Panoramas - Are They Worth It?

Published: 16/07/2007
By: larry

I've had several questions recently about making 360 panoramas so I thought I'd visit this subject again.

There are some that think that the work it takes to do 360s is not worth it and there are many that think having a 360 tour can set your real estate marketing apart from the crowd. I've done 360s for many years and make it a point to talk to buyers and sellers to see if they've seen the 360s and ask them what they think. I'll have to say that not everyone appreciates 360s and some plain don't like them.

On the positive side we sold one home a few years ago in a very fast market where some out of town buyers saw only the 360s and stills before signing a contract. They, saw the stills and knew I was making 360s and waited till I posted them to sign the deal. The first time they saw the physical house was at the inspection. This is the home. These 360s were done back when I was using only QuickTime. The buyers were moving from California to Issaquah and had made offers on and lost 6 different homes before this one. Their belongings were on a moving truck... they were clearly under unusual pressure.

This clearly is an unusual situation for a home sale yet we repeatedly rent our furnished rental based only on the 360s. This happens about 30% of the time. So, there is good evidence that the full screen 360s that I use are effective.

I believe that now that most of the real estate buying world has high speed internet access, large full screen 360s set the marketing apart much more than little tiny 360s. Notice the level of detail of a room that can be seen in a full screen 360. So much detail that it's relatively difficult to control all the defects. Note you have to click on the X on the left-hand lower control bar to make this image go to full screen. This full screen 360 is done with Flash and demands that Flash version 9 be loaded on your machine to display the image. Flash 9 has new graphic features that make the display of full screen 360 spherical images practical. This chart shows that as of this date Flash 9 is installed on about 83% of machines so no download/install is required.

I've started to use only Flash for full screen real estate 360s. QuickTime is still some what smoother panning than the Immervision Flash Player that I use but not enough to risk have buyers needing to download and install Quicktime which is pretty big and ugly on Windows machines. Java is a pretty big download too and currently has about the same penetration as Flash 9.

The question that got me going on this post was about the 360 One VR which is a parabolic mirror that reflects a 360 image on one frame. This device is certainly quick and easy but the quality of the image it creates is low so you can't easily make large 360 images. To me tiny little 360s were interesting 10 years ago but are yawners these days.

So how do you make full screen 360s? I have to apologize to those readers I've promised to finish my tutorial on how to shoot full screen 360s. I promise to finish it soon. To summarize briefly you need a fisheye lens and a panoramic head. The Nikon 10.5 is very popular (works on Canon too) or the Sigma 8mm is OK but not as high quality as the Nikon 10.5. The panoramic head allows you to take 3 to 6 shots rotated around the lenses aperture plane in a perfectly level swing so the stitching works well. The images are stitched together with stitching software (PTgui is may favorite) and then posted to the web with some HTML and player software.

The bottom line is that 360 VR is allot of work, requires added equipment and some practice to get it done right and quickly. The question is, is it worth the extra work and expense? It's hard to tell for sure. Some buyers and sellers (usually the more geeky ones) think it's fantastic while others don't even get what its all about. I do it for all our listings mainly because I enjoy doing it and do it for other subjects than real estate... my non-real estate 360vr images are at

34 comments on “Full Screen Flash 360 Panoramas - Are They Worth It?”

  1. Back in the "old days" I was creating my VTs with nikon coolpix 8800 with an fc-e9 (i think) fisheye converter, two shots were enough to create 360 degr. panorama, but: It took ages on Panoweaver software to stitch it, quality from the coolpix was rather sad, most clients didn't feel like downloading Java plugins, and the only response I was getting was "it's not showing on my computer". Now with flash life's easier, but to have a reasonable quality you have to get yourself a Sigma 8mm lens, which u will only use for VTs, quite pricey piece of glass. U need at least 6 shots, and as long as interiors are easier to do, outside becomes quite tricky to stitch, having no control points on the perfectly blue sky. I abandoned 360 tours a year ago and haven't noticed a significant stagnation in my business. I will probably return to making them when the panning on flash in full screen will really use 31fps instead of jumping like crazy. I recently did some VTs for my own purposes with my 10-22 tilted down 30degree in portrait mode and found it quite good. the black circle on te floor is just a right size to put my logo, and the only downside is that you can't see directly above you, which, unless there's a 19th century chanedlier, doesn't really matter.
    Example: (that was handheld, 11 photos in 30 degree steps, really rough on stitching, from shoot to pano online took me 5 minutes, quality was not a subject here)

    Matt Stec Photography -

  2. In my opinion, 360's have a role in some areas such as hi res QuickTime tours of stunning cathedrals or historic city squares like Prague or Venice.

    However, I'm ready to take a shot at a property with my composition set and most of the time I'm thinking I wouldn't want to ruin the whole thing by showing what's behind me and that's my issue with 360's.

    I also often find viewing java and flash tours unreliable and jerky. With so many people owning iPods (and iPhones soon), is it really a big deal using QuickTime? After all, if the viewer is really serious about the property and not just looking for entertainment, they will download QuickTime though that type of client will probably have it anyway.

  3. Larry I think you bring up some good points but you are basically a Realtor, you don't have to pay for your pano's. How much do you think Realtor's are going to part with before it becomes too much for them. I had to offer a group discount for a realty to make it worth their while to use me exclusively as their photo lackey and while the group thing makes it worth while I'm not sure I really need to offer more "features" to them.

    I'm not going to make a pano without charging for it and my high end package is already more than anyone else is charging for things that are remotely similar. Would you be willing to pay a bill that's approaching $500 for the extra 360 panos? I'm not too sure. I think if you give the client good quality imagery for a price that doesn't make them jump out of their skin then that will give them the tools they need to make the sale, especially when most of their competition is still taking their own pictures with a brownie box camera... (ok, a p & s digital)

    Very interesting topic but I think there may be a point when our menu gets too long.


  4. My experience has been that there is not that much demand for 360's. For those that want 'em I tell them to call Larry as I did from a recent call. I think the fact that they take too long to download makes them impractical compared to the speed of the virtual tour flash slideshow that I currently use.

  5. I think 360s are very relevent - especially now. I worked at Apple from 1992 - 1999 and when we were creating QuickTime VR (Virtual Tour technology) there was no Web. Even in 1999 people still didn't get it when it came to the power of a virtual tour. I think now many industries welcome this technology mainly due to the fact that most people now have broadband access.

    The real estate industry has not caught on as quickly in this area mainly because the virtual tours they are used to seeing look like doo doo... pardon my profanity but I have yet to see a Realtor use really powerful virtual tours. I think this is mainly because of price and quality. I guess you get what you pay for though, right?

    Also nowadays QuickTime is all over. Every PC that has iTunes has QuickTime. Every person who buys an iPod gets QuickTime installed. Any person who loads AOL (PC version) gets QuickTime installed. I don't know what this equates to as far as installed base but I am sure it's pretty high. Also many major PC makers now put QuickTime on their hard disks.

    I use Java for the smaller Virtual Tours and QuickTime for full screen because the play back is so much smoother than Flash. Also the Flash version makes me dizzy when I look straight up or down! It doesn't stop at the bottom or top... I feel like a hamster in a ball...

    Check these out...



  6. David,
    The problem with QuickTime is that NOT all PCs have QuickTime. Studies ( show that only 67% have QuickTime. Sure QuickTime is clearly the best (smoothest moving) technology for 360s but a third of the people that take a look at 360 won't be able to see your property. My experience indicates that with my buyers and sellers it's more like only 50% have QuickTime loaded. Whereas, 98% have Flash.

    As a Realtor, I want everyone that looks at my tour to be able to see it without a download. If a download is required, they are going to be gone!

    For this reason Java and QuickTime are unacceptable for real estate tours.

  7. How up to date are their figures? 67% is more than the number of people with broadband in most countries and yet when was the last time met someone on dialup? We've all got a granny with a PC in her study on an 800x600 resolution running Windows 98 but they wouldn't be loading your virtual tours anyway.

    Everyone I know has an iPod, even older couples and the iPhone alone will account for millions more QuickTime users each year.Even YouTube is now being encoded for non flash devices

    The most stunning tours I've ever seen have all been in QuickTime. Some great galleries at

  8. Hi Larry,

    That survey just says "Flash player". Which version? Not all Flash players can view virtual tours. I believe only since Flash 8 could you view them.

    I don't know how accurate the Adobe survey is (Adobe makes Flash) but what we need to think about is what percentage of the users out there who view high-end content have the technology you are using - QuickTime, Java, Flash, etc... What is the penetration of Flash 8 or 9?

    I think Java is the safest technology to insure most people can view virtual tours. I am emailing Apple to see if they have any numbers about how many QuickTime viewers are out there... it'd be good to find this out from an independent company of course but it's difficult to get accurate numbers for this. I'll let you know what I come up with.


  9. MVUS,
    I talk to ALL our buyers and sellers and talk to them about tours. Based on my interviews with our buyers and sellers fully 50% of them do not have QuickTime so it's clear that the 67% is optimistic. Further, QuickTime is NOT installed on any of the office machines at our real estate office.

    Don't get me wrong, I love QuickTime. QuickTime clearly is THE highest quality technology for 360s. I've used it extensively for years but reluctantly stopped using it for real estate when I started talking to buyers and sellers. It just doesn't make sense for real estate.

  10. David,
    Java is problematic as well. Java penetration is substantially less than Flash (see: The litigation between Microsoft and Sun over Java seriously impacted the Java penetration because there was a long period between 2003 and 2005 when Microsoft Windows install disks didn't have Java. It was up to hardware makers to add Java to windows. I only discovered this by taking to our buyers and sellers. So the 87% penetration that Adobe claims is also optimistic... it's more like 75% based on my interview data.

    In the Seattle area there is the problems that Microsoft employees refuse to install Java on their PCs because of the Sun/MS litigation(a significant percentage of our clients are Microsofties) so Seattle area Realtors should avoid Java too!

  11. You're right about the office aspect. People are spending more time surfing the Internet at work than at home but don't have QuickTime on their office PC

    I make video from time to time and resent the fact that Sorenson want something like 200 dollars to updrade my Squeeze for Flash from 7 to 8 when I can use QuickTime Pro for 30 dollars with better quality but the 98% Flash install stats make us all use Flash

  12. As you can see it isn't easy determining what technology to use. We just don't have accurate numbers for any technology. Again I ask though, how many Flash users out there have Flash 8 or 9? It could be substantially lower than Java or QuickTime. According to Apple's site...

    "Available for both Windows and Mac, QuickTime 6 was downloaded more than 350 million times. Moreover 98% of those downloads were from PC users, at a rate of over 10 million per month."

    Not bad but again that is coming from the manufacturer of QuickTime. Just like how Adobe reports Flash. Apple is at least being more specific in that it says, "QuickTime 6 was downloaded more than 350 million times." (Remember every mac comes with QT so I believe Apple when they say "98% of the downloads were from PC users." That makes sense to me.

    Anyway, like I said it's difficult to really know true numbers. I like to believe that the folks viewing my "high-end" tours have newer computers and many newer computers will have QuickTime on them - whether from AOL being installed, or iTunes, game CDs, or from an iPod etc...

    The ultimate way to present Virtual Tours is by having the site check the users computer to see whether it has QuickTime, Flash or Java and deliver one of those... LOTS more work though ; (


  13. I gather by the debate that you all believe, for the most part, that Realtors are willing to pay the extra costs that will come with extra work? I mean if convincing customers that they need high end photography is challenging I can't imagine suggesting to them that they hand you more money for something extra. I'm really curious about peoples thoughts on this. It might be a mute point wether one platform is better than another if the market won't bear the extra charges that a 360 full screen pano would incur. No offense to the realtors but they are generally very, ummm, frugal.


  14. I really think that most Realtors see 360 VTs as a waste of money. I have been working with someone who does Floorplan sketching and uses hotspots on the plan to show views of each room. When you take photos from the most important angles in a room, the buyer can get a pretty good feel for the layout of the house. Add a Floorplan to it, and you've got a real winner. I, for one, hate 360 VTs. And many of the properties that we photograph don't even have a need for pano VTs anyway. One must admit that in every house and in nearly every room, there is something unsightly that you don't want to show. I LOVE those VTs that show a blank wall forever, or they pan over the sofa. I've been offering Photography and Marketing services to Realtors since the beginning of this year, and my schedule is completely filled week after week. The point being, I have only had one agent ask me if I offer 360 VTs. Personally, when I was working as an agent, I only offered 360 VTs to my sellers to keep them happy. In the end, my 360 VTs were hardly viewed at all, despite the fact that my Listings were getting thousands of online viewings/hits.

  15. I do have a question somehow related to 360's......I'd have been using a 10/20 Sigma to make a 360
    at 12 shots each and so Im wondering how many shots do I need with a Nikon 50 1.8 in order to make
    a 360................thx


  16. 360 degree views are highly over rated. They are a fad when the technology became available. This discussion should separate on 2 separate issues: (1) 360 views (2) Flash versus Java viewing.

    While there are places for 360 views, I haven’t seen many involving for-sale family homes. Most waist time by showing boring blank walls, hallways, neighbor’s yards, etc.

    I prefer flash tours because they look more realistic (no swimming in/out). Isn’t realistic what we value most?

    When homes have what’s called the “great room” concept, I often stitch together photos to provide a “panorama” overview. Then I follow with detail photos of each area (kitchen, eating area, family room). The panorama overview helps viewers put it all together in their minds. I use zero specially equipment. All panorama shots are taken using a tripod and a bubble level on a digital camera. Panorama Factory software stitches and blends nicely.

    See an example at:
    Skip to the view called “Open Gracious Living”. This is just short of a 270 degree turn view. Any more would waist time. This is a Flash tour. I've never had any complaints about people who can't see them without software download. Maybe that's because the tour hosting service I use makes it easy when needed?

  17. Mr Robert,
    Depends on if you are using a full frame camera like the Canon 5D or 1Ds MkIII or and APS cropped frame body. If you are using a full frame camera:

    -If you overlap 25% (standard practice) and
    -If you are shooting in vertical (portrait mode)

    it will take 18 50mm frames to capture 360 degrees. This 360 degree image will only have 39 degrees vertical FOV so if you want more than 39 degrees vertical FOV you'll have to shoot a 18 images at 0 degrees, 18 image at +25 degrees ( camera rotated up) and another 18 images at -25 degrees (camera pointing down). These 54 images will still not capture the complete 180 vertical field of view.

    If you have more questions contact me at

  18. Regarding using a 50mm 1.8 to shoot panos -- I assume the reason you want to do this is the outstanding sharpness of that lens. Remember that your images will be processed nearly to death and then posted at the lowest resolution possible - I don't think the (outstanding) sharpness of that lens will come through in this application.

    Regarding 360 tours generally -- I have one large office that pesters me constantly to offer this - some guy came in about a year ago and made a presentation to them about how great 360's are and then disappeared! All the agents in that office are convinced that virtual tours are somehow mandatory now. Personally, I have zero interest in shooting them - all I really want to do is make that "perfect" still. I'll get it any day now!
    What my other clients tell me is that VT's are really for the seller, not the buyer. It's used around here mainly as a tool to secure the listing. Or so I'm told.

  19. I did virtual tours for several years and phased them out about a year ago and introduced PDF slideshows which are simple to make and easily distributed via the web or email. I find most agents actually ask me about a slideshow and say that they feel the VT stuff is outdated. My first tours were created using a Nikon 950. The technology looks like it has come a long way but so does the time and effort required - thus the relationship to of dollars to value is now past a practical real estate use to do anything really exceptional. Having said that I routinely now see pamphlets in most of the offices I visit. Twelve scene VT for 100.00 - not using the realtor images. They look like crap but I imagine they will work for many agents. As will the images these people sell. There is no doubt that RE photography is moving along but the bottom feeders are also getting more prolific.

  20. I agree that Virtual Tours have their place. Maybe not as much in Real Estate because of price/effort etc... but remember you get what you pay for and the "cheap" VTs as well as cheap photos has made it difficult for many photographers.

    Scott Hargis - your work is beautiful! VERY nice!


  21. Larry. I am an architectural photographer trying to figure how to create full screen 360s. Which software do you recommend to convert the stiched panoramic to flash without having to incur into a huge expense such as Panoweaver?

  22. I think high quality virtual tours have a place in real estate, especially for agents looking to really enhance their brand and set themselves apart from the crowd. Virtual tours are no different from any other medium that a real estate agent uses to market their properties, AS WELL AS THEMSELVES: They are not going to pay good money for it if it is not very good...And most virtual tours aren't that good.

    I think there are many real estate agents who would be willing to pay for a nice virtual tour. I am asked to make one every so often (via word of mouth) and I am going to start "officially" offering virtual panoramas in addition to still photography when I get my new website up and running (hopefully soon).

    PureTools has BY FAR the best interface/smoothest motion that I have seen besides Quicktime VR. I agree with Larry about Quicktime's penetration being far below Java and Flash's.

  23. Hi Hernan,
    I use PTgui. Which costs $79. I've been using it for may years and like it very much. It's been over a year since I've downloaded the latest version. This is one of the few stitchers that will stitch fisheye shots into a spherical panorama. The output of PTgui is a equirectangular JPG. Which I use the Immervision Flash software to convert to a panorama that displays in flash.

    Let me know if you need anymore help

  24. Aaron, I'd be very interested in how that goes for you. Keep us apprised... I totally understand offering a quality product as thats a battle that we all face.

  25. I have the Coolpix 8700 IPIX setup and we just started getting the Real Estate keys again. I just shot my first two 360s in a long time for a listing last Saturday.

    Now that I'm taking waaay better stills (thanks to inspiration from Scott and the rest at Strobist and the RE group), the 360s are much less important than before.

    However, I think they are valuable to a buyer when you can set up the shot in a doorway or opening between rooms. In other words I use it to help show the flow in a house.

    Not only that but it only takes a few minutes to do these 2 shot IPIX shots, stitching is fast, and the viewer is relatively reliable. Oh yes, keys are cheap too.

    No if I could only find a way to hack the 8700 so the hotshoe would not be disabled and I could use my strobes grumble grumble.

  26. I think that they're worth it. Everyone is using the internet these days, and more and more people are wanting their internet access/viewing to be bigger, better, faster. It's progressive to go large.

  27. What an excellent article and some brilliant comments too !

    I've been working on the idea of High quality 360 VR for Real Estate

    First, VR is a medium, just like photography, and you have lot's of bad images, and some that are beautiful.

    The problem isn't just with VR, but offering the right website environment to present the product.

    High quality VR WILL cost you money, or you'll have to train the realtor and invest in the right equipment, and please, forget about mirror 360 gadgets; THESE are the stuff that gives a BAD name to VR. I tried it, you can't offer the right experience full screen with this kind of extremely low resolution.

    You're better off with a floor-plan and a slideshow of the room from its four corners !

    VR is PART of a photographic project for a house. we're forgetting about this too.

    I speak with a few realtors, (upscale), and so far, in France, property market has been booming, they didn't have to make any effort to present their properties, they didn't have the TIME to spend 3 hours (at least) in a house, with a tripod, to shoot good quality stills, let good quality VR. They DO like good photography bud don't have the time to shoot properly. But the property market is now coming down in France, and they have to make more efforts and be creative.

    So in the end, i think the problem is TIME and having the right website to present hight quality VR... and still photos too !

    But i reckon upscale realtors will come to realize that it's an absolute shame to present million $ + properties with a couple of stamp size snapshots...

    wait until a handful start, and you'll see.

    btw, i read in some comments that realtors don't like showing the "bad" part of a room. Well, here is another subject i'd love to hear more about:

    There is a fine line between providing flattering and glossy looking images/vr from a property, then having your prospect falling depressed when actually physically viewing the site. Major anti climax!

    High quality real estate photography is a real challenge, as it's quiet easy to flatter a property, making it look like some "world of Interiors" magazine, then getting your prospect client disappointed.

    Let's stay realist, and honest, and precisely, IF there is a "bad" part of room, then don't HIDE it !
    And forget about removing cracks on walls, unsighty telephone lines, or refreshing an aging wall paint job !

    But invest in 3 hours shooting and 3 hours post processing a property, BOTH in still AND VR, and you'll have a winner !

  28. Our agency sells high end homes in New Jersey - we have used alot. They are not the cheapest but the tours they produce are the best i have seen... I am not sure i would use a virtual tour on a cheaper listing... A cheap looking virtual tour could do more harm then good.

  29. I must say you have a cool post. This hit the spot and then some! Thanks for posting this and sharing it with the world. I?ve just bookmarked your site. And I will check back soon to read your other articles. Keep up your awesome work.

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