"Ultra Wide" 360+ Degree Panoramic Imaging




In the early 1840's, only a few years after the birth of photography, the very first panoramic camera with a pivoting lens was built. This saw the production of the first continuous panoramic photographs with views of around 150 degrees. Some years after the invention of the pivoting lens camera came the development of rotating panoramic cameras offering horizontal views of 360 degrees or more. These two types of true panoramic cameras have fascinated photographers ever since.

While traditional rotating panoramic cameras may produce images with a horizontal angle of view of over 360 degrees their vertical angle of view is usually around only 50 degrees or less. This produces an image aspect ratio of well over 1:6 (height to width) for 360 degrees. Images of such large aspect ratios are often difficult to handle when reproduced at a large scale. Images of 360 degrees or more with large aspect ratios offer the viewer a kind of visual cue that such an image "goes all the way round". There is a sense of comfort in a traditional 360 degree image being a long thin photograph. Such a long thin image, even when over 360 degrees, does not confront or confuse the viewer too much. A long thin image is almost easy to understand.

The use of very short focal length lenses on rotating panoramic cameras allow aspect ratios for views of well over 360 degree to be around 1:3 or even less. These images, with major elements repeated, are in a format that is not unusual. Image formats of 1:3 or less are not an uncommon sight these days. But the images below often have some major element repeated at either end. These images confront the viewer with a visual quandary, how can this possibly be?

There is a subtle yet quite interesting difference in the manner that regular still cameras and true panoramic cameras record their images. This difference is with respect time. A normal still camera usually records its entire image all at the same time, often in an instant. True panoramic cameras record a scene by "slowly" scanning the image across the recording medium over time. The time taken to record a 360 degree vista can take many seconds, or minutes or even hours. Some of the images below posses an added, unexpected confusion created by the manipulation of time, not by the manipulation of the image.

The prime objective in making these 360+ images is to record the entire scene surronding the camera, to unroll this cylindrical scene into a traditional two dimensional flat image. It is almost coincidental that these images can be rolled back up and viewed as a so called, "virtual reality" image.

It is also worth considering the type of subject matter captured in this style of 360+ panoramic imaging. It must be suitable in all directions. Such subjects are few and far between.

To the uninitiated this style of camera approaches the bizarre, but it can just be considered as an "all seeing" camera. For recording the camera is positioned at the centre of a very large cylinder. Once on film the cylindrical scene can be unrolled flat by this seemily magical machine.



all images © steven morton
email: steven.morton@sci.monash.edu.au