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Photosynth composing a scene from many photographs

Complex algorithms analyze photos and stitch them together with amazing accuracy

Don't know what something is? Take a photo of it and have Photosynth find information for you
Turning photographs into 3D spaces and more

Imaging technology, in both physical media such as print and in digital have come a long way since the pencil and paper. Consequently, photos and online websites dedicated to hosting and displaying photos and images have also become extremely popular and in some cases made some revolutionary steps forward. Sites such as Flickr, DeviantArt and others are all contributing to moving digital imaging as well as digital photography forward. Interestingly, Microsoft also has something that's sure to stir up the hornet's nest in online and offline visual media.

Microsoft is currently hard at work on a project it calls Photosynth. Currently, the project is under the Microsoft Live development team, and no release date has been planned. However, what is known about Photosynth is that it will attempt to revolutionize the way people view their photo collections as well as change the way people take photos. Incorporating exciting new technology, Photosynth can take a collection of photos, analyze them, and model them into a 3D virtual scene, placing each photo in their perspective-correct position -- users can see where one photo was taken in relation to another photo!

The technology is indeed a big step forward over the traditional slide show. Say for example a photography enthusiast visited Las Vegas. Over the course of a few days, the user has taken several hundred photographs of the Las Vegas strip. With Photosynth, the user can catalog all the photos and build a virtual world out of them, modeling Las Vegas as he saw it. Photosynth allows users to move around in the 3D world, viewing scenes from any angle -- regardless of how the photos were taken. Photosynth's powerful algorithms do all the background work. According to Microsoft:

Each photo is processed by computer vision algorithms to extract hundreds of distinctive features, like the corner of a window frame or a doorhandle. Then, photos that share features are linked together in a web. When a feature’s found in multiple images, its 3D position can be calculated. It’s similar to depth perception—what your brain does to perceive the 3D positions of things in your field of view based on their images in both of your eyes.

Of course, Photosynth can perform traditional photo collection management duties too. Using its analysis engine, Photosynth also allows users to search their collection for "similar" photos, perhaps of a particular person or scene. The possibilities right now sound very exciting.

In February of this year, Microsoft acquired a company called Seadragon Software. Since then, Microsoft has been working Seadragon's imaging technologies into its own projects and Photosynth incorporates a good portion of them. According to Microsoft, Photosynth will allow users to zoom in, pan and fly through any photo or 3D scene without hiccups or pauses -- no matter if a photo is 1 megapixel or 1 gigapixel. Microsoft claims "scaling is near perfect and rapid for screens of any resolution."

Another very interesting and potentially powerful feature of Photosynth is its ability to "DNA" and recognize photos featuring distinct similarities. Microsoft claims that Photosynth will allow users to take a picture of an object, have Photosynth analyze it, and automatically find information about it online. For example, if a user was on a trip and took a picture of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, they could import it and have Photosynth correctly identify the image as the Petronas Towers and automatically do an Internet search for information on the towers.

With Photosynth you can:

  • Construct a virtual 3D scene composed of several photos
  • Walk or fly through a scene to see photos from any angle
  • Seamlessly zoom in or out of a photograph whether it’s megapixels or gigapixels in size
  • See where pictures were taken in relation to one another
  • Find similar photos to the one you’re currently viewing
  • Find information on an object in a photo
  • Explore a custom tour
  • Send a collection to a friend

Clearly, Microsoft has some very large plans for Photosynth, and it's also clear that Photosynth incorporates some very interesting and powerful technologies. From the looks of it, it also appears that Microsoft is also planning to allow users to construct virtual scenes online, for other viewers to browse "fly" through and experience.

As of right now, Microsoft says that Photosynth will be arriving soon, and we hope so because we can't wait to try it.



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I was hoping it would do HDR
By JonB on 9/5/2006 9:41:44 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps it will, but they didn't mention it. The PhotoShop plugin for High Dynamic Range photo creation is expensive (on top of the cost of PhotoShop). If PhotoSynth can do this 3-D trick, them perhaps it will be able to layer multiple shots of the same subject that have been exposure bracketed to get a single HDR image. The 24bit dynamic range of standard digital cameras is just not good enough.




By zsouthboy on 9/11/2006 7:44:05 PM , Rating: 3
Photoshop CS2 already has "Merge To HDR" built in. No expensive plugin needed. It works great and AFAIK exports to OpenEXR format, too.

And saying "24bits of dynamic range" regarding current digital cameras leads me to believe you don't actually know much about the subject. (I hope I don't sound rude, sorry)

The signal at the CCD or CMOS level is converted to a 12-bit digital representation upon processing, when a picture is taken. That 12-bits is per channel, but is also before a curve (as linear photo data is useless as an end result) and gamma ramp are applied to the image. More bits doesn't automatically equal more dynamic range.
Depending on the amount of inherent noise in the capture and the contrast curve applied, dynamic range of the image may be higher or lower. Most DSLRs today come in around 7 to 10 stops of dynamic range, with a bit more squeezed out of RAW files.


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