Does having a gyroscope affect PhotoSynth?

When PhotoSynth for Windows Phone 7 hit the marketplace last week, we knew there would be discussions over the requirement of a gyroscope - and there was.

When users try download the app with a phone that doesn't have a gyroscope, they are presented with an error that reads "Some features in this application might not work because your phone doesn't have..gyroscope" - this does not stop the download though. Users of any 1st gen Windows Phone (HD7, Focus, Omnia 7, Trophy etc) will get this message, along with any users of a 2nd gen phone that is missing the gyroscope (most notably the Nokia Lumia 710 and 800). We don't know why the 710 and 800 do not have a gyro, but it may have simply come down to a cost-benefit decision, as the flagship 900 does have one (opens in new tab). So what does a gryo do, and do you really need one? Read on to find out.

Most people confuse the accelerometer and gyroscope. Every Windows Phone, new and old, has an accelerometer. But only newer devices have a gyro. The Windows Phone 7 API has officially supported accelerometers since launch, but gyro support only came with Mango.

Without getting technical, the easiest way to explain the difference between these two is by example...

Imagine you are on a see-saw standing in the center blind folded. As your adolescent friends bounce up and down you will be able to tell what angle you are at, even though you can't see. This is not unlike an accelerometer - which measures the gravitational forces in effect on the device, and from that can determine what angle the device is at in relation to the ground. Now, hold your phone flat in your outstretched hands, and without tilting the phone, spin around on your toes. Now what you just did (besides embarrass yourself) would not have been picked up by an accelerometer. That's because an accelerometer can only tell you at what angle the phone is, but not if it's moving or not. So for the device to determine which way you spun around and if you are moving, it needs a gyro. It is the combination of these two types of motion/movements that PhotoSynth needs to determine where you are facing.

So by that logic, for PhotoSynth to work you would HAVE to have a gyro. Well, not exactly. Microsoft has given developers a fancy 'Motion' API (opens in new tab) which will combine the readings from the accelerometer, compass (not mentioned above, but included in most WP7's), and gyroscope and return very easy to use information about the phone's motion. It even goes so far as to compensate for the lack of a gyroscope by combining the other two values as best it can when a gyro is not present. And it turns out that their compensation works pretty well!

How well does it actually work in the real world? To find this out, we did a bunch of tests with two devices side by side, and compared the result. We used a Nokia Lumia 800 that does not have a gyro versus a Samsung Focus Flash, which does have one. After a number of trials we determined that there really isn't much difference at all, and recorded a video to prove it. Now, in the video you will notice that the Focus Flash occasionally complains about needing to be calibrated. This continued after calibrating, and even when testing with another Focus Flash. However, the problem only occurred when shooting the video, presumably because of some interference from the Lumia, but did not effect the results.

Something else to note about the video is that we purposefully did not move around smoothly and slowly in order to give a combination of a real world test, and to try confuse the phones. When you are making your own, you results will vary, and it is definitely best to use some form of tripod. For more realistic results, be sure to check out George's great review of the app (opens in new tab).

And here are the results from the two devices, with the Nokia Lumia 800 first:

and the Samsung Focus Flash:

So what have we learned?

  • Don't try make panoramas with two phones next to each other, in a very scientific enclosure made with cardboard and excessive amounts of duct-tape. They will fight, plus for some reason looking too far up just produced a red square in the viewfinder.
  • Use a tripod to keep a common point of origin, and try avoid scenes with varying light conditions - this mainly tripped the Lumia up in the tests above, but previous times the Flash suffered from the same.
  • And finally: Having a gyro makes VERY LITTLE real-world difference. Instead of worrying about that, rather practice making panoramas!
  • Fantastic everyone gets similar experience :p
  • I should point out that, although I didn't mention it in the article, it is perfectly possible to make a full 360 degree image with and without a gyro. So, even without a gyro, you can look directly up and down. With both, you will need to do it slowly, and make sure you aren't moving the phone around much.
  • About your comment here:
    " for some reason looking too far up just produced a red square in the viewfinder."
    It is because Photosynth technology does not use the position to match pictures. It uses the picture itself. So when you you point up it cannot find where the new picture fits because both are blue. The pictures does not have so many differences to look for.
    Imagine if you try a Photosynth from the clear sky, you can't because it does not have so much detais, but if you try with some clouds maybe it can find the differences an put the pictures together.
    As much detais you have beter synth you can do.
  • If you are RogueCode the dev, you really need to fix the "serious issue" bug on Pocket Meme. It's making the app unusable!
  • He is RogueCode the dev, and we've told him as someone contacted me through the app, he's working on it :)
  • Good!
  • Haha, yes it's me :-) An update is in certification at the moment! It should be on your phone sometime over the weekend, MS willing.
  • then I guess the accelerometer or the compass in the LG Optimus is just a load of wank. I can't even take a second picture. It just freaks out and jumps all over the place, doesn't even give me a "I need calibration" thing.
  • I had the same experience, it sucks with the Lumia 800, it is impossible with LG Optimus.
  • I've had horrible issues on my LG Optimus 7. No matter in what lighting I try, how slow I move the camera, or where I do it, in most cases the camera 'gitters' around and cannot stay in place. Makes it extremely hard to show of this legendary application. :(
  • I've got a Dell Venue Pro, and tested it yesterday.  Worked without issue, as long as I moved it slowly.  As the article says, trying to get a panorama with movement won't work.  I tried getting a panorama of my living room while the TV was going and photosynth didn't like that one bit.
  • It's quite interesting taking a panorama with a friend moving along to each frame. It seems to realize that the same "shape" is in the next frame and refuses to take it. However, if they change their pose each time, it works fine.  
  • I can't get my Trophy to work on solids. For example, if I have a patch of wall in the panorama that takes more than one shot to pass, it seems to have a lot of difficulty knowing when to take the next shot. I almost always get the red x.
  • Checkout my reply just above this one. It seems to take the actual picture into account too, not just movement.
  • What rogue code said. It does take the picture into account, and if you look as you move the camera it tries to line up the next shot as or after it's taken. (I think it said something in the tips or help about solid colors) I found it kind of helps to work my way around the solid, to get stuff in the picture that is more noisy; e.g. shooting above it and below it so there's something to be compared. (hope that makes sense) I also noticed, though, that you can tap the screen to force it to take a shot. Haven't tried this while making a panorama yet though.
  • I figured that it was just adding to the picture already. I just thought I would share. :) I guess I'll just have to put more decorations on my wall. :P
  • This is my new favorite app!
  • I have a LG Optimus 7 and I agree that it doesn't work well. And I'm not a tripod
  • The article indicates that all WP7s have a compass. When downloading PhotoSynth on my HTC Radar, a message appears stating that the device lacks gyroscope and compass features.
  • It's my understanding also that Mango killed the compass on the LG Quantum.
  • seems to be the case. on both of my Quantums the Compass just gives garbage readings, never even close to actually pointing north
  • Fixed, thanks!
  • My lumia 900 is hard to do but ill get better at it lol
  • I have a HTC Arrive and it seems to work pretty good.
  • Me too. Took a great synth of a beer expo this weekend.
  • It is impossible to do it on the Optimus 7. I managed once, after shaking my phone a little beforehand, and even then, the results were far from perfect. I don't understand how it can be so much easier on the Lumia 800, even though it doesn't have a gyro.
  • From other comments it looks like that phone has a particular problem with this app.
  • That sounds like an issue with the magnetometer (alias compass). Just try to do a figure-8 a few times and make sure no interfering magnetic devices are nearby (PCs, electronic stuff). Slowly move it around in all directions, that is much more effective than just shaking.
  • Great article explaining the gyro issue with Photosynth.
  • Thats exactly what my app describes, if you want to learn more about your phones sensors: or get the app directly here:
  • "When users try download the app with a phone that doesn't have a gyroscope, they are presented with an error..."
    Technically it's a warning, as the program is designed to function fine with or without the gyroscope. Just thought I'd point that out. :)
    I've been having fun with Photosynth on my LG Quantum, though sometimes it can be a little like a game to position the phone for the next auto-shot. It's good IMO.
  • AWFUL! AWFUL experience on Optimus 7. The picture starts to jump and it's really hard to shoot anything. So, I guess that's the problem with many Optimus 7 phones.
    Why's that so, that sucks!
  • I didn't get any error on my OG Focus
  • The reason why the 710 and 800 don't have gyroscopes is because in order for Nokia to meet the end of year shipping date, they had to use reference hardware internals from compal and upped the clock speed. As you may remember gyroscopes were nor on the 1st gen recommended hardware list.
  • Doesn't work on my quantum, but then again I'm not surprised and not disappointed...a camera in a phone is a convenience rather than a necessity for me. I have a real camera for when I want to take real photos. :-)
  • I think PhotoSynth tries to compensate for lack of gyro by comparing edges of existing photos with the picture from camera - so if you will move slowly it would work regardless.
  • My HTC Arrive has a horrible time keeping up when using SkyMap's "Point To Sky" feature, so imagine my surprise when Photosynth comes along and actually works like expected! I managed to quickly and easily capture a few synths this weekend using my phone while out on a hike. Kudos to the dev team for an awesome (and long overdue) app that's fun and easy to use!
  • It seems like this app doesn't work well with LG handsets
    But it doesn't really matter, we already have a panorama app
  • If Photosynth doesn't seem to automatically take a shot, you can tap in the frame to manually force it. Moving slowly is key. To create a 360° pano, match up the last image with the first. I've had great success for the most part on my Samsung Focus.
  • Agreed. Great success on my focus as well. I've had the best results when matching half frames, i.e. moving slowly and letting the photo snap when the diamond gets to the edge of the last photo.
  • Exactly, slow and deliberate movements have seemed to work best.
  • That looking up with the red no-shoot recticle is something I complained about in an earlier article. I tried going faster and slower. I also tried this on the iPhone version and you dont get the nonshoot recticle on the iPhone version. I am starting to think this is a glitch with the WP version of the app.
  • For anyone having issues taking panoramas indoors, try taking some outside. It's very difficult to take indoor panoramas with this app. As the article stated a tripod might help. When you're outside and everything is more distant the frame of reference changes less as you rotate and the app has an easier time stitching the photos.
  • Fantastic App now you've shown me how to use it properly. Thanks
  • Working perfectly with my lumia 900..
  • No matter what I do it seems that my Focus is still having trouble stiching 360 degree panoramas.  I'll only be about three quarters done and the phone will think I'm pointing back at the starting point. And overlapping the photos doesn't help. Other than that it is such a great app
  • Also, the app skymap seems to have no problem telling which direction im pointing
  • Are you following the "equator" line in the overlay? I found mine did much better when the diamond was aligned with that for each picture in the 360. If it's above or below I think the app starts to squish the picture to fit the rest of the sphere.
  • Tried it once with my lumia 800 in my living room and loved the results... Great app
  • I just tried a few frames on my Trophy and it worked fine, as far as I can tell.
    Did anyone else see the season finale of NCIS: LA? They used Photosynth on the PC. I'm really enjoying NCIS, NCIS: LA, and Hawaii 5-0 as they use their WP7's.
  • Works descent on the trophy; just could use a better camera :-P
  • It's always great to know your flagship product (yea, Lumia 900 isn't the flagship here) is missing features.
    Found without the gyro in either highly detailed situations (such as tree's) or lower light (such as inside a house) my 800 will patch together the wrong points in an image, and you'll get wierd spots in the picture that aren't right.