Berlin student puts new spin on spherical photography

Summary:BERLIN -- Until now, spherical photography has remained more or less off-limits to the general public. But one German engineering student could be changing the ball game.

BERLIN -- "Camera tossing" used to refer to a cult, abstract-photography technique popularized in the early noughties. But now, it just may be the ideal way to capture spherical panoramic images, thanks to a German graduate student.

Jonas Pfeil's Panoramic Ball Camera captures full, spherical panoramas when tossed into the air using 36 cell-phone cameras encased in protective foam. The cameras fire simultaneously using an accelerometer that calculates when the ball will reach its highest point after being tossed.

The results can then be downloaded and easily stitched together using software developed by Pfeil and his team.

"You can take shots in all directions at the same time, but you can also explore them later," the recent graduate of the Technical University (TU) Berlin student told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"With a computer, you can look around as if you were actually there again. It's interesting to be able to reconstruct a situation like that."

The result is similar to that of Google Street View, except the ball design allows the cameras to capture both the photographer and the ground in the shot. Pfeil also pointed out that the simultaneous capture allows the user to shoot moving scenes, such as crowds of people or ocean waves, more consistently than with traditional panoramic photography since everything happens at once.

Pfeil told Der Spiegel he came across the idea after trying to photograph a landscape during a vacation and realizing how difficult panoramic stitching can be. The resulting project became the subject of his master's thesis.

While a patent pends on the design, Pfeil, along with his Computer Graphics Group of Kristian Hildebrand, Carsten Gremzow, Bernd Bickel, and Marc Alexa, is seeking an investor to transform the charming prototype into a marketable reality. Pfeil told Der Spiegel the final product could cost consumers less than 100 Euros ($130) and even be as small as a tennis ball one day.

Pfeil is currently presenting the Panoramic Ball Camera at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 in Hong Kong. You can follow him in his lab-to-fab quest on Twitter.

Photo & Video: Jonas Pfeil (

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Shannon N. Smith has written for WNYC's The Takeaway and She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She is based in Berlin, Germany. Follow her on Twitter.

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