How Does it Work?

The Photosynth site hosts two different styles of 3D experience.

The first style, and the one that still uniquely defines the product, is what we call a “synth”. A synth is a collection of overlapping photographs that have been automatically reconstructed into a 3D model of the space. The synthing process solves the same problem our brains are confronted by when we look at the world: the slight differences between what our left and right eyes see gives us cues about how far away different parts of the scene are. In a similar way, the differences between two photos taken from nearby positions can be analyzed to determine which parts of the scene are close, and which are further away. Amazingly, the synthing algorithm can reconstruct a scene of 200 photos in just five or ten minutes on an average laptop.

In addition to synths, Photosynth supports spherical panoramas, which we often refer to as “panos”. Unlike synths, where different camera locations are required, the idea behind a pano is to capture the view in every possible direction from exactly one location. A panorama doesn't give you any depth information, but it makes for a seamless viewing experience because the combined imagery seems to wrap around you – just like the real world does.

Both synths and panos are viewed using the multi-resolution technology acquired when Microsoft purchased the Seadragon™ startup in 2006. This means that photos in synths can be of any resolution whatsoever, and every pixel is preserved and delivered to viewers as they zoom. Similarly, our tools allow you to make a gigapixel (1000 megapixels) panorama if you want, and it can be opened by a viewer on the Web or in a mobile app in just a couple of seconds.


Photosynth was inspired by the breakthrough research on Photo Tourism from the University of Washington and Microsoft Research. This work pioneered the use of photogrammetry to power a cinematic and immersive experience.

After Seadragon joined Microsoft Live Labs, the marriage of the two technologies was proposed. Seadragon technology enabled the fast, smooth delivery of the hundreds of images that Photosynth required. After launching a technology preview in 2006, the team went to work on the community solution that went live as in 2008.

We've enjoyed some notable partnerships, which have resulted in some great synths and panos. Some of the most prominent include National Geographic, NASA, and synthing the Obama Inauguration with CNN.