*** UPDATE: After several negative reviews by readers of this blog, I’ve decided to no longer recommend Panolapse. The software may work for you but the negative feedback is more than any other product I’ve reviewed. 3/2016 ***
I first learned about Panolapse (www.panolapse360.com) from a video by The Seventh Movement. They used Panolapse in their workflow to create movement from stationary shots. I was intrigued by this and decided to check out the trial version. I had a couple of concerns with the software, so I contacted the creator of Panolapse who gave me a full version to test. I’ll bring up those concerns later in the review. After getting the full version, I put in about 30 hours working with this software. While the software isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t be writing this lengthy review if I thought it wasn’t worth a look.
The above video includes most of this review as well as some video examples I made. I’d suggest watching it at some point so you can see the software in action.
Panning and Zooms in Time-Lapse
Panolapse, which is also called Panolapse 360, is software with two distinct functions that are useful for time-lapse. The first is creating pans and zooms in post that look similar to mechanical movement. To better explain this, let’s say you have a wide-angle lens, such as my Rokinon 14mm or a fisheye lens. When you upload these photos to your computer, there will be heavy distortion like this:
The first step in correcting this distortion will probably be to import the file into Bridge or Lightroom. You’d then select the proper lens profile and let the software correct the distortion and automatically crop the file to a neat rectangle. Otherwise, the photo would look liked a stretched animal hide:
While I normally recommend this as the first step in my Lightroom workflow, Panolapse works best if you export without correcting for distortion. I’d still recommend correcting vignetting as it’s often heavy with wide-angle lenses.
Panolapse uses these distorted photos to make it look like the camera is moving. You can do this by picking the right settings for your lens and choosing start and end positions.
I used the pan function for one shot in my airport time-lapse. The added action helped add motion to an unremarkable shot that was necessary in telling the story. I’ve also used Panolapse well after correcting distortion by setting the lens at 50mm and doing a standard pan or zoom.
This pan and zoom function works well and is fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t spend more time explaining it. Check out the video if you want to see examples.
Day to Night
Now here’s the cool part about this software that first made me download it. Panolapse is supposed to let you do easy transitions between day to night shots. Anyone who’s tried this knows how difficult it is. There’s a reason it’s called the “Holy Grail” of time-lapse. There aren’t many programs that let you do this and the most popular is over three times as expensive for a professional license. Panolapse works along with Lightroom or Photoshop because it isn’t a full fledged photo editor. I’ll explain why this is necessary below.
Panolapse calls its day to night feature “RAWBlend.” To understand how it works, here’s my entirely unscientific understanding of RAW files: When you take a photo with your camera in jpeg mode, the camera locks in your settings through compression making it harder to change. I like to think of this like a coloring book that someone already colored, like this:
But let’s say you shot in RAW. Now your settings are still there but more of a suggestion than a command. I picture this like a color by numbers drawing.
While it might not be possible to change everything, you have much more freedom. If you find the color is off, you can add or subtract a number and change the entire photo. Or, you can select highlights and shadows and process them without affecting the rest of the photo.
If you shoot with Canon or Nikon, these changes are kept separate in what’s called a sidecar file.
Panolapse RAWBlend works with a photo editor to make changes gradually across these sidecar files. Let’s say you have four photos with exposures that jump in the middle of the sequence, like this:
You can use your photo editor to change the settings on the first and last photo and then create a sidecar file for all of them. After this is all saved, open Panolapse and choose the first and last photo. Panolapse will then adjust the metadata of the files in between to make the transition smoother, like this:
Once the metadata is updated by Panolapse, you can tell Lightroom or Photoshop to read the metadata and update the files. Panolapse can alter many settings such as exposure and white balance to provide a smoother transition across frames.
New effects – The main positive is Panolapse lets you change settings that would otherwise be nearly impossible to do manually. This includes both the day to night and the panning function.
Price – Panolapse is cheaper than other programs that do similar transitions. At time of post, the software is $69.95 through a discount on their website.
Video quality – I think the quality of the final product is pretty good but I’ll let you judge for yourself from the video. I applied the MSU deflicker filter for VirtualDub to these clips because I found it worked better than the deflicker filter included in Panolapse.
Build quality – My biggest problem with this software is that it feels more like an alpha or beta build than a professional piece of software. This is probably because the limited audience makes it hard to devote as much time to testing as other software.
Hiccups – The software usually works well if you know how to use it. If you’re just learning and try to make adjustments mid-workflow, the program tends to give mixed results.
I don’t think I’ve had the software crash but I’ve gotten a few error messages. The most annoying was a “not a number” error on a photo between two edited keyframes. I eventually had to reset all my changes and start over. I never repeated this error.
The problem I mentioned at the beginning of this article was from using autoexposure with the default smooth (cubic) interpolation mode and only two keyframes. This made the final video much darker than the unedited version. I still don’t have a good explanation of why this happened but adding additional keyframes through the photo sequence seems to be the best way to overcome this. Smooth (cubic) without autoexposure, linear mode with autoexposure, and linear mode without autoexposure all worked well.
Speed – Lightroom takes a couple minutes to save metadata to sidecar files but Panolapse takes over an hour for the same photos. I think the program was faster the first time I used it so this might have started when I tried using more threads on my i7 processor.
Despite the negatives listed above, I plan to keep working with this software. It might not be my go-to editor but it definitely adds some cool effects that are almost impossible without it.
The license also “grants access to all future updates.” That’s quite an incentive. I’m happy to say Panolapse has come out with a few updates lately, the most recent just three days before writing. I haven’t tested the newest version but it’s a good sign that they’re still working to make it better.
At the very least, it’s worth trying the free trial version. It offers full functionality but only exports to 720p HD video. If you try the software, please let me know what you think of it in the comments below.