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What is VR Photography?

A VR Photo sometimes called Immersive Photography, can be defined as a panoramic image (larger than 180 degree horizontal) displayed in a viewer which let you interactively pan around and look at it in different directions. The image should also change perspective so that you actually get the feeling of looking around. Panoramic viewers which just scrolls the panoramic image are not in my opinion VR Photography.

However this is of course difficult to define as the panoramic image in both viewers could be the same.

This also means that panoramic images made 100 years ago can be converted to a VR Photo just by showing it in a viewer.

You can even take a painted panorama and show it in a QTVR movie or a Java viewer and it will give you an almost correct perspective change. The cylindric projection used in a cylindric panorama was actually invented in 1796 by the painter Robert Barker from Edinburgh who even took a patent on it.

General Links


IVRPA International VR Photography Association

IAPP International Association of Panoramic Photographers


History of VR Photography

In 1991 Apple Computer launched QuickTime the software that today is one of the most popular ways to create and show news, multimedia, movie trailers and QTVR.

QuickTime VR was presented as an ad on to QuickTime in 1994.

The official QTVR support was in januar 1995 and in Aug 1997 the QTVRAS - QuickTime VR Authoring Studio was launched. Cubic QTVR was released in QuickTime 5 as preview October 10, 2000

The basic idea in QTVR was that you now could make 360 degree panoramas by stitching several images together using computer technics instead of using special cameras.

Several other developers have presented other viewers for panoramic images but the quality of QuickTime VR is still the best especially when you compare speed and the possibility to display the image in fullscreen.


Cylindrical Projection
An image which look perspectively-correct when mapped onto the inside of a cylinder. This type of projection is what slit cameras makes and it is the type of projection used by Quicktime VR. The cylindric projection can be used for QTVR movies with a vertical view as high as 160 degrees but practically it is better to convert it to a spheric if you have a larger FOV than 110 degrees.
You can then ad black canvas to make it a full equirectangular image and when you make the cubic QTVR movie you restrict the view to the actual image.

Spherical Projection
An image which looks perspectively correct when mapped to the inside surface of a sphere. It can display everything around you in a viewer which can display 180x360 degrees.
The file type used for spherical projection is usually called equirectangular.

Cubic Projection A spherical panorama can be converted to 6 cubefaces which can be displayed as a Cubic QTVR or in other viewers which support cubic projection like Macromedia Shockwave. The cube faces are actually 90x90 degrees rectilinear images like the ones you get from a normal lens.

Cameras You can produce any type of panoramas with any type of camera, digital or analog. Some photographers still finds a 35 mm film based camera with a negativ film better than digital because of the very large dynamic range they give you. With todays cheap scanners this is an easy way to start.

Cylindrical projection
110 degrees vertical FOV
Spherical projection 180 degrees vertical FOV
Cube faces from the spherical panorama
METHODS EXAMPLES view fullscreen
The stitched cylindric panorama is the original way which was introduced with QTVR.

Depending on the lens you usually stitch 8-16 images for a 360o panorama.

Wide angle lenses with a coverage of 60 degrees ore more are usually used. The images are taken with 20-50% overlapping. Any camera digital or analog camera can be used. Several automatic stitchers are available in all prices also free stitchers supplied with the cameras.

Important for all panoramas:

1. Use manual mode with same exposure for all images.

2. If possible do not use automatic white balance.

3. Use a tripod with a special panohead which rotates the camera around the nodalpoint.

35mm film , 12 img
Photo Antonio Moya

35mm neg film, 24mm lens,
8 img
Photo Helmut Kølbach

Canon EOS 300D
Canon 17-40L USM @ 17mm
12 img - PTMac
Photo Steve Pendleton

Dig Olympus 2500L,
Standard lens 16 img, Panotools+Photoshop
Photo Hans Nyberg

Canon D30, 24mm , 12 img,
Photovista, Photo Brad Templeton

CP990 + WC-63 12 img,
Photo Bostjan Burger
Multirow spherical (Cubic) panoramas are made by taking usually 3 rows of images with 8-16 images in each row. If nessecary also an image right up and down to cover your tripod. This method is used for very high quality panoramas and you can make huge panoramas for printing or for zoomable Cubic QTVR or using the Zoomify plugin.

Almost all multirows are made using RealViz Stitcher or PTMac / PTGui / PanoramaTools. Even a very cheap digital camera can be used as you do not need a large wideangle.

With auto controlpoint generation the software is today easy to use and the very time consuming setting of controlpoints takes just a few minutes


Digital Camera or analog Camera + Scanner
Wide angle lens
Multirow spherical Panohead + Tripod
Software for stitching

To view a super large Multirow panorama go to VRMag and see this special version of the Milano Arounder. Each QTVR is 8-10 mb in download
Photo: Giuseppe Pennisi

Olympus C-3000, 50 images
PTMac, Photo Landis Bennett

Sigma 15-30mm, 32 img
RealViz, Photo Ian Orgias

Nikon 4500 and WA adapter,
24 img, RealViz.
Photo Tito Dupret

Coolpix 950, WA adapter
24 img, RealViz
Photo Charles Evans

CoolPix 5000, RealViz,
Photo Taylor Harnisch,Gene Cooper

CoolPix 5000 WA adapter 24 img,
RealViz Photo Laurent Thion
Using Fish eye lenses.

Fisheye lenses are popular for spherical panoramas as you can cover a full view with only 3-8 images.

To be able to make a full spherical with 3 images you need a full circle of min 180 degrees. This can be done by using a 35mm film camera or a fullframe digital and an 8 mm fisheye.

However the most used solution is the Coolpix with an add on fisheye lens. The resolution and quality is ok for smaller sized spherical panoramas but they are not large enough for quality fullscreen display.

However by zooming in it becomes a fullframe fisheye which gives you better quality and with careful treatment they can be used also for fullscreen display.

Stitchers: Easypano - Panotools/PTGui - Panotools/PTmac - Stitcher unlimited

CoolPix + Fisheye adapter
3-4 images Photo Bee Flower

When the 6 mp digital SLR cameras was introduced the 8mm Fisheye lenses became popular for panoramas as the sensor on these cameras almost match the circle from the fisheye. With this combination you can take a spherical panorama in 4 shots as the images cover 115x180 degrees. Eventually you need an image right up for best quality. The resolution is around 3000x6000 pixels, large enough for fullscreen.

With 10 mp cameras you get around 4000x8000 pixels resolution.

On a fullframe camera like the Canon 5D you need only 3 images.

Unfortunately both Nikon and Canon stopped making the 8 mm Fisheyes more than 20 years ago and the originals are rarieties.

The ones you can buy today are the SIGMA 8 mm and the Russian Peleng. The Sigma is fully automatic. The new version introduced in Sept 2006 is much improved with almost no lightfall and minimum color apperation.

The Peleng is cheap but only for manual exposure.

Stitchers: Panotools/PTGui - Panotools/PTmac - Stitcher unlimited - Easypano

Sigma 8mm 4 img
PTMac, Photo Michael Quan

Nikon D1, Sigma 8mm, 4+1 img
Photo Ignacio Ferrando

Fuji S2 Nikkor 8mm, Panotools
Photo Peter Murphy

Canon D60, Sigma 8mm , 5 img, Panotools+Photoshop,
Photo Hans Nyberg

Canon D60, Sigma 8mm , 6 img, Panotools+Photoshop,
Photo Hans Nyberg

Fuji S2 Pro Nikkor 8mm
4+1 img, PTMac,
Photo Jook Leung
Fullframe Fisheye lenses usually 15 - 16 mm has been used for many years for panoramas with 35 mm cameras.

The quality is much better than with the 8 mm fisheyes but they need 6-8 images around + top and bottom images.

The full frame digital SLR like the Canon 5D can be used with both the Canon and Sigma 15mm fisheyes

The Nikkor 10.5 mm fisheye which gives you fullframe with the small sensors is one of the mot used for high quality spherical panoramas. With adapter it can also be used on Canon.

A special way to use it is to mount it on a fullframe camera like the Canon 5D. By cutting the sunshade you can get a FOV of 140x196 degrees. This is now much used for action panoramas. You can see some examples at my Photokina 2006 gallery

Also Pentax and Olympus has fullframe fisheyes which will work the same way.

A new Tokina 10-17mm fisheye is now also available with mount for both Nikon and Canon. Test from Photokina by Michael Stoss

Stitchers: PTGui - PTmac - Stitcher Unlimited - VRWorx 2.6

Canon 20D, Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye (w adapter),
6+1 img PTMac
Photo Hans Nyberg

Nikon D70 10.5mm fisheye
6+2 img, RealViz+Nikon Capture
Photo Laurent Thion

Leica 35mm film, 16mm fisheye
8 img, Panotools
Photo Andrew Nemeth
Canon 5D Canon 15mm fisheye
6+1 img, PtGui
Photo Bert Vierstra

Pentax 35mm film, 17-24 mm
8 img, Panotools+Photoshop,
Photo Hans Nyberg

NikonF4 35mm 16mm fisheye
8+1 img, Panotools
Photo Mal Yeo
Rotation Cameras Film

Rotation Slitscan cameras for panoramic images has been used for 150 years. They produce a cylindric image which can be used directly to make a QTVR movie or in a Java applet.

The most known today is the Roundshot made by
Roundshot : SEITZ Phototechnik AG

When used with fast shutter speeds they can be used for very fast action panoramas as they will make a full rotation in less than 2 seconds.
You can even use the Roundshot handheld.
FOV is limited to around 85 degrees.

Roundshot 220VR,
Photo Jan van der Woning

Roundshot 28/220
Photo Jaime Brotóns

Roundshot 28/220
Photo Jaime Brotóns

Scantech Voyageur 50
Photo Clayton Tume
Panoramic cameras with 120 - 150 degrees view. A large number of panoramic cameras have a 120-150 degrees horizontal degree view. They can be stitched to make a full 360 degree panorama. The fact is that the most viewed fullscreen QTVR at panoramas.dk - The Mount Everest panorama, was made with a Widelux camera and stitched from 3 images. The vertical FOV from these cameras is very low. Usually 45-50 degrees

WideLux panoramic camera
35mm film, 3img

Photo Roderick Mackenzie.
Digital Rotation Cameras

Digital panoramic scanning cameras can make very high quality panoramas but the price is also high.
Used with a fullframe fisheye they make full spherical panoramas.

The most known are

Photo Claudio Bader

Photo Eric Poppleton

Photo Steinzeit-mediendesign
One Shot Solutions

One shot 360 degree panoramic solutions are parabolic mirrors which can be used as an ad on to many digital cameras.

The resolution is low and the quality is also affected by the quality of the mirror. They are mostly used for fast panoramas for Real Tor or for special action panoramas.

OneShot 0-360
Photo George H. Thomas

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