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Microsoft's Photosynth Deepens Digital Photography

Three times yesterday, I had co-workers ask me to show them one of the "synths" I'd created at Microsoft's Photosynth site, the subject of today's column. I understand why they asked; both the way this application assembles these interactive, 3-D collages and what it's like to explore one take a fair amount of explanation, and I'm not totally confident that today's piece does the job.

So if you're still confused -- and if your computer is running Windows XP or Vista, and if you've got the time to download and install the Photosynth application, and if you've got a Windows Live ID to sign into the site -- have a look at some synths I created while testing Photosynth. Here, for instance, is one assembled from photos shot from's Arlington headquarters, while this one lets you walk through the Post's newsroom to a particularly slovenly reporter's cubicle.

I did those two after reading the advice in Microsoft's Photosynth photography guide (PDF), which offers such practical hints as this delineation between good and bad architectural subjects:

Many unique details make it synthy (Photosynth loves Venice)

Repetition and shininess are bad (Photosynth hates the Seattle Public Library)

For a look at what you're more likely to get out of Photosynth on a first try, see the other synths I uploaded. With far fewer pictures linked, they don't offer nearly as much to explore. You may think these overlapping assortments of photos do nothing more than make a poetic visual statement of how poorly any human record can align with reality.

I'm not sure that I will be creating many synths on my own time; taking a panorama shot takes less time and leaves you with something that's far easier to share. The Photosynth site, as I noted, also still suffers from some performance issues (that Arlington-and-D.C. synth took two tries to upload yesterday evening) even if it's vastly improved since it crashed in its public debut last week.

But -- given further progress in both Photosynth's reliability and compatibility -- I can easily see artistically-minded photographers vying to explore this medium's creative potential. I can also see business-minded realtors, travel agents and resort operators using synths to provide walkthroughs of properties.

What about you? Does Photosynth leave you intrigued, interested or just bored?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 28, 2008; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Pictures  
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Boo... you cannot look at these on a Mac. I should have guessed considering it is microsoft

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

It's not like Quicktime VR. It takes some getting used to--I discovered it's far more interesting to navigate through synths with the space bar than the mouse. But Rob, you didn't even mention the best thing about it--the zoom feature that lets you get insanely close to items in the pictures without losing resolution. Even if your pictures don't stitch together, you can look at them in the 2-D view and zoom in. For pictures taken with higher-res cameras, it's amazing.

Posted by: Lawrence | August 28, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Rob--I noticed you seem to have some sort of Zune thing on top of your file cabinet--the one with the Doonsbury comic on it. Secret MS fan, are we? ;-)

Posted by: Robert C. | August 28, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

How about a screenshot of some kind so mac users can see?

Posted by: Amy Hengst | August 28, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I tried to run Photosynth in Firefox on the VM Fusion side of the Mac. I was able to download and install the program, but not run it. It didn't ask for a Windows Live ID.

I tried IE7 as well; the browser seemed unable to reach the photosynth site. This is disappointing as I rely on Fusion to get me places not reachable on the Mac.

I hope Photosynth improves with age.

Posted by: mmrudy | August 29, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

This is a fantastic application - I love how it lets you see the subject in 3-D, almost in x-ray. I've never seen anything like it before. Thanks for the column.

The application works excellently (amazing considering how much processing goes on in the background).

Posted by: Norm | August 29, 2008 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I had the same issues as mmrudy: downloaded it, installed it, got a help-less error message.

I won't give Photosynth a second chance. Please carry on without me.

Posted by: Friend of Jake's | September 3, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

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