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Author Topic: Panoramas and lightweight travel kits  (Read 4184 times)
dzeanah
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« on: April 17, 2012, 04:07:37 PM »
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First off, I hope I chose the right section for this...

My situation is this: the wife and I are doing a lot more traveling than we used to (figure 2-3 weeks of international travel per year), and I'd like to be able to shoot the occasional panorama.  The problem is that my travel kit is pretty small and lightweight (see photo below), which works well if we walk 15-20 miles over a 15 hours day, but doesn't leave much room for carrying a tripod.  Here's a photo of my current camera bag, my main tripod, and a monopod I grabbed from the shed so you can get a sense for scale:



I've tried shooting panoramas freehanded: the first here was taken on a whim with an EPL-2 last year:



And this most recent one was taken with a Fuji X Pro 1.  No support, but I turned on the horizontal level indicator and honestly tried to keep everything even:



I could probably make that work, especially with more practice, but I don't know that I'll be happy with the result.

So, my question to you all is multipart:
  • Is it possible to get one's technique with handheld panoramas perfected to the point that a tripod isn't necessary for these kinds of prints?  Assume I'm willing to shoot at 800-1600ASA and the print wont' be wider than 30-40 inches.
  • If so, is there something to do other than carefully move the camera from frame to frame as part of my technique?
  • If not, and you were going to walk for a week around your favorite European city without revisiting your hotel during the day, what sort of support would you end up dragging along?  I'm happy to pay for a solid carbon fiber tripod, but don't really know where to start with heads (I've only ever used simple ball heads), and I certainly don't know how to incorporate something like that into a conveniently portable kit.
Thanks.  Google was pointing me to leveling bases, nodal point adapter thingies, and seriously custom (and not very portable) equipment for this, but really I'm just looking for good prints to put up on the wall that don't have obvious flaws.  So a bridge across a river should still be reasonably straight, for instance...
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2012, 04:45:07 PM »
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Is it possible to get one's technique with handheld panoramas perfected to the point that a tripod isn't necessary for these kinds of prints?  Assume I'm willing to shoot at 800-1600ASA and the print wont' be wider than 30-40 inches.

Yes.  I've done it frequently.  40 inch prints, too.  A recent one was actually an HDR pano; five vertically-oriented panels of three shots each.  In retrospect, the image would have been slightly improved if I'd used a tripod.  More credit goes to "auto align layers" and Photoshop's stitcher than to my hand-holding, though. 

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If so, is there something to do other than carefully move the camera from frame to frame as part of my technique?

Practice and test until you're confident.  Try stitches with the horizon not in the middle of the frame.  Learn to memorize image features from frame to frame and overlap them.  Keep the horizon as level as you can in each frame.  Learn to use the "warp" function in Photoshop. Your results look pretty good to me at web-rez.



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If not, and you were going to walk for a week around your favorite European city without revisiting your hotel during the day, what sort of support would you end up dragging along? 

None.  If the tripod's only useful for panos, I'd leave it in the hotel unless I needed a tripod for sharpness reasons.  You can pick it up from the room when you go out night shooting. : )

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I'm just looking for good prints to put up on the wall that don't have obvious flaws.  So a bridge across a river should still be reasonably straight, for instance...

I have several hand-held panos on my wall.  One of a chateau in Bergerac that's a source of constant comment.  I made it hand-held with a 200mm.

Walking all day in a city while carrying a tripod, however light, is gonna cost you more in fatigue than it'll gain  you in imagery.  Until it gets dark. : )

Just my opinion based on quite a few years of hand-holding panos.  All bets are off for interiors or for panos with near-to-camera subject matter.  For the record, my tripod is the biggest, heaviest Gitzo made: a GT5560SGT.  When you need a tripod, you need a good one.

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Tony Jay
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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2012, 05:02:58 PM »
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This is(are) a tough question(s) since the answers depend solely on what you are happy with.

I do HDR panoramas, the biggest of which has been 30 images so far.
In this instance dedicated levelling, panoramic heads (or even motorizede versions), tethering to computers or even using programmable remotes to speed up shooting and to control the focusing points when needed all make for lots of bulky equipment.

I fully understand your desire to keep things light and portable so just make sure that your tripod can be properly levelled.
A three way spirit level that fits on the flash hotshoe is helpful here.
Without a lot of automation to guide shooting your best bet is not to focus too tightly (on can always crop later), and allow generous overlap (30-50 %) to make things easier for the software.
Complex compositions with elements both near and far are best avoided to minimize errors in parallax.

Nonetheless, despite limitations, really good results can be obtained - sometimes even when shooting is handheld.
Practice is important - IMHO shoot panoramas regularly (at home as well as when travelling), this is probably even more important than the fancy equipment anyway.
Enjoy yourself - panoramic shooting can become a bit addictive - but there is a reason for this.

Regards

Tony Jay
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theguywitha645d
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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2012, 06:26:15 PM »
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I also do quite a few panos handheld with my Pentax 645D. I have a grid focus screen and I find that help with following a horizon and keeping the camera straight--I use one line of the grid and overlay that on the (imaginary) horizon line in the scene. My E-P1 has a grid display for live view which can be assigned to the info button, perhaps your X Pro1 has a similar projection. I also have a small tabletop tripod I have used for night panoramas--not for leveling the camera, but holding it steady. It slips in the camera bag nicely.

I usually use a cylindrical projection and I find that the easiest to predict the crop to make it square. I always pan just a little more than I want (a quarter to half a frame or so at each end) and I expect to lose a bit top and bottom. After a while it is easy to predict.

The only time is becomes difficult is when there are foreground objects in the scene which can be affected by parallax or the entrance pupil. It is not impossible, but it take practice to rotate close to the entrance pupil.

I have also done vertical panos and they can be easy.

The only other thing would be to use manual focus and manual exposure. I have found some situations like sunsets that a preset WB is important as well.

I am like you that I would most likely keep the tripod at home while traveling. I think with a bit of practice, panning handheld is a great skill.
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OldRoy
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2012, 03:50:54 AM »
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What no-one has mentioned so far is stitching software. Getting decent results is substantially about having and knowing how to use it. Non-issues like levelling at the time of shooting come up time and again as if this was critical - and it isn't, you can do this in pp. Some people report good results using Photoshop. I've only tried it with CS3 and the results were abominable compared to dedicated stitching software. I use PTGui Pro - which is excellent - but from what I've heard Autopano is equally effective.

As for the general issue of using pano heads, obviously if you set them up correctly you'll get better results when there's a lot of detailed close foreground than if you shot the same scene hh. However with a little practice you can actually rotate the camera about an approximate entrance pupil even hh. I have a Nodal Ninja pano head which I use mostly for VR panoramas; it's flimsy but light, compared to the weight of most tripods that have to accompany it.

Get some dedicated software and learn how to use it!

Roy
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Thomas Krüger
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2012, 04:32:41 AM »
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Check the good old "Philopod": http://www.philohome.com/tripod/shooting.htm

As looking for small carbon monopods I found the Sirui P-326
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/822252-REG/Sirui_BSRP326_P_326_6_Section_Carbon_Fiber.html
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2012, 04:42:11 AM »
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What no-one has mentioned so far is stitching software. Some people report good results using Photoshop. I've only tried it with CS3 and the results were abominable compared to dedicated stitching software...

Actually CS5 is pretty good.
I have done some fairly complex stitching with CS5 - I agree the results with CS3 were amateurish by comparison.

Autopano is also good but better used for multirow panoramas.
I am not sure whether it is available apart from the motorized heads (they certainly don't fall into the category of small and light and mobile though) - I am certainly averse to lugging my Autopano Pro head any distance without help.

Regards

Tony Jay
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dzeanah
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2012, 05:55:02 AM »
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Thanks for the comments, folks.  Lots to think about and test/practice.

And just to be clear: when we're talking about rotating around the nodal point, what I'm actually trying to do is pivot on the point of the lens where the aperture blades are, right?

Thanks.
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2012, 06:14:34 AM »
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Not really...

The nodal point is the optical axis of the lens.
It can be very hard to precisely determine, but for your purposes think of it as your front lens element.

If you want to experiment with a panoramic head using the front lens element as the starting point you can shoot a scene with something obvious in the foreground like a stake or a thin tree and something similar further back but relatively close by in the axis of the view.
Take an image and then rotate the camera say 20-30 degrees making sure that the two elements are still in view and take another picture.
If the lens is rotating around the nodal point there will be no movement of the two element relative to one another in the two images.
If the lens is not rotating around the nodal point then experiment by repeating the steps mentioned above with the camera moved forward or backward slightly. By doing this a few times it will quickly become clear in which direction one needs to move since the relative distance between the two elements in the scene will change less as opposed to more.

If you are going to be shooting handheld anyway doing the experiment above is meaningless.
The big key is avoid scenes where there are both near and far elements in the scene - this removes most of the issues caused by errors in parallax.

Regards

Tony Jay
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2012, 06:34:35 AM »
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Thanks for the comments, folks.  Lots to think about and test/practice.

And just to be clear: when we're talking about rotating around the nodal point, what I'm actually trying to do is pivot on the point of the lens where the aperture blades are, right?

Hi,

Yes, you typically want to rotate on the axes that go through the entrance pupil of the lens, which is where the aperture blades seem to be when looking through the front of the lens.

However, when traveling light and/or shooting freehand, that may be difficult. Just try to avoid the mistake of rotating the camera around you neck, but try and rotate yourself around the approximate entrance pupil position. The 'philopod' mentioned can help. With some decent overlap between the tiles your stitching/blending software should be able to sort most issues out. When there is lot's of foreground detail, then you may get into trouble when shooting freehand and rotating around the wrong point.

Cheers,
Bart
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Ellis Vener
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2012, 07:38:26 AM »
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two unmentioned so far things that should help you is to

(a) shoot with the camera in "portrait" orietnation ( long side ofthe format pointing up and down)

b) shoots frames with lots and lots of  overlap, like maybe 60% overlap of the previous frame.  The downside of this is that shooting takes a little longer, you'll make your computer work harder and you'll eat up HDD storage space. The upside it you'll have more information to work with and stitching programs like that.
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sbay
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2012, 09:55:33 AM »
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There are some good tips in this thread. Personally, I prefer not to do panos handheld but when I do I will often take the same pano multiple times to ensure that at least one version stitches properly. This will help protect against errors caused by improper rotation around the nodal point or bad images (e.g., one image of the series is blurry, etc.).

Some other things to consider -- it's hard to tell from your images, but if you are shooting with a small digital rangefinder type camera, your tripod looks bulkier than is perhaps necessary. You might get by with a lighter one. Also if the maximum width you are going for is 30-40 inches it may be feasible to just take a regular picture and crop the top/bottom of the frame. On my 5dII, a 30 inch panorama would still yield a respectable 180dpi print.

Stephen
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JimAscher
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2012, 10:39:40 AM »
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I trust this comment is not regarded as entirely facetious:  I suggest you ask your accompanying wife to carry your (light-weight) tripod when on your sight-seeing "rounds."  A sling-over-the-shoulder perhaps. 
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OldRoy
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« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2012, 11:32:59 AM »
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Thanks for the comments, folks.  Lots to think about and test/practice.

And just to be clear: when we're talking about rotating around the nodal point, what I'm actually trying to do is pivot on the point of the lens where the aperture blades are, right?

Thanks.
http://www.johnhpanos.com/epcalib.htm
John Houghton's site is weighted toward VR panos but the principle of NPP alignment is the same. In fact it's even more critical for VR panos.
Roy
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louoates
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« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2012, 01:55:35 PM »
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Since most of my shooting is landscapes from afar I've changed to 100% handheld with my IS Canon 70-200 lens. I've found that sharpness is no issue at ISO 400-800. The best kept "secret" is having a grid focus screen, as someone pointed out earlier in this topic, and lots of overlapping. I try to overlap at least 60% each shot. The grid focus screen allows me instant leveling with the horizon and the vertical bars on the grid makes the overlapping shots very easy to judge during the shooting.
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arlon
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« Reply #15 on: May 29, 2012, 12:48:52 PM »
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I shoot a lot of panoramas and have never shot one in the day time with a tripod. I am careful and generally shoot several sets if I really like the subject. I still will end up with the odd frame out of location and have to crop more than I like. That is an acceptable penalty for not having to lug a tripod everywhere I go (walking). I use PS Elements and AutoPanoPro for most of my stitching. I think if you practice rotating the camera about it's own axis instead of swinging it about, you'll find that you can shoot 90% of your images offhand. You could write a decent article on all the small things we do to get a decent set of pictures for stitching, practice helps. I will admit that I keep a tripod in the car incase I ever run across that award winning composition but that just hasn't happened yet. I'm also a total amateur and never sell anything. If I were doing this with the intent of taking someones money for the product, I might actually use a tripod.

Last weekend I shot a pictograph panel by simply walking the panel and clicking off 9 (x3 for HDR) frames. That was 27 frames shot offhand and first run through an HDR program and then stitched. I was impressed how well the APP software stitched the panel considering how much I must have been off in angle and distance. Software is definately getting better..

Some of my panos (including the pictograph) out here, all shot off hand. Again I'm just a duffer taking the odd pano while on vacation without lugging a tripod all over the place.
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louoates
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« Reply #16 on: May 29, 2012, 03:08:11 PM »
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Last week I spent 2 days shooting pans at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. My tripod never left the car. Many of the vantage points would not have been possible with a tripod anyway. And the hiking to those points wouldn't be possible for me carrying the extra weight. So far none of the images I've reviewed would have been improved significantly with the tripod and many would have been missed due to the time involved setting it up. So for my money the grid viewing screen, IS lens, and the exceptional stitching in CS5 is more than good enough to produce 84" long pans.
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langier
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« Reply #17 on: May 29, 2012, 10:03:02 PM »
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I do it regularly and during events where folks and objects are moving, too.

Part of the technique is to practice, practice, and practice some more. Visualize the scene and look through the camera and do a fast look-around through the viewfinder to get an idea of the best overlap and focal length. If you have a grid, so much the better--it helps with the overlap and with keeping the horizon somewhat aligned.. Shoot the camera vertically. Overlap 40-50 percent, especially with wide angle lenses. Longer lenses work with 15-25 per overlap. Your results will always vary. Sometimes, you'll need to shoot a second series of images to have plenty to stitch, perhaps using a different focal length.

So far, between Photoshop CS 5.5 & 6 and Autopano Pro, I can usually get something quite useable. Sometimes, I've got to distort the edges of the images and fill in missing edges, but for the most part, if you shoot a bit loose, you should have room to crop.

Some of the images I've done end up 50-60 and even 120 inches long, depending upon the lens used. The longer the focal length you shoot, the longer the pano. Shorter lenses give you more breathing room on the edges for cropping.

One of the panos I did at a dedication a few weeks ago ended up with about 20-25 frames and covered about 270 degrees. Shot it using about 28mm and camera hand held vertically. Final image was about 12x48 once cropped. Sometimes, with people moving, you've got to pull in a frame from the shoot to drop in to make sure the person isn't half-missing. In the dynamics where I shoot, that's one of the hazards and I deal with the stitching "error" as I find them.
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« Reply #18 on: May 29, 2012, 11:23:23 PM »
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If you confine your panorama shooting to day light, you'll be OK with handheld captures.
As the other posters state, practice until you get it right, and use enough overlap.
However, your tripod seems small and light enough, so if you take it with you, you can shoot also at night.

 
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