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Microsoft Enhances Photosynth Experience Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

10 December 2013

Microsoft has updated its Photosynth technology to produce synths that "are as smooth as a Steadicam video, but they're ultra-resolution and completely interactive," according to the Photosynth blog.


Of the synths we've seen today that employ the new technology, our favorite is David Breashears's flight over Everest. Breashear himself observed of it, "This is the experience I was dreaming about when I decided to capture the environment of Mt. Everest from a helicopter flying at extremely high altitudes."

Flight to Everest. By on Photosynth.

What isn't immediately apparent about this engaging video is that each frame contains 60 megapixels of data so you can pause the video and zoom in on systems that support the synth's interactive features.

Safari does support those features, but you must manually enable WebGL on the Develop menu first.


There are four kinds of synths you can create. Microsoft has named them spin, panorama, walk and wall:

  • A spin circles the subject, photographing it from every angle.
  • A panorama puts the camera in the center and shoots outward as the shooter rotates.
  • A walk simply follows a path, like the Everest synth.
  • A wall slides across a scene.

With a collection of photos that conform to one of those schemes, you're just beginning. Microsoft explains the process:

When you upload a set of photos to our cloud service, our technology starts by looking for points (called "features") in successive photos that appear to be the same object.

If it finds many features that reoccur in your set of photos, it passes this information on to the second step: bundle adjustment. Bundle adjustment, a standard technique in photogrammetry, determines where in 3D space each feature is, exactly where each photo was taken from, and how the camera was oriented for each photo.

Third, the technology uses the feature points in each photo to generate 3D shapes. It does so on a per-photo basis rather than trying to generate a global 3D model for the scene. The 3D model generated by Photosynth is coarse -- you can see it if you type "c" (for camera) in the viewer and then use your mouse wheel to zoom out.

Next, the technology calculates a smooth path (think of it as a Steadicam) through -- or very close to -- the camera locations for each photo. Using this path, Photosynth presents the experience of moving through a synth as a gliding motion even if the actual photos were shot at different heights or slightly off-angle. You can see the path if you type "m" (for map) in the viewer. Finally, Photosynth slices and dices the images into multi-resolution pyramids for efficient access.

Microsoft has just published an Expert Shooting Guide for synth shooters. Sign-up is required to build your own synths.

Text of the Photosynth blog announcement follows.

Dreamlike 3D: The new Photosynth technology has arrived

Today we're announcing a major update to Photosynth, our groundbreaking technology for making 3D experiences directly from photos.

At, you can see scores of synths created with this new technology and sign up for the technical preview program so you can make these synths yourself.

The new synths are as smooth as a Steadicam video, but they're ultra-resolution and completely interactive. Not to mention completely addictive! The high-altitude flight to Everest, for example, takes just one minute to play, but every frame contains a whopping 60 megapixels. You can stop anywhere and zoom in on every last pixel.

Not everybody can rig a high altitude helicopter with an array of full frame cameras like David Breashears, so let's take a look at the kind of synth anyone can make.

Spin around Haystack Rock by mitchell55" target="blank">adammitchell55 on Photosynth

What am I looking at?

Check out this "spin" (one of the new types of synth) of Haystack Rock near Cannon Beach in Oregon. The photographer walked in a rough semicircle around the rock, taking 40 photos as he went. Photosynth builds its 3D from stable features -- in this case, the rocks themselves and the vegetation. As you move from frame to frame, the rock and vegetation are, well, rock-solid. Moving objects, such as the birds in the air and the waves in the ocean, change from photo to photo, so they just blend in as you scrub past them in the synth. But, if you stop and zoom in, there they are!

Here's what happened behind the scene to make this spin: The 40 photos were uploaded to our servers on Microsoft Azure. The Photosynth pipeline analyzed the photos for overlap and created a point cloud of the stable features. Each photo was then fitted to this point cloud and a location was estimated for the camera in every photo. Finally, a smooth path through or near each of these locations was calculated and the result was stored on for viewing. You view the synth using WebGL, which is supported by Internet Explorer 11 and all the other leading browsers.

What's it good for?

The new Photosynth allows you to capture amazing places and objects, share them with friends and embed them in blogs and Web sites. "This is the experience I was dreaming about when I decided to capture the environment of Mt. Everest from a helicopter flying at extremely high altitudes." said David Breashears, famous photographer, mountaineer and founder of "It brings a completely new perspective to the mountain. I've never seen anything as smooth and glorious as the new Photosynth of my Everest flight. It's like a video, but you can stop on any frame and zoom in."

How do I find out more and try it myself?

Start with our About page. It shows you the four different shapes (types) of synths and points you to videos and documents about how to shoot for the new Photosynth. Then sign up to make your own synths!

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