It’s no secret that virtual tours are hotter than ever. How do you stand out from the competition? And what if you don’t have a 360 camera? One answer to both questions is to shoot a high quality 360 photo with a DSLR or any camera using a panoramic head. In this post, I’ll talk about the advantages of shooting a 360 photo with a panoramic head. I’ll also discuss how to shoot with a panoramic head. UPDATE: here are samples of 360 photos with a panoramic head compared to 360 cameras.
Here are 6 advantages for shooting a 360 photo with a DSLR instead of a 360 camera:UPDATE: here are samples of 360 photos with a panoramic head compared to 360 cameras.
1. Detail. With a panoramic head, you can take a 360 photo of extremely high resolution, even gigapixel resolutions. The longer the lens you use, the higher the resolution of the final stitched photo.
2. Perfect stitching. If setup and used correctly, a 360 photo with a panoramic head will have no parallax error. Even objects that are very close to the camera will be stitched correctly. This means a panoramic head is ideal for small spaces such as car interiors.
3. Image quality. Even 360 cameras that have similar resolution as a low-resolution DSLR panorama (shot with a circular fisheye lens) will have image quality that is not as good as that of the panorama, simply because of sensor size. With a larger sensor size, DSLRs will have higher image quality even with similar resolution. The DSLR shot will have better detail, dynamic range, color depth and bit depth.
4. RAW mode. Most 360 cameras can’t shoot RAW. DSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras can often shoot in Raw. Raw files have more detail, dynamic range, exposure latitude, and nearly unlimited adjustment for color temperature.
5. Flash and filters. Most 360 cameras cannot use flash or filters. If you want to use flash or filters for special effects in your 360 photo, using a DSLR or ILC is the only option.
6. Cost. If you already have a good quality camera, you can use that. You simply need a panoramic head and stitching software. Moreover, when it’s time to upgrade, you can use the same lens and panoramic head.
How to shoot a 360 photo with a DSLR using a multi-row panoramic head
There are several types of panoramic heads. Single row panoramic heads are designed for fisheye lenses (or if you want to take a partial panorama). The one that I would recommend is a multi-row panoramic head — which lets you aim the camera upward or downward, or anywhere in between, which makes it more versatile and can be used with many types of lenses.
Here’s the tutorial for a multi-row panoramic head:
How to use a single-row panorama
As an alternative to a multi-row panoramic head, you can use a single-row panoramic head, such as the Nodal Ninja R series.
Single-row panoramic head: For a single-row panoramic head, see this separate page.
Multi-row panoramic head: For a multi-row panoramic head, I recommend the new Nodal Ninja 3 Mk III (the one I have is Mk II). It’s the entry level panoramic head by Nodal Ninja, and it can work for mirrorless or small DSLRs. (For longer lenses, you’ll want the Nodal Ninja 6 or M-series). If you want a more economical panoramic head, the SunwayFoto one works. But the difference between Nodal Ninja and the SunwayFoto is that the Nodal Ninja is more repeatable and will be less likely to have stitching errors.
Lens suggestions for multi-row panoramic head.
Samyang / Rokinon / Bower 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye Series II – a full frame fisheye, available for many APS-C mounts. On a full frame DSLR, you can shave off the lens hood to make it a circular fisheye lens. Sharp. Number of shots for spherical photo: 8 or 9 (1 zenith, 6 horizontal, 1 or 2 nadir). Stitched resolution (when used with 24mp camera): around 95mp.
If you happen to have a Samsung, the Samsung 10mm fisheye is very sharp. However, it has no manual focus distance indicator. Number of shots for spherical photo: 8 or 9 (1 zenith, 6 horizontal, 1 or 2 nadir). Stitched resolution (when used with 28mp camera): around 95mp.
Meike 6.5mm circular fisheye – a circular fisheye available for many APS-C mounts. Also sharp. But it does not have a distance indicator, and does not have detents for its aperture ring. Number of shots for spherical photo: 3 or 4 horizontal. Stitched resolution (when used with a 24mp camera): around 30mp.
Lensbaby 5.8mm circular fisheye: a circular fisheye for many APS-C mounts. I wasn’t impressed with it, even stopped down to f/11. I’m not sure if it’s because mine is decentered but I will test it out further. Number of shots for spherical photo: 3 or 4 horizontal. Stitched resolution (when used with a 24mp camera): around 30mp.
Check back in a few days because I’m going to post a comparison between popular 360 cameras and 360 photos from a panoramic head, using a few different fisheye combinations, to help you choose a 360 camera and/or fisheye lens.
There are other ways of capturing high resolution 360 photos. There are panoramic heads designed for GoPro Hero cameras. With these panoramic heads, you can capture 65 mp 360 photos or more in 8 shots (Pano5+1 Mk II or Panohero H5B) or in the 12 shots in the case of the Zifon. Compared to a DSLR panohead, these panoheads are smaller, easier to setup (no need to find the no parallax point, no need to find the hyperfocal distance), and have a lower overall cost. I will post a comparison of image quality between a GoPro panoramic head and a DSLR panoramic head.
What do you think of shooting with a panoramic head? Let me know in the comments!