Panning or Cropping?


Today’s Question: Is a panorama feature [on smartphone cameras] simply a crop as it was in the old Kodak APS film cameras?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, the panorama photo feature available with most smartphones is not simply a cropping feature, but rather something of a digital scanning back feature.

More Detail: When you capture a photo using the panorama feature in a smartphone camera app, the capture process involves panning across the scene to create an image with a process similar to how a digital scanning back camera operates. You initiate the capture, pan across the scene, and then stop the capture when you’re finished. If you pan beyond the limits of the panorama feature (generally around 180-degrees), the capture will stop automatically.

The advantage of a panning approach to capturing a panoramic image is that you can avoid the distortion and perspective issues that can arise if you cropped a wide-angle view rather than panning with a longer effective focal length.

Of course, there are disadvantages involved with the panning approach to capturing a panoramic image. To begin with, you need to make sure that you pan smoothly and evenly across the scene. You can think of this as panning while keeping the horizon in the same position, as opposed to having the camera tilt upward or downward as you pan across the scene. If you don’t pan at a consistent angle, you may see distortion or visual artifacts in the photo.

In addition, a panning approach can be challenging when there is movement in the scene you are photographing. The smartphone will attempt to compensate for movement in the scene you are photographing, but in many cases the movement can result in visual artifacts in the panoramic photo.

Overall, smartphones do a great job creating high-quality panoramic images, provided you are careful to pan smoothly and at a consistent angle across the scene you are photographing.