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The Next Old Thing

Illustration Spur Design

Corbis (Adams); Qin Hao (panono 360)

Corbis (Adams); Qin Hao (panono 360)

The Technology: Panoramic Photography
The Product: Panono 360 Degree Camera
The Forebear: Ansel Adams

“Moon and Half Dome,” one of Ansel Adams’ most famous photographs, did not involve a great deal of technical wizardry. Adams took the shot with a good camera (a Hasselblad) and a strong telephoto lens (250 mm), but otherwise the magic of this image—the way it makes the viewer feel the sheer scale of the landscape—comes down to the triangulation of heart, mind and eye that underlies all great visual art.

Strictly speaking, Adams’ “panoramic” photographs were nothing of the sort. The word panorama comes from the Greek for “all sight,” and a true panoramic photo incorporates every aspect of a landscape, in all directions. Google’s Street View photography is closer to the principle than Adams’ sweeping images of the American wilderness, even if virtually nosing around distant neighborhoods doesn’t have quite the same effect on the soul.  

Adams died 30 years ago this month, so he didn’t get to see the digital technology that made such head-swiveling photography possible. You get the sense that he’d have liked to have gotten his hands on the Panono camera, a gizmo produced by a trio of Berlin-based whiz kids that, when it goes on sale later this year, will make 360-degree photography available to anyone with $500 to $600 to spare.

As with Street View, the Panono digitally stitches together a series of shots to create its 360-degree effect. The device is a ball, about the size of a grapefruit, embedded with 36 cameras. You throw it into the air and, when it reaches its highest point, all of the cameras automatically take a shot. You can also trigger the shutters from a standing position, but the real fun is in the whirly bird’s-eye images taken from overhead.

Good photography, Adams said, “is knowing where to stand.” And when you’re standing at the very center of everything, it’s hard to go too far wrong.

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