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Photosynthing the nation's capital

CNET News' Ina Fried tries out Microsoft's photo-stitching tool on a couple of D.C. landmarks with mixed results.

A synth of images of the Lincoln Memorial.
A synth of images of the Lincoln Memorial. Click on the image for a larger view.
Ina Fried/CNET News.com

WASHINGTON, D.C.--On Monday, I got a demo of how Microsoft was opening up Photosynth to consumers. On Wednesday, I put it to the test.

With my Canon Digital Rebel XT in tow, I headed to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to try it out. I quickly realized, though, that this would be a pretty tall order for the software, given that row upon row of names would be hard to separate. I decided to also take photos of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, which I thought the software would have an easier time with.

What Photosynth does is to look at a collection of digital photos of the same location, taken from different angles, and use those to create a 3D representation of the place. Assuming there are enough shots for the software to stitch together, one can pan and zoom through the different shots.

For those who have a Windows PC and are willing to install the Active X control needed to view it, here's a look at my synth of the Washington and Lincoln structures. For those who don't want to do the installation, you can see my work at the top of this post.

There were highs and lows of my personal experience. On the plus side, all I had to do was take the photos--I took about 150 of the Vietnam Memorial and another 150 of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial combined. The software does all the figuring out of how the photos fit together.

That can also be a downside. The software couldn't quite piece together that the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial and the interior were of the same place, probably because the Lincoln sculpture itself shows up so dark in the exterior shots as I approached it.

It also took a long time to upload the shots and my laptop kept going to sleep. That said, the software seemed to always pick up where it left off.

I tried to upload just the Lincoln Memorial images to ease the transition, in hopes the software would stitch together the exterior and interior shots, but my "synth" hung just at the end. I then tried to upload my Vietnam Memorial shots this morning, but got a message saying that the service was handling too many synths at the moment.

I'll keep trying and post an update once I have more synths up. (Update 6:30 p.m. PT--So much for that. All my efforts today to upload further synths have failed as Microsoft's Photosynth site has struggled to keep pace in its first day of being open to the public.)

Meanwhile, you can check out this video, in which I chat with Microsoft's Gary William Flake to about what you can do with this new technology:

Now playing: Watch this: Microsoft launches 3D photo viewer Photosynth