It's been five years since the public first eyeballed the Panono, a green rubber ball that shoots 360-degree images. It's been another three since we went hands on with the super cool prototype. Now the Panono is finally here, shooting very pretty picture and costing a wallet-puckering $US1400 ($1,831).
All Images: Alex
A lot has changed in the interim.
When the Panono was announced, it was a novel camera ball capable of shooting more stunning (still) panoramas than your iPhone could ever manage. Now it's competing against Frankenstein GoPro rigs that shoot 4K video for VR headsets that can be had for a lot cheaper.
There's competition. Granted, that competition can't be tossed in the air for an effortless shot, and it can't be attached on a stick — $US44 ($59) — for a quick, widest-angle-possible selfie. The Panono has some cool tricks in its stable, but they still feel like just that, tricks.
Selfie stick bonus: it makes the camera look like a boss mace. The main reason you'll want to put down a chunk of change for the Panono is so you can show off outdoor vistas. Maybe you're a realtor looking to unload a property, or a landscape photographer looking to expand your portfolio. Or maybe you just have a lot of disposable income.
The Panono takes wonderful photos when it's outdoors. They're crisp and clean (when the stitching works) and friends in your office will be very impressed when you show them the images on your phone.
You'll want to use the selfie stick or a tripod though. Tossing the ball into the air definitely gives you a true 360 degree image, but you can't put a spin on the ball or you'll cause significant blurring (I'm terrible at that) and you will be in the image and you will look like a tit, with your eyes wide and arms outstretched to the metaphorical heavens.
At least with the selfie stick you can look away, and with the tripod you can remotely take photos with the Panono app.
The phone app you can shoot with (available on iOS and Android) is one you should be prepared to love — because it's required to do anything with the ball beyond tossing it in the air. Want to access your photos? Name them? Share them? Stitch them so they don't look like modern art?
The app is required.
Stitching, the act of piecing together images provided by all 36 cameras to create one cohesive whole, is a double-edged sword on the Panono.
You don't need expensive and mystifying software to stitch panoramas like you do with other 360-capable cameras. You tell the Panono app to upload the panorama to their servers and you're done. But you're also subject to the capabilities of Panono's servers and your own connection.
Which helps explain how I ate through 2GB of data on my phone in a couple of weeks. You have to connect to the Panono via wi-fi to interact with it, and, at least in the case of my iPhone, it does not automatically reconnect to other wi-fi after latching onto the Panono. So images would be uploaded to Panono's servers not via my home connection, but via my phone's data network.
From left to right: An image waiting to be uploaded. An image before stitching (note the lines). A queue of images processing on Panono's servers. The process, besides being a data hog, also takes forever. There was a long, excruciating, thirty minutes between the time I uploaded one photo and the time I had the stitched final product on my phone. Worse, there was no clear estimation of how long processing would take.
And because the stitching all happens on Panono's server, there's no tweaking it. Problematic when you take a lovely picture of a neighbourhood church and Panono starts stitching spires to the wrong parts of the building.
And just deeply disappointing when you try taking a cool shot as the ball is in motion and would like to do some colour correction.
The Panono, out of the box, just doesn't give you enough control. If you want to edit the image you'll have to go to the site, log in, and download the raw image (stitched or unstitched) and use your own software.
It should be noted that you do get some control in-camera (using the app). You can adjust the white balance and shutter speed, but the image sensors in the 36 cameras wrapped around the Panono are terribly low quality — like three or fours years ago smartphone quality.
Every single image I took indoors was dark, grainy, and blurry. It didn't matter if I was taking it in my sun-dappled apartment or under the bright, industrial lights of the Gawker offices. The images just. Looked. Gross.
The quality of the camera sensors is what I really found myself struggling with. Because I want to like the Panono. It's a cool concept and it has some neat tricks, but it's all far too little and too late. That's part of the problem with crowdfunded gadgets. There are brilliant ideas attached to them and, often, there are brilliant people making the gadgets. But the rollouts are too glacial, and hyping the product five years before it hits the market isn't as much marketing as it is genital teasing.
When the finished product finally lands in your hand you wind up saying "that's it?" The me from three years ago would have loved the hell out of the Panono. The me from 2016 is wishing for something more.