While I'm not by any stretch of the term a professional photographer, I love taking pictures. And although I would love to take my Sony NEX-5N everywhere I go, it's not always convenient. Luckily, smartphone manufacturers are making great leaps in the image sensing field.

Thankfully, we have matured beyond the belief that megapixels are everything to focusing on aperture, lens composition, light capture, low-light performance, optical image stabilization and even adjusting shutter speed for different light levels. The end result is very clear. Smartphone cameras of today are worlds better than those of just two years ago, or even many of those of last year. And they're seriously threatening the point and shoot market.

Because of this and the fact that I am never more than a few feet from my smartphones at any given time, I am always snapping pictures of everything and anything I find interesting. My clinically insane snub-nosed dogs are a usual subject, as are my gorgeous lattes from my choice coffee shop. But I take pictures of anything that piques my interest.

The downside is that without the ability to attach different lenses (the olloclip I had for the iPhone 4S does not work with the iPhone 5), a standard frame doesn't always capture the entire picture. And jogging back a good 50 feet isn't always an option.

That's where panorama comes into play. A colleague, Marc Flores of Know Your Cell, explained a few weeks ago that panorama mode can help give the effect of a wider angle shot:

"Wide-angle lenses work really well for many photojournalists because fitting more subjects into a scene tends to tell more of a story. The problem with our smartphones is that the focal lengths are fixed and sometimes they crop out critical parts of a scene. Luckily, most smartphones these days will take panorama shots. So the trick is to take a rather large panorama and crop it down as you see fit.

If you can't step back any further to zoom out with your feet, so to speak, then open up your camera's panorama feature and take in a wide scene. Once the image is stitched together, simply crop the photo and eliminate the things you don't want in the scene. Many smartphones have fixed focal lengths of anywhere between 24mm and 30mm. Those are pretty wide focal lengths if you ask me, but sometimes you want to get down to 11-16mm--you can easily replicate that using the panorama trick."

Panoramic pictures aren't entirely new to the mobile realm. Third-party applications have been stitching individual pictures together for years now. But both Google and Apple added the wide panorama mode to the stock camera apps in major updates to their mobile platforms. Panorama was added to Android natively in the Ice Cream Sandwich update, and iOS 6 brought panorama in the stock iOS app.

Having panorama mode at my fingertips in the native camera apps, I have been much more prone to use the mode. And Flores' advice shed new light on different ways the basic panorama mode can be creatively used for various effects, such as squeezing more in a single shot without shooting a full panoramic shot.

I have since snapped a handful of some awesome shots. For instance, the picture above is a shot I took at Pilot Mountain State Park, about five miles from where I grew up, using the stock camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note II. (Click picture to enlarge.) And a few weeks ago, I used the iPhone to take a panoramic photo of the Empire State Building (below) while I was waiting on a Samsung event to kick off.

I've since been experimenting by taking multiple panorama shots of different sizes and cropping them down. Not only is it fun to play around with, you can stumble upon some interesting shots.

But there is a single feature of Android 4.2 that I cannot wait to get my hands on: Photo Sphere. These are 360° panoramas that are stitched together and can be used using the same technology as Google's Street View. Those panoramas can be shared and, likewise, viewed on Google Maps. I've checked out a few and I have to say it's quite nice, though a tad gimmicky.

Lately, I have noticed some of my friends and family getting creative with panorama mode, too. What about you, ladies and gents? Do you use the panorama mode on your smartphone's camera often? Do you use it for straight panoramic shots, or do you use it for various effects? Is it a feature that goes mostly unused instead?

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