While window-shopping on the iTunes app store for panoramic camera apps, I discovered a little-known 360° panoramic app from Japan called Pixeet 360. Quicktime VR experiences typically require expensive hardware, software and photographic know-how. Pixeet 360 leapfrogs all that by allowing anyone to capture and create these immersive experiences right on their iPhone.
While their app is a free download (iTunes link) for viewing panoramas, making your own immersive 360° panorama requires activating the app by purchasing their $79 fisheye lens. Add their shipping fee of around $15, and you’re almost at the $100 mark for generating instant immersive panoramic experiences. Depending on how driven you are, this might not be something you’d whip your wallet out for, so let me share what I’ve discovered…
Comparing iPhone lenses in the market, I learned that their tiny fisheye lens for iPhone is quite similar to one by another Japanese developer, Digital King, which also produced wide and macro lenses. Both companies sell iPhone fisheye lenses at a similar price point of $79. If you search more extensively, you’ll find yet another going for as low as $20.50, as shown below. What gives?
I emailed Pixeet’s customer service to ask about the huge price difference, and representative Gallant Frederic responded by explaining how “… it is neither a Digital King or Pixeet lens. In the case of the one above, we bought it to have a look and first, it’s not a fisheye but a wide angle (0.28), then the quality of the glass is very poor. We cannot fight against copy from china but unlike t-shirts or bags, glass polishing and lens manufacturing needs quality material.”
I guess that settles it then.
While considering whether to spurge on Pixeet’s Fisheye lens, I poked around the Pixeet web site and realized that I could still try their service despite not owning their lens. Pixeet lets users upload self-generated panoramas via their web site as a promotional gesture. In effect, they would process our stitched panoramic images, generate an embeddable Flash-based spherical viewer, and provide free hosting for up to 1gb.
If you’d like to try, get yourself a camera with fisheye lens, as well as a panoramic stitching software (Hugin is free and multi-platform!). Since my GoPro Hero camera has a 170 degree fisheye, I took four shots at 90 degree intervals, then used the trial version of STOIK PanoramaMaker for Mac to stitch them up. Finally, I uploaded the 360 panorama to Pixeet.com where the Flash pano viewer was generated for sharing and embedding as shown below. You can also see my results at pixeet.com