Phone Panoramas

Vertical pano, from bottom up, moving people from camera with light edits in LR5

Today I am showing some of the panoramas shot with the camera in my phone, and some of the really interesting effects that arise from stretching it beyond intended use. I guess most people would just hit delete on these images, but to me they illustrate the opportunities for a bit of photographic fun.

As some of you will have noticed a few weeks ago, I have been using the camera in my phone a bit. I got the Samsung Galaxy S4 a few months ago – it is my first mobile since a larger-(and heavier-) than-a-brick version I used at work in London in the late 1980’s. OK that is an exaggeration – it was the same size but ‘only’ weighed about 30 oz; a brick is 3 times as heavy. Fortunately I only had to carry that phone a few times.

I had not really played with this phone’s camera until a few weeks ago when I was on a course on Quadra Island. I had my DSLR with me, but did not take it to class or to the house where we ate our meals, and in the end hardly used it at all. The phone did travel around with me and I started using it since the weather and setting were wonderfully beautiful. Panoramas and animated gifs were what really caught my attention, and I have shown some of the animations and have done a separate post on those too.

The way the camera works in panorama mode is that it once you press the shutter, it prompts you to move the camera sideways. I often moved it vertically and as soon as I started, then it tracked that direction just fine, regardless of camera orientation. It displays the progress of the panorama within a strip beside or under the image which builds as one pans over a scene. If one strays from the track where it can stitch photos together then it gives little arrow prompts to go change direction (at right angles to the direction of the panning). All of that works really well.

The exposure is fixed from the beginning of the panorama, so depending on the subject, I chose to pan in one direction or another. If there is a large amount of variation in brightness across the scene, it does not handle that too well. Some of this can be corrected in Lightroom or similar software, but there is a not much latitude in the jpegs to recover data from the shadows, and even less from the highlights.

As one pans it seems to be taking small slices (or larger ones if panning quickly) and puts those together into a single shot. And it is these slices, combined with a moving subject, which is where the fun comes in, and the limitations of this mode really show up. The fun can be seen in the first shot, which was taken by panning upward (to get the right exposure) very slowly – two people moved away and upwards in the frame to gather some more oysters after the pano started recording, and you can see the result as they walked through the image to the oyster bed (and man, those oysters were delicious). This is an interesting effect, and obviously one that can be exploited for all kinds of purposes. However, in a regular panorama setting it can ruin the shot. Below is a side-to-side panorama where there was gentle water movement. You can see in the centre bottom that the water is divided into segments which are very distracting. This effect is visible in many other panoramas, sometimes as a blurred area when zoomed in, other times with some pretty wild effects like in the third image.

The takeaway for me is if you are actually interested in documenting things, then use a proper camera, take individual shots and make panoramas from those files. However, if you want to play around with some interesting technology to make photos that would be very difficult to make in post production, then this is a pretty interesting feature of the camera. It happens to be attached to a phone, but that is not all bad either. After all the phone can be shut off, or as is the case for many of these photos, it can be used when the phone is out of range of a cell tower.





I have included a bunch of shots in the gallery below, with salient notes in the captions. You are going to want to look at most of these on a wider screen if you have access to one.



To open the gallery, click on any image and navigate with the arrows, or however your device works. Escape to return to this page.


On a side-note, the camera geocodes the photos with a latitude and longitude. I did not have the GPS turned on (to conserve the battery), and so it must have been reading from the cell towers, with very intermittent coverage in the area. The maps below show the out-of-camera lat/long plots and the ones that I corrected in Lightroom. Really pretty lousy data, though in a city perhaps it would be a lot better.


Samsung Galaxy S4 (Model SGH-1337M), Android 4.4.2, All these shots in Panoram Mode

4 thoughts on “Phone Panoramas

    • Thanks! The phone camera is really quite a lot of fun to play with. I wish for a bit more control, but if I had that, I think these built-in features would probably stop working.


  1. I find that when I shoot with the camera in my phone, I am…I was going to say “more creative” but maybe “creative in a different way” than when I shoot with my DSLR. I have several photo apps that give me quite a few interesting options re. processing. Maybe it’s because the shooting with the phone feels less serious, but its probably because the apps are kind of fun to play around with.

    Anyway, these are all interesting, as is your narrative. Do you wish you’d gotten a smaller-than-a-brick phone sooner?


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