Witness The Birth of a 36-Lens Panoramic Camera

We are suckers for a teardown video here at Hackaday: few things are more fascinating than watching an expensive piece of equipment get torn apart. [Jonas Pfeil] is going the other way, though: he has just published an interesting video of one of his Panono panoramic ball cameras being built.

The Panono is a rather cool take on the panoramic camera: it is a ball-shaped device fitted with 36 individual cameras. When you press the button and throw the camera in the air, it waits until the highest point and then takes pictures from all of the cameras. Sound familiar? We first coverd [Jonas’] work way back in 2011.

Photos are stitched together into a single panoramic image with an equivalent resolution of up to 106 megapixels. The final image is panoramic in both horizontal and vertical directions: you can scroll up, down, left, right or in and out of the image. Since images are all taken at the same time you don’t have continuity problems associated with moving a single camera sensor. There are a number of sample images on their site but keep reading for a look at some of the updated hardware since our last look at this fascinating camera.

Unsurprisingly, the device itself is pretty complex: I counted two rather crowded looking circuit boards and at least three smaller daughterboards that the cameras and USB port connect to, plus a whole rats nest of ribbon cables. This is the first commercial version (they are making and selling just a thousand of them, called the explorer edition), but it looks a little inefficient: I thought it might be possible to connect some of the cameras directly to the edge of the circuit board to lose a few of the cables. I asked [Jonas] about that, and he said:

The orientations of the camera modules are important and not two are the same. So at most we could mount three of 36 on the 3 mainboards in the center plane of the sphere. Orientation of the camera modules calls for their PCB to be tangential to the sphere surface. So basically you have to fold something. I’m sure there are other ways but this is the solution we came up with. We spent a good deal of time on that folding pattern and the shapes of the flexible boards :) Also for something made to hit the floor at this speed you have to decouple things mechanically or it will decouple itself on impact ;)

So, can anyone come up with a better idea for attaching the cameras to simplify this complex build?

21 thoughts on “Witness The Birth of a 36-Lens Panoramic Camera

  1. I think the point about mechanical decoupling is pretty important, rather than see the flex cables as inefficient I think they are probably pretty vital. A rigid solder joint is asking to fail after repeated impacts. Complexity is necessary sometimes. Plus being able to assemble the three ‘compound eye’ sections and then simply plug them to the mainboard sounds far easier.

  2. I understand that development takes quite a lot and the team has to have a salary out of making it, but 1499 bucks seems a little bit pricey, although the resulting effect is reasonably cool. I am also worried about the possible damaging due to mechanical shock. Given the price tag, you probably do not want to hit the ground too often and/or too hard. Still a nice work!

      1. Hi James,

        The price is 1499 in USD as well (not just in EUR). This price is for the Explorer Edition. There will be a consumer version for 599 USD / EUR later. The Explorer Edition is a limited edition that we are selling in smaller numbers (hence the higher price) while we are optimizing for drop proofness.

        Kind regards,
        Jonas

    1. To be honest here, the ridiculous price tag is for the “explorer” limited edition panono camera, that was sold for 499 USD (excluding VAT) on indiegogo 2 years ago. Since then, they asked for 599 USD (or 599 EUR including VAT) for the final consumer edition. With all their drawbacks and setbacks, they decided to produce 1000 beta-devices called the “explorer edition”. This one is NOT drop-proof, it will break on impact (although they said the protoypes survived falls of around 4 meters), while the consumer edition will actually be drop-proof to at least 10 meters high (i assume). The explorer edition is for those who want the ball in their hands NOW, and don’t care about the drop proof rating. Most likely professionals who won’t throw them in the air ;)

    1. I have asked this one too. They said that they were thinking about adding a “delay” in the shot. Basically you press a button, a timer starts running and then it takes pictures. Blur though is a problem. I have been thinking about doing a bungee jump with it though, instead of throwing its falling ;)

    1. It takes photos not video.

      But google had that 360 degree video thing, although that requires a truckload of gopros and costs around 18 grand I think? Anyway, pricey.

      But maybe they can make a version of this ball where only a subset of the ball’s cameras work, like 5 or 6 or so, and then take short 360 degree circular videos. While holding it obviously, else it would be out of whack.
      But then they’d be polluting the concept though.

  3. The Panono web site’s sample pictures illustrate what a boringly horizontal two-dimensional world we live in.

    The upper third of every photo is sky, more sky, and then a little bit more. Some occassional clouds or solar lens flare.

    The lower third is mostly people’s dirty feet, sand, worn astroturf. The essential, but mundane stuff that we overlook in daily life.

    I think an interesting demo picture would be to toss the thing up in an dense wood. The forest floor would take care of the lower third, and the sunlight filtering thru the canopy the upper third.

    Or set the thing in a colorful school of tropical fish, coral reefs, etc.

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