Articles Tagged: Panoramas

The Tripod 20% Rule

I often get asked if it’s worth carrying a tripod while traveling. I’d say yes! The next question is, which one?

If you haven’t done any low light photography, then you’re missing some of the most satisfying experiences as a photographer. At the very least take a mini table top tripod with you. The best two I’ve found for DSLR and large compact cameras are both by Manfrotto. The model 709 costs about $50 and fits in a deep pocket. The step up from there is to buy a kit of the 209 legs but with the larger Manfrotto 492 Mini Ball Head. That combo is sold by B&H Camera online for about $85 and is something I never travel without. These little guys have gotten expensive over the last couple of years but B&H also carries less expensive ones made by Oben. The TT-50 is the smaller one and runs about $25. The TT-100 is the slightly larger one and runs $35. A small tripod is usable on any flat surface and good metal ones like the Manfrotto or Oben can also be pushed up against a wall or column to do vertical long exposures. If you shoot with a pocket camera you should absolutely have a tiny table top tripod with you. You can find them at camera stores and at Target and Walmart.

A tiny table top tripod from Target and the resulting shot. This allows you to drop the ISO and stay away from the high noise that compact cameras are notorious for.

If you want a larger tripod, remember to buy one that you’ll actually carry with you. There’s a whole world of tripods out there, but if you spend less than about $150 you’ll probably be replacing it sooner than later. We have found a good rule of thumb is that you should plan to spend about 20% of the cost of your camera and biggest lens on a tripod. It’s worth investing in one that you’ll keep for years. Try to find one that comes up to your standing height but is small enough to pack and light enough to carry around. Shorter people have an advantage here since the taller the tripod, the heavier and more expensive it tends to be.

Geeking out a bit with the gear plus the resulting shot. If you’re going to do night shooting Peter recommends a Petzl style headlamp with the red LED.

I’d recommend a good, light weight ball head instead of a traditional pan/tilt head. They are more compact, quicker to use and pack smaller. Also get a good quick release system. Trying to get a camera screwed off and on of a tripod will shave years off your sanity.

Remember whenever you’re shooting on a tripod turn off your vibration reduction or image stabilization. If you don’t, the pictures will be blurry. On DSLRs this is usually a dedicated switch on the lens. On mirrorless cameras it is sometimes a menu setting.

Tripods are also really helpful for panoramas. Even though long exposures weren’t required for this photo, having a panorama head with an offset plate allowed the foreground in this photo to be properly stitched.

Prepping for the Panoramas class

Camera Obscura on a Greek island

When I was doing research for the last trip to Greece I read that there was a camera obscura on the island of Aegina, one of the Saronic islands that are close to Athens and easily accessible by ferry boat. I looked up websites for the camera obscura and saw what looked like a familiar location. When I was a kid in high school in Athens I used to go to the islands with friends to explore and hang out. Near the little town of Perdika in Aegina we discovered some old World War II German bunkers that were still largely intact.  As it turns out, the camera obscura is actually built on one of those bunkers.

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As I climbed up the the hill toward the round structure that sense of geographic flashback confirmed that this was the same place. The mostly empty observation bunker had been clad in a new wooden skin and fitted with a row of holes around the circumference. Unbolting a heavy metal door led to a small alcove and through an overlapping set of black-out drapes. The inside of the small space was so dark that I couldn’t see whether there was a floor or any obstructions and had to wait for my eyes to adjust before stepping all the way in. Around the top half of the cylindrical room are a row of rear projection screens, on them are upside down live images of the surrounding scenery. The effect is really pretty stunning. The moving sea, blue sky and peaceful Greek island landscape are projected as a live panoramic movie inside this building of war.

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Panoramic photo of the interior is made up of 8 images at 1/8 second, ISO 6400 shot with the Nikon D600. I didn’t have a tripod so these are handheld and stitched together with Auto Pano Pro, then cleaned up in Photoshop. Angle covered is about 340 degrees. I propped the door open and pulled the black out curtains apart a little to let some light in and show the building structure. Normally it would be black except for the glowing screens. Exterior pano is 6 images. Link to a good definition and history of the camera obscura.

Arca Swiss p0 head modified with Really Right Stuff clamp

I’ve been using an Arca Swiss Z1 ball head on my larger Gitzo tripod for about a year and love it. I added the Really Right Stuff PCL-1 Panning Clamp for panoramas along with a plate and various accessories. The system is great but kind of heavy so I started looking for a lightweight option for traveling.

I had recommended the Arca Swiss p0 (p-zero) head  to a tutoring client based on reviews and specs. This is an ingenious inverted ball design that means you don’t have to have a separate rotator for panos. Because it’s the ball that mounts to the tripod, when you level the ball head the top plate is automatically parallel to the ground and allows perfect panos without an additional panning rotator.  I also suggested that he put a Really Right Stuff clamp on the head.

It turns out there are two product numbers of the p0 head. The 801213 includes the new Arca Swiss Slidefix QS Quick Release which is not compatible with RRS. The 801211 is $70 cheaper and does not include the Quick Release clamp. My client had bought the one with the clamp so the first order of business was to remove the Arca Swiss clamp. This was not easy. The clamp is mounted with a 6mm screw, but the hex allen socket is pretty small and a metric size that I didn’t have. I took a trip to Crouch Sales, a specialty store here in the Dallas photo district that specializes in “bolts, nuts, anchors and more”. This is one of those great places that serves industrial clients, has deep inventory and the guys at the counter know what they’re doing. The salesman finally found a tool that fit but we couldn’t get the screw to break loose. It took clamping the allen wrench into some vice grips and twisting the wrench until it felt like it was going to snap before the screw loosened. Once the Arca Swiss QR plate was off it was easy to replace it with the RRS B2-40 quick release plate. If you do this modification yourself make sure to order the version with the 6mm metric screw. The model number is B2-40-LR-M6.

The system worked so well for my client that I decided to try one myself. First I called Precision Camera Works, the U.S. Arca Swiss repair center, to ask them about the difficulty of getting that M6 screw out of there. The technician I spoke to said that Arca really doesn’t want that QR plate coming off and soon would probably use an even stronger thread lock that would make it almost impossible to remove. He confirmed that the 801211 was the same head, just without the QR plate but with a small double threaded bolt that is 6mm on one end and 1/4-20 on the other. That’s the one I ordered from B&H. The next call was to the always helpful people at Really Right Stuff to confirm what I was about to do and make sure I was ordering the right parts.

When the head arrived I was happy to discover that a standard 7/16 socket wrench perfectly fits around the double headed bolt, grabs on the built in nut and makes it easy to remove. (SEE UPDATED INFORMATION BELOW FOR CORRECT SOCKET SIZE) The whole process took about 5 minutes. The head is much improved with the RRS clamp and now compatible with my other pano components.

 

UPDATE: A client had some trouble getting the screw out of the Arca Swiss plate and her experience might help others with the same problem:

I thought you would like to know that I was finally able to get the tripod head conversion complete. I bought a different socket wrench and then it came out easily. I thought I would give you the details, in case you are recommending the same setup to others. I was originally using a 7/16 socket with 12 sides on a 1/2 inch drive. It was not able to grab hold of the bolt. So a friend of mine tried a 7/16 socket with 6 sides, but the walls of the socket were too thick to fit in the space on the Arca swiss head. So I bought a 7/16 socket with 6 sides with a 1/4 inch drive and it worked perfectly. We did notice that there was some lock tight on the bolt. It was the gray lock tight which my friend described as “light use”. Anyway, I’m all set now, and anxious to start taking panoramas!
Linda
UPDATE DECEMBER 15, 2013
I needed to convert another one of the p0 heads and finally bought exactly the right tool. It’s an 11mm thin walled socket. Easy to find at a good hardware store. I’d recommend you take your Arca Swiss head with you to make sure it will fit between the bolt head and the recessed shoulder on the head.


UPDATE JANUARY 25, 2014
I got this email from Allan today:
I got a p0 and have problem removing the double threaded bolt. Do you need to have the pano locked when removing as I noticed it just rotates when not locked and I use a socket wrench.? I even tried the 6 sided socket wrench but the bolt wouldn’t come out. Thanks

My answer:
Allan, I did the conversion again a few weeks ago and had a heck of a time getting the bolt off. Then I remembered how impact wrenches make short work of getting lug nuts off of a wheel. So I locked the pan on the p0, put the socket wrench in place and than firmly struck the end of the wrench repeatedly with another wrench. After about 10 taps the bolt loosened and I was able to get it out. Let me know how yours turned out.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 7, 2014
Dear Peter,
Your post on the Arca Swiss P0 with the RRS clamp was excellent. I own a P0 and think it’s wonderful but, like yourself, was unhappy about the clamp options. At any rate, I wanted to give you some updated information that you may find useful. I removed the double threaded bolt with an 11mm thin-walled hex socket. It fit perfectly. In addition, you can use the M6 bolt – as you mentioned – but it needs to be 20mm or less. I tried the 25mm and it hits the ball.
My regards,
Justin.

UPDATE MARCH 25. 2015
I saw your post but I am not sure I follow on why you are removing the screw and then using an M6. What is wrong with what it comes with and using, for example, the B2-LR-II?  It has a 3/8” thread which would screw on to it just fine? I am looking for this p0 myself and want to ensure I get the right setup! Kaitlyn

My answer:
Hi Kaitlyn. I first tried a B2-LR-II on the p0 but found it too big for that head. It hangs over quite a bit and gets in the way of handling. The blog post is for the smaller BR-LR which I found to be a perfect fit for the p0 and which doesn’t have a threaded center hole. Also, I liked the idea of using a couple of drops of Blue Loctite on the M6 screw. I do have the larger B2-LR-II on an Arca Z1 head on my larger tripod and it’s a perfect fit there. I hope that helps.

UPDATE MAY 27, 2015

Today I heard from Didier in France about his experience with modifying the Arca Swiss heads. He includes a new way to tackle this problem along with a link to a similar article from a French website.
About Your very interesting article ”Arca Swiss p0 head modified with Really Right Stuff clamp” on your Blog. I made this transformation of the Arca-Swiss head p0, there has several years and I just do the same thing on an Arca-Swiss d4 head. Since 2012, the screw of the clamp is mounted with, I think, epoxy glue. To remove this screw without risking to tear the threads of the hole, I locally heated the head of the screw with a ”Pyropen Weller” equipped with a nozzle ”hot air”. This will soften the adhesive and can easily unscrew the screw, without forcing.

Regarding the head Arca-Swiss p0, I noticed that the black synthetic washer between the head and the clamp degrade stability. I highly recommend to remove it (just attached by a double side adhesive film). Note that the Arca-Swiss heads sold with a clamp do not have this washer.

The same subject on a French forum:
http://www.chassimages.com/forum/index.php/topic,127261.0.html

Sincerely,
Recto38 (from France)

Panoramas at the Dallas Camera Club

I was invited to speak to the Dallas Camera Club last night. I was really amazed to see almost 60 people attending the meeting. The DCC has been around for 75 years and has a very active calendar of meetings, competitions and field trips.They are a great group.

I spent about an hour talking about panoramic images, discussing why you’d want to shoot them, how to make them and then looking at the amazing software available to automatically stitch several images together into a seamless photo. I’ve been using AutoPano Pro for a few years and just love it. There are dozens of programs out there, many of them free or inexpensive. Panorama Tools has been around for a long time and has some great front ends like PT GUI. If you have Photoshop CS4, you already own a great stitching program, but I still far prefer AutoPano for its flexibility and ability to detect and extract panos from a folder of images.

I think panoramas are one of the coolest and most satisfying techniques to come out of digital photography. The images are wide format, more closely matching our natural field of view. You can create big impressive prints with even a low resolution pocket camera since the resolution of each photo is added together into the stitched final image. They look beautiful hanging on a wall and are easy to print at home. Watching the software assemble the images is really amazing.

At the meeting I showed some panoramic sequences from recent travels. I also did a live demo, shooting hand held with a little Pentax pocket camera and dragging the images into the AutoPano software.

These are the raw shots:

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This is the result of the panorama stitch, processed using the “Spherical Projection” setting. This has the best relationship of sizes of the people in the room, but the most pronounced curvature of tables, which were actually in straight, parallel rows. This is what the shot would look like if taken with a scanning film camera like the Widelux or Horizon:

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The same panorama, using the “Planar Projection” setting. The tables look better, but the people at the edges are stretched, as they would be using a traditional super wide angle lens:

Panoramas-Dallas-Camera-Club-planar-Dallas-Center-for-Photography-03

This is the same Planar projection as above, but taken into Photoshop for some warping. I did a Select All, used Transform:Warp, and pulled in the sides. There is less of a stretched feel, but you start to loose the wide format of the panorama:

Panoramas-Dallas-Camera-Club-comp-planar-warped-Dallas-Center-for-Photography-04

 

I highly recommend shooting some panoramas. With AutoPano, and others, you can shoot multi-row panos, and even shoot any group of images covering a subject, without them having to be aligned, level – or even all horizontal or all vertical, as long as there is overlap in the images the software will find the pano in there.