Thoughts from the field

I kind of thought this 360 from the beach would look cooler but the lack of foreground elements detracts from its wow factor. 

I tried shooting with the Panono in a variety of locations and found it took a bit of brain re-wiring to really get the hang of what makes an interesting 360 and what makes a boring one. The closer elements are to the camera, generally speaking, the more interesting the 360 came out. However if elements are too close it can cause confusion in the stitching process. 

That said, once files are pushed to the Panono servers, the company's software largely does a remarkable job stitching everything together. This was the case even for very difficult scenes, like the Seattle public library below, where I assumed that the geometric patterns might cause confusion. 

Of course, there were a few scenarios where I was able to baffle the software, resulting in a very wonky-looking final 360. By the way, if you're the kind of person who prefers stitching 360s on your own, the unprocessed images can be downloaded as individual UFP files, which can be converted to JPEG. That sounds absolutely miserable to me though, and kind of undermines the simplicity of the whole Panono package.

In addition to be able to download the individual images from all 36 cameras, there are also two separate size options for downloading a flattened version of your stitched 360 in JPEG form. The sizes include a 16384 x 8192 image and a smaller 8192 x 4096 image. Click the above image to see what the full size version looks like.

Some stitch confusion at Seattle's EMP Museum.

There are a variety of ways to take photos with the Panono. You can simply hold it in your hand, mount it to a tripod via the adapter or attach it to the Panono stick, a 2m long selfie stick that also locks into the bottom of the camera. For best results, I recommend using it with one of the two accessory mounts. This will help to minimize the number of times your arm appears in the shot, a common problem with 360-cameras. 

When the Panono first hit the market, there was lots of hype surrounding the fact that it can be tossed in the air to take a photo when it reaches the apex of the toss. I spent quite a bit of time trying this mode out, and even handed the Panono over to coworkers and friends to give it a go. Unfortunately this mode is largely a gimmick and not all that useful and here's why: To get a decent 360 from a toss, it is imperative the ball does not spin in any direction. Furthermore, tossing it in the air requires very bright light to ensure a fast enough shutter speed. The later is manageable, the former is damn near impossible. 

And while you can adjust crooked horizons when logged into the Panono site, nearly all my attempts were beyond saving. At least Carey got the goofy picture of me trying.

This was my best throw attempt, and the result still shows the effect of rotation-induced blur. 

Speaking of correcting horizons, from within your Panono account there are also all sorts of other tools to tweak the look of your 360 before publishing. For example you can customize the initial starting point in terms of horizontal rotation (unfortunately though, not vertical), or set the 360 to auto-rotate. 

The takeaway 

An easy, albeit somewhat expensive, introduction into 360 immersive photography, the Panono has an entire ecosystem behind it to remove many of technical challenges associated with VR. It also offers a vastly higher-resolution final product than the competition.

While the $1500 price tag of the Panono may seems excessive, when you consider the cost of tradition 360-degree photography - DSLR, wide angle lens, panoramic head, decent tripod - the Panono starts to seem like a bargain. And while it may be too pricey for the average curious consumer, I think it has tremendous appeal for pro and semi-pro photographers, like real-estate and commercial shooters.

While you can adjust the horizontal starting point of a 360 after the fact, you can not adjust the vertical orientation. In the case of this 360, I really wanted to start on the Space Needle (look up).

The same goes for wedding and event photographers; many offer packages that include drone footage for an extra fee on top. To that extent, the Panono could be just another tool in their story-telling kit. A tool that can used to offer a product unlike what other photographers are offering.

Ultimately, what I personally find most interesting about the Panono is what it means for the future of photography. 360-degree imagery is becoming more accessible; the quality is going up as the price comes down. Who knows where we'll be a few years from now. Maybe the Panono 9 will be capable of 8K live streaming 360 video. Whatever the future has in store, the current Panono has certainly got me thinking about photography in a whole new way. And that's really cool. 

What we like:

  • Very easy to use
  • Excellent image quality 
  • Manual controls 
  • Decent battery life
  • Hilarious/intriguing looking 

What we don’t:

  • Pricey
  • No video mode
  • Toss in air mode works poorly 
  • LED indicator hard to see in daylight
  • Difficult to handle without smudging lenses 

Rating:

Price:

Sold alone as the 'Explorer Edition' the Panono runs $1499/€1499. It is also sold with the tripod adapter and a carry case, which we definitely recommend for $1539/€1539. You can pick one up directly from Panono.