360 panoramas and 3D image apps on iOS

This week's collection of iOS apps make 360-degree images. The first creates step-by-step panoramas; the second lets you make panoramas and 360-degree views in one fluid motion; and the third helps you make 360-degree animations.


We've all been there at one time or another. You're looking at a beautiful landscape and you want to capture it, but the view is simply too wide to capture it all with your iPhone camera. Or maybe you're selling something on the Web, but taking a flat photograph of the object just doesn't seem to do it justice.

Fortunately, with the enormous abundance of photography apps in the iTunes App Store, there are apps for these specific purposes. These apps go beyond retro images and sketch-drawn re-creations and attempt to offer three dimensions.

This week's collection of iOS apps make 360-degree images. The first creates step-by-step panoramas; the second lets you make panoramas and 360-degree views in one fluid motion; and the third helps you make 360-degree animations.

Pano ($1.99 for a limited time) was originally launched in the iTunes App Store in 2008, but recent updates continue to make it one of the best apps for taking great-looking panoramic photos using your iPhone. The interface is sparse, but that only makes it easier: simply point your iPhone at the scene and take up to 16 shots (a full 360 degrees) to make the perfect panoramic image.

Pano does an excellent job of making an almost seamless panorama, but you'll need to take each shot. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

You start by taking a shot from one side. Then, Pano gives you a ghost image overlay so you can match up your next shot. You don't have to worry if it doesn't match up exactly; Pano blends and stitches your photographs together using an updated algorithm so most mistakes will be unnoticeable. The folks at Debacle Software say the new algorithm offers advanced alignment, blending, and color correction to provide seamless images, and in our testing, we saw great results with only a few issues.

Overall, Pano is an excellent way to capture a whole scene. Our only problem with the app is that there aren't any social-network sharing options (images are saved to iPhone library), but with the results the app generates it's hard to complain. If you're looking for a great way to take super-wide angle shots to capture the whole view, check out this app.

360 Panorama ($1.99) gives you a simple method for creating panoramic images, removing the need to take multiple shots. Instead of matching up shots, this app has you film a scene as you would shoot a movie and then stitches together your shots seamlessly in real time. Just hold up your iPhone and start from one side of the scene. Then, press the button in the bottom center of your screen and slowly pan to the right in one continuous motion. At the end, hit the button again and your panorama is finished. The resulting image lets you swipe to look around, or you can use your iPhone's gyroscope to move around the scene for a more immersive experience.

Panorama 360
With this app you can take your panorama in one sweeping stroke, but you will notice some seams if you're not careful. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

360 Panorama's feature set goes beyond just creating panoramic pictures. You can choose to make your panoramas public by registering and uploading your image to the 360verse.com Web site. There, you'll be able to view what others have made with 360 Panorama complete with GPS info so you know where every shot was taken. The app also lets you upload your work to Facebook or Twitter and it can even be viewed in just about any Twitter mobile app your friends and family may use.

The options panel is where you choose the type of animation you want to make. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Overall, if you'd like to make panoramas without the hassle of matching up shots, 360 Panorama has great features and sharing options to help you get the most out of your panoramic images.

YouSpin360 ($1.99) is a new app that uses a different angle (yeah I said it) on taking 360-degree shots. Instead of taking wide panoramas, this app lets you take multiple shots while moving around your subject to create an image you can view from all sides. The interface on YouSpin360 is not as intuitive as that of the previous apps, but once you get the basics, you'll be able to make cool-looking 360 degree shots you can show as videos--even on the Web.

You start by choosing the type of shot you want to create using the options tab that slides out from the right. Whether you want to see yourself from all sides, show a car from various perspectives so you can sell it on the Web, or make a creative stop-motion animation, YouSpin360 is the app for the job. The options tab shows pictures with diagrams for each type of shot, and it's a little confusing at first which to use. But with a bit of experimentation we were able to make some cool animations--just be aware that there is a learning curve.

When you're ready, hit Start 360. As an example, if you're shooting a still subject but moving the camera, you'll now touch the screen to snap a shot, then move a short distance around in a circle, snap another shot, and so on until you go around the subject 360 degrees. Now you'll be able to view an animation of your subject at different frame rates, and even upload a 3D copy of a yourself or a friend that can be used on Web sites, sent to Facebook, Twitter, or through e-mail. Or you can post it on 3Dme, a Web site affiliated with YouSpin360.

Jamie Yee was gracious enough to be the model in our 360-degree shoot. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Even without a friend around, you have the option to create a 3D copy of yourself with a function that times each snapshot while your iPhone sits stationary. The app instructs you (out loud) to "turn" at regular intervals until the shot is complete. It's difficult to describe in words, but once you've played with the app and looked at the included help screen, you'll find that it's easy to create cool-looking 360-degree animations.

Overall, YouSpin360 is a neat app for creating 360-degree animations whether they're of you or objects to sell on the Web, or they're just unique movies to post online. Though the interface gets pretty confusing, anyone who's willing to learn the basics will appreciate what this app has to offer.

Do you have a favorite panorama or 360-degree app? Let us know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.