No More Composite Panoramas?


Today’s Question: Do you think the “automatic” panoramic images you can capture with smartphones and other cameras have gotten good enough that you don’t need to create composite panoramas with a DSLR?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Not quite. Automatic in-camera panoramas can produce very good results, but generally not as good as you can achieve by capturing a series of images with careful technique, and then assembling those photos into a composite panorama.

More Detail: There are two basic types of “automatic” panoramas you can capture with certain cameras, and that don’t require any post-capture assembly. The first type involves the assisted capture of multiple frames that are then assembled in the camera to create a panoramic image. The second type is a “scanning” panorama, such as you can find with the iPhone’s Camera app. With this option you scan across the scene during the capture, and a panorama is created from that scanning view.

There are advanced cameras that create automated panoramic images, including scanning cameras that create 360-degree panoramic images. Those are capable of excellent image quality. But the more basic options available with smartphones and compact cameras do not offer quite the level of quality you could achieve with a composite capture.

For example, with a scanning approach to panoramas it can be very difficult to achieve proper alignment relative to the scene. This can result in an image where the horizon curves up and down throughout the panorama.

Cameras that assist you with the process of capturing multiple frames that are then assembled in the camera to create a panorama work better in most cases than scanning cameras, but I’ve found there can sometimes be errors or distortions in these captures.

In general you’ll find that many of the smartphone and compact camera options for creating panoramas provide results that are of high enough quality to share online. However, these captures are often not quite of the quality and technical accuracy needed for producing a large print.

So, for more casual online sharing, automatic panoramas provide a good solution. But for the highest quality results (especially if your intent is to print the panorama) I still recommend capturing a series of images with a high-quality camera, and assembling those frames into a composite panorama using software such as Photoshop or Lightroom Classic CC.