Create stunning 3D scenes with new Photosynth

Microsoft's Photosynth has been around for a few years now; it's an online app that enables you to upload a set of photos and see them converted into 3D panoramas. If you haven't paid much attention to it before, that might be down to it insisting on using Silverlight, Microsoft's own answer to Flash, and in our experience nothing quite puts us off looking at a web app like it insisting that we have to install Silverlight first.

The latest version of Photosynth, available now as a technology preview, has ditched Silverlight and is instead built using WebGL and three.js, and it's a corking piece of web technology. Here's the brains behind it, Blaise Agüera y Arcas, explaining all at TEDGlobal 2013:

As long as your browser's up to the job, it just works, and the results are really impressive. You can use it to create four types of 3D scene:

  • Spin: Spin around an object as small as a seashell or as large as a mountain.
  • Panorama: Put yourself in the centre of a space and look in every direction.
  • Walk: Follow a path through the woods or fly toward a destination.
  • Wall: Slide across a scene, checking out every last detail

You can then view them on the Photosynth site, or embed them on your own site, like this:

How does it work? You take a set of photos, upload them to the the Photosynth cloud service and then it goes to work on analysing them for similar details in successive photos that it then uses to construct a 3D scene and calculate a smooth path through it. It's a bit like one of out previous apps of the days, Seene - only much bigger and better.

As a technical preview it's a cracking piece of work; there are plenty of 3D tableaux to check out and we've had a lot of fun exploring them. If you feel inspired to make your own then you'll need to sign up for an account, and according to Microsoft access is on a first come, first served basis; it might take a few days for your account to be approved. In the meantime you can take a look at this expert shooting guide and maybe get on with shooting some photos in preparation for uploading your own 3D vistas.

Words: Jim McCauley

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