When we first got wind of a throwable, 36-lens compound camera that automatically snaps 360-degree panoramas at the height of its toss, we were already impressed — and that was jus the prototype (seen above on the right). Now, the officially named Panono camera is nearly half its former size, just as powerful, and finally ready to be caught by consumer hands. And after playing around with the ball for a bit, we can officially say that, yes, it is every bit as awesome as it seems.
Currently, amateur-level panorama photos rarely come out looking anything better than awkward or, at the very least, mildly distorted. The Panono camera ball, though, gets rid of problems like distortion and ghosting by eschewing wide-angle lenses and patched together shots in favour of 36 perfectly timed cameras that capture every angle simultaneously. It can do all this thanks to a highly sensitive internal accelerometer that knows exactly when the ball has reached its highest point, allowing it to fire off each of its fixed-focus cameras during that split-second that the ball is barely moving.
The accelerometer isn't measuring height though. The second the Panono leaves your fingertips, it measures its exact launch acceleration and calculates the time it will take to reach its apex. And as you can see in the (interactive!) shot below taken on the roof at Gizmodo HQ, it does a pretty damn good job at that. Plus, it's covered in the same rugged, clear, water-resistant plastic covering as the GoPro, so it should be able to walk away from a few drops totally unfazed.
It's not just for throwing, though. You can also shove your Panono onto a stick, letting you take shots more strategically and in those hard-to-toss-to places. There's also, of course, the option of holding it and pushing a button just like normals do — but where's the fun in that?
Obviously, no matter how awesome these 72-megapixel shots may be, they're no good to anyone — particularly to the amateur market at which the Panono is aimed — if there's no readily available means of viewing them. So Jonas Pfeil, a student at Technische Universität in Berlin and Panono mastermind, made sure to have accessibility covered. As soon as your camera ball fires away, images are automatically downloaded to the free Panono mobile app, letting you view them instantly.
For people who have been following the Panono's development, getting to this point has been a while in the making. It was only first really introduced to the public back in 2011 and had spent a year in development before that. But now, Pfeil is finally seeing his once-master's thesis in computer engineering become a highly tossable, 360-degree reality. Thanks in no small part to the acclaim garnered by his presentation at the 2011 SIGGRAPH ASIA technical conference, the Panono has attracted some of the photography field's top players. Ralf Coeneh, former COO of Leica Camera and former head of the camera lens division at Carl Zeiss, has even been working with the Panono crew, saying:
Panono actually deserves the description as revolutionary: It is something entirely new that literally adds a new dimension — 360° X 360° — to photographic images and will let us save our memories like never before, not to mention have fun capturing them.
This half-a-pound of panoramic magic don't come cheap, though. Expected to start shipping sometime in the middle of 2014, the Panono Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera will set you back a cool $US600. Yeah — our hearts dropped too. But if you get in and pre-order early over at Indiegogo.com, you'll find yourself looking at a $US100 discount. Which is better than nothing.
For now, you'll just have to content yourself with downloading the Panono app for Android or iOS and drooling over the pre-loaded sample shots meant to give you a taste. But do so at your own risk — because trust us, once you get a feel for what the Panono has to offer, you're going to be hooked.