Heads are turning for SpinScape digital photos
Easy to set up and use, the 360-degree mount uses a rechargeable battery good for more than 100 shots
Sometimes spinning in circles gets you nowhere. But the SpinScape-I robotic control system spins a digital camera exactly where you want it to go.
The SpinScape would be a boon to any agency that needs to quickly capture a comprehensive picture of a scene or details within it for later examination.
The mount accepts just about any digital camera and moves it smoothly to take panoramic, full 360-degree shots.
GCN Lab reviewers looked through the instruction manual and began photographing within 10 minutes of opening the box. Assembly was merely a matter of turning a few thumbscrews and erecting a vertical metal bar.
A data cable plugged the camera into the mount's serial port. A remote control, resembling a television remote, directed the SpinScape from afar.
The '3' button on the remote activated the SpinScape to take a 16-image, 360-degree shot. It rotated the camera a few degrees between shots until the entire field of view was captured. We could store about three panoramic shots on one of the camera's 64M storage chips.
The hardest thing about setting up the camera was finding good ground to shoot on. A bubble level on our test camera helped.
In addition to finding an absolutely level surface, camera positioning was crucial. Too low, output showed large expanses of ground, and too high, there was too much sky.
The remote controlled the angles, too, so we could zoom in and still have plenty of overlap for stitching the images together later.
A professional photographer might spend a day taking such a series of shots, and probably do it better. But our SpinScape results were good enough for Web or print publication in minutes instead of hours.
Each of the 16 pictures overlapped the next by at least 12 percent, depending on the lens. In stitches
Bundled software called Panorama Factory stitched the images together, and it demanded a powerful processor. Intel Corp. has demonstrated the power of the Pentium 4 processor at trade shows by joining together panoramic photos.
On the lab's 2-GHz Pentium 4 system, Panorama Factory took about three minutes to do its work. On a Pentium III PC, it took about 12 minutes, sometimes longer.
Because each robotic sweep lasted about two minutes, any moving elements on the scene could cause strange things to happen.
In photos we took, a person walking in the same direction as the rotating camera showed up in several different locations. In another, a woman between overlap zones was 'ghosted' to look transparent. At active events, several such anomalies are likely.
The final output can appear as a 360-degree panorama, a 180-degree flat landscape or an interactive Web movie using Apple QuickTime. Viewers can zoom and rotate as if they were standing in the center of the scene.
Be careful about posting such photos on the Web, however, because viewers can zoom in to examine overlooked details such as documents lying on desks.
Cameras that produce solid images, without the need for stitching, are based on concave mirrors and can't capture as wide an angle as the SpinScape.
Also, the mirrors add extra layers through which light must pass, possibly introducing smudges or lint into the images. With the SpinScape, your only worry is keeping the camera lens clean.
The SpinScape battery was the rechargeable notebook variety. We took more than 100 photos without draining it, which was impressive considering that it powered not only the processor sending commands to the camera but also the drive motors turning the mount. Recharging took about an hour.