I took the Panono on a recent trip, and some of the photos were among the best I got from the trip, but there were others that had unexpected errors. That’s actually pretty much how Panono is like in a nutshell. Panono is the highest resolution 360 camera for photos, and I’ve been using it since February 2017. Here is an unbiased review with samples showing how great it can be, as well as its weaknesses. I’ll also show some stitching errors, and how to fix them.
Last week, my family and I went to Hawaii. It was our first time to go there, and I wanted to make sure I got great photos and videos from it. I didn’t want to carry too many cameras, so I had to think carefully about which 360 cameras to get. One of the first cameras I knew I would bring was the Panono.
The Panono is the highest resolution 360 camera on the market as of 2018. It’s a 360 camera with 36 lenses and a stitched resolution of 16384 x 8192. It actually has a higher nominal resolution than even an 8-shot DSLR panorama with a 24-mp DSLR. However, it is designed only for taking 360 photos and cannot take 360 videos.
The Panono looks large from the photos, but it’s actually not that big — I would say it’s about the size of a grapefruit. Here it is next to an iPhone and an Insta360 Pro.
Although it is dotted with lenses, it’s easy to handle because the lenses are recessed within a tough plastic shell, which gives some protection to its lenses, unlike almost all other 360 cameras that have fisheye lenses bulging out. It is therefore one of the most durable 360 cameras available. According to Panono, the outer shell “can withstand light rain” but they emphasize that it is “only water resistant and not waterproof.”
The Panono has a case but I use a Lowepro camera bag, which I find more handy and can also cover the camera in between shots.
The Panono has only one button and it has a USB port. To attach it to a tripod, you need a tripod adapter that attaches to the USB port. You simply insert the adapter and give it a quarter turn, and it holds the camera securely. The tripod adapter has its own USB port. In my case, I leave the tripod adapter attached to the camera almost all the time.
|Lenses||36 lenses x 32mm wide angle equivalent (3.26mm)|
|Field of view||Fully Spherical
(around 70 degrees per lens)
|Sensors||36 x 1/4-inch sensor|
|Photo resolution||16384 x 8192 (134mp) stitched
108 megapixels unstitched
|Shutter speed||1/4000 to 2 secs|
|ISO||100 to 1600|
|Exposure modes||Auto or manual|
|Dynamic range||63dB / 10.4EV|
|HDR mode||3 shots (-3EV, 0EV, +2EV)|
|Storage||16GB internal (not removable)
up to 600 non-HDR
or 130 HDR shots
|Battery life||"~100 shots non HDR"
|Compatibility||iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux|
|Waterproof||Water resistant "for light rain"
polycarbonate plastic body
How to shoot and stitch with the Panono
Although the Panono looks complicated, it’s actually one of the easiest 360 cameras to use. I simply turn it on, connect with it wirelessly with my phone (Android or iOS — the password is printed on the camera), and trigger the camera with my phone. The app has the option to use auto or manual exposure (up to 2 seconds shutter speed). There is also an option to turn HDR on or off (the HDR is a true HDR with 3 shots, at -3, 0, and +2EV).
Wi-Fi connectivity is not very strong, but is sufficient to maintain a connection with the Panono atop a 10ft-monopod and the photographer standing at the base of the monopod. I find it best to get the wireless connection first before moving away from the camera (as opposed to moving away from the camera and then hoping to find the wi-fi signal).
There are other ways to shoot with the Panono, such as using an optional dedicated selfie stick with built in trigger. The stick is convenient for shooting but it cannot be collapsed, plus it doesn’t have a 1/4-20 tripod hole, so I seldom use it.
It’s also possible to shoot with it by simply throwing it into the air. The Panono’s internal gyro will automatically take a photo at the peak of the throw. Yes, it really works. Next to shooting with the phone, this is the method I use most often. I like this method for taking shots at a higher angle, and you won’t need a tripod. Because the camera will use a higher shutter speed in this shooting mode, this method works best in brighter conditions. Here is a sample shot with a thrown Panono:
With this method, the camera will only take a shot if it is not spinning, which takes quite a bit of practice (after owning it for almost a year and a half now, it takes me around 5 attempts to throw it before it takes a shot — it used to take more than 10 attempts to get a shot). The app can also let you specify the tolerance for spinning. For more experienced Panono users, the spinning tolerance can be decreased to ensure sharper shots.
Photos are stored in the camera’s internal memory (the memory is not removable or expandable), which has an available capacity of around 12GB (although the specs say 16GB). Each non-HDR photo takes up around 30MB, while HDR photos take up around 100MB.
The auto exposure is quite good and reliable. I find it will underexpose slightly to maintain highlights. It has exposure compensation for fine tuning. In HDR mode, it takes 3 shots at -3EV, 0EV and +2EV, which is usually enough to capture almost all relevant details even in sunny 16 conditions.
You can also use manual mode, but there’s no light meter so you’re on your own. Shutter speed is up to 2 seconds, which is unfortunately not enough for night sky shots but you can use image stacking using 3rd party software. Note that the exposure settings are ‘sticky’ and will be maintained even after the camera is power cycled.
White balance is ok although not always accurate. It can be either auto or changed to one of five presets.
Stitching Panono photos
Photos are stitched automatically in the cloud, which is why the Panono shots were among the first I was able to stitch from my trip. You can either upload them on your phone or on the desktop. From your phone, you download the unstitched photos into your phone. You’ll see a rough unstitched preview. After the photos are downloaded to your phone, you can upload them to the Panono website.
Alternatively, you can upload files via desktop. Just connect the Panono to the desktop via USB cable and copy the UPF (Unstitched Panono Format) files and upload them on the Panono website. Panono’s UPF Converter will show a rough preview of the file. One strange aspect of Panono’s files is that the names are a long string of random characters. I think this was their way of ensuring that uploaded files don’t get mixed up but it makes it hard to sort files.
Once uploaded (via phone app or desktop), you’ll have to wait around 15 to 20 minutes per image to be stitched. Once stitched, the photo will appear in your Panono account. From there, you can share it, embed it, or download it in 16384 x 8192 resolution or 8192 x 4096 resolution.
UPDATE: As of September 1, 2019, Panono will be charging $0.79 to stitch each photo.
It is also possible to stitch the photos using a third party stitcher. You can download a utility that will convert the UPF file into a folder of JPG shots from each lens. If you used HDR, each shot will have a prefix of 0, 1, or 2 indicating whether it was the underexposure (-3EV), normal exposure or overexposure (+2EV). Although you can use third party stitchers, I still use Panono’s cloud-based stitching. In my experience, I have found Panono’s stitcher to have better stitching quality* than all third party stitchers I’ve tried (including PTGui, Autopano, and Panorama Studio 3 Pro). Panono’s stitching algorithm appears to use optical flow stitching, and moreover automatically edits the photos to reduce noise and increase sharpness. However, Panono’s stitcher is not perfect as you’ll see below. [*In case it’s not obvious, I’m referring to their respective stitching performance for Panono’s unstitched files, not stitching for photos from other cameras or lenses.]
Anti-theft feature: Because Panono uses cloud stitching, you can notify the company if your unit is stolen, in which case the website will block stitching from the stolen unit, hopefully encouraging the person to return it to the owner.
Here are some of the Panono photos, with very little editing. You can zoom in to see the incredible level of detail, and the dynamic range that far exceeds other 360 cameras. Panono claims a dynamic range of 63dB which is around 10.4EV:
I also like the colors and contrast which are usually pleasant and natural-looking, although sometimes, the white balance is too warm or too reddish. I also love how the HDR looks natural and doesn’t look overprocessed.
While the Panono has excellent detail, it is susceptible to chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas, and is not immune to flare.
Here are other Panono sample photos (from another trip), also with minimal editing:
Comparison between Panono, DSLRs and other 360 cameras
Here is a comparison between Panono and other 360 cameras and DSLR panoramas:
You can see that a DSLR panorama can have better image quality than the Panono, but the Panono holds its own (in my opinion), and is far superior to any other 360 camera for photo quality. Moreover, there are many circumstances when shooting a DSLR panorama would be impractical or simply impossible.
Stitching errors and how to fix them
Although the Panono has excellent detail and dynamic range for a 360 camera, its stitching is a little bit unpredictable. There are two important limitations to ensure correct stitching: first, you must keep everything at least 5 feet away from the camera. Second, the Panono’s stitching algorithm requires details. If there are large empty spaces (such as large empty walls or an empty sky), there is a higher chance of stitching errors.
Even if you follow these guidelines, there are occasional bizarre stitching errors. Spot the stitching errors in these cropped shots (it’s not too difficult, really):
From left to right, top to bottom:
1. My wife’s collarbone, plus her arm is too thin.
2. The top of my daughter’s head, my son’s chin and shirt, and shoulder.
3. My son’s chin / face, and shoulder. (For this shot we were probably less than 5 feet.)
4. My wife’s shoulder. (The ghosting is from HDR.)
Fixing the stitching errors is not so easy but thanks to newer image editing software, it is easier than ever. My previous method was to re-stitch the photo with a third party stitcher then mask the stitching errors. However, I now have an easier method using either Photoshop or Affinity Photo. Here’s a tutorial:
Step 1: Open the photo in Photoshop CC or Affinity Photo and switch to 360 view. In Photoshop CC, this is under 3D… Spherical Panorama… Create new panorama. In Affinity Photo, it is under Layers… Live Projection… Equirectangular Projection.
Step 2: Download the UPF file and unzip it into JPEGs using the Panono UPF converter (available for Windows, Mac or Linux). Find an unstitched photo that can to be patch the stitching error (note that every part of the photo is captured by at least 2 lenses).
Step 3: patch the stitching error using the unstitched photo. Rotate and resize the unstitched photo as necesessary. You may want to use opacity to help you match the orientation and size. You may also want to use a layer mask, and adjust the patch’s contrast and color to match the 360 photo.
Step 4: When you are satisfied with the patch, merge the patch areas and their respective adjustment layers into a single layer using Merge Visible. Then merge that single layer with the 360 phto using Merge Down (do not use Merge Visible or Flatten Image). Export the 360 photo.
Summary / Conclusion
Panono has the highest photo quality among 360 cameras as of 2018 and for the foreseeable future. It has excellent detail, excellent dynamic range, and pleasant, natural-looking colors. It does have noticeable chromatic aberration in high-contrast areas but it’s not too difficult to remove in post processing.
Panono is relatively easy to shoot and stitch, although its self-timer works only when shooting with the app. I also wish that the battery would last longer (in my experience, it takes around 20 HDR shots before running out of battery). Stitching is automatic, via the cloud, although it is also possible to use third party stitching software.
The biggest drawback for Panono is that it must be at least 5 feet from everything to avoid stitching errors. Because of this, it generally cannot be used in small spaces. It also has difficulty stitching large empty areas. Finally, even if you are far away from the camera and have plenty of detail everywhere, there are occasional stitching errors. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to fix the stitching errors using Photoshop CC or Affinity Photo.
If you want high quality 360 photos, and if you have the time and skill to use Photoshop CC or Affinity Photo to edit occasional stitching errors, then the Panono is the best 360 camera for photography available as of 2018. It is available from Amazon and B&H Photo.
If you are interested in the Panono, also check out the XPhase Pro, a 200mp 360 camera that costs less than half of the Panono.