360 photos shot with a DSLR and a panoramic head have much higher quality than typical 360 cameras, but they also take more time to shoot. However, there is a faster and easier way to shoot panoramas with a DSLR — using a ring mount panoramic head, such as the Nodal Ninja R Series. For this tutorial, I invited an esteemed guest: Peter Van den Wyngaert (LittlePlanet.be), who won 1st prize at 360 Cities’ Panoramic Video of the Year, and also won the grand prize at IVRPA’s Street View Challenge 2018.
Single-Row vs. Multi-Row Panoramic head – advantages and disadvantages
Last week, I posted a tutorial for shooting with a multi-row panoramic head. In that tutorial, I mentioned that for virtual tours, fisheye lenses tend to be more popular because they require fewer shots, which not only saves time, but also means there is less chance for stitching errors.
Taking that logic one step further, it is possible to shoot a fully spherical 360 photo with just 4 shots from a circular fisheye or a cropped circular fisheye, using a single-row panoramic head, such as the ring mount Nodal Ninja R series (R1, R10*, and R20). The R series uses lens rings that allow the lenses (not bodies) to be mounted on the panohead. *The R10 with fixed tilt has been discontinued and replaced by R20.
The R series is much more portable and because it is a single-row panoramic head, it reduces the chance of shooting error compared to using a multi-row panohead for a single-row capture. It is also more compact.
Here is the tutorial on how to use the Nodal Ninja R Series single-row ring mount panoramic head:
Note: I added the following info about lens compatibility to Peter’s presentation:
Nodal Ninja R Series Lens Compatibility and Buying Guide
As I mentioned in the video, a single-row panoramic head will require a lens that is sufficiently wide in order to produce a fully spherical panorama. You can use either a circular fisheye, or a cropped fisheye (180 degrees on the long edge). Here are examples.
Circular Fisheye lenses: fully spherical panorama on single-row head (but will have the lowest resolution). Examples:
Sigma 8mm f/3.5 on full frame sensor
Samyang 8mm f/2.8 with shaved hood on full frame sensor
Meike 6.5mm f/2 on APS-C sensor
Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 on APS-C sensor
Cropped Fisheye lenses: fully spherical panorama on single row head if the FOV is at least 180 degrees on the long edge. Will have higher resolution panorama than circular fisheye. Examples:
Canon 8-15 @12mm on full frame sensor
Sigma 8mm f/3.5mm on APS-C sensor
Samyang 7.5mm for MFT used on APS-C sensor
Full frame fisheye (180 degrees on the diagonal): If you don’t roll the lens, it will not be fully spherical on a single-row panoramic head but this can be almost fully spherical if you roll the lens, such that the diagonal of the frame is vertical to the scene and covers the zenith and nadir. There may be a gap in the nadir. Also note that more shots will be required (6 or 8 shots), which means more possibility for stitching errors.
Samyang 12mm f/2.8 on full frame sensor
Samyang 8mm f/2.8 on APS-C sensor
Samyang 7.5mm on MFT sensor
WHAT DO I NEED TO BUY and HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
Here’s what you need to get in order to shoot fully spherical 360 photos with a ring mount panoramic head such as the Nodal Ninja R Series.
1. DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Unlike a multi-row panoramic head, you cannot use just any camera such as a point-and-shoot camera or bridge camera. It has to be a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera preferably with a fisheye lens supported by Nodal Ninja.
2. A fisheye lens. To make it easier, choose a lens that is supported by Nodal Ninja. However, just because Nodal Ninja supports a lens doesn’t mean that lens is good. For example, Nodal Ninja supports the Sony 16 f/2.8 fisheye and as someone who owns that lens, I can tell you that lens is crap.
To get the maximum resolution spherical panorama for a single row panorama, choose a lens that will give a partial circular fisheye coverage (180 degrees on the long edge). Alternatively, for better stitching but lower resolution, choose a circular fisheye lens (180 degrees on the short edge). A full frame fisheye lens (180 degrees diagonal) will not result in a spherical photo with a single-row panorama.
If you have a mirrorless APS-C sensor, a good option is the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 ($219), a lens that is actually a full frame fisheye lens designed for Micro Four Thirds but can be used with mirrorless APS-C cameras to yield partial circular fisheye coverage, with good results. If you will use this combination, you’ll need the Nodal Ninja conversion kit for your mirrorless APS-C camera. (Fanotec also sells a conversion kit for Sony E-Mount, Fuji X-mount, Canon EF-M mount, or Samsung NX mount). This is the combination I got for my Samsung NX500 camera, and when the lens and kit arrive, I’ll post a comparison with my other fisheye lenses.
3. Nodal Ninja R series panoramic head with rotator. Fanotec has the R1 and R20 (the R10 is discontinued).
4. Lens ring for your lens ($75 to $110). This is the second part of the panoramic head. Choose the lens ring for your lens.
5. Stitching software. There are many available. PTGui and Autopano Pro ($115) or Autopano Giga ($250) are popular. I also like Panorama Studio 3 Pro for its ease of use and good stitching. All of them have trial versions available. Or you can get Hugin, which is free but more difficult to use.
Here is an affordable but decent quality kit:
1. Sony a5100 body only ($348) or Sony a6000 ($448). The advantage of the a6000 is that it has two command dials. The a5100 has only one command dial but it has a touch screen.
2. Samyang 7.5mm MFT ($219). This is actually a Micro Four Thirds lens, but it works well for APS-C as a partial / cropped circular fisheye lens, ideal for fully spherical capture with just 4 shots on a single-row panoramic head.
3. Nodal Ninja R20 package with Samyang 7.5mm lens ring ($260) – this includes both the R20 head and a lens ring for the Samyang 7.5mm lens.
4. Nodal Ninja conversion kit for Samyang 7.5mm for Sony E-mount ($125) – this is an adapter to use the Samyang 7.5mm (Micro Four Thirds mount) on a Sony E-mount. It also lets you use a Nodal Ninja lens ring.
Total: $952 with a5100 or $1052 with a6000 (does not include shipping, tripod, or SD card)
As soon as I get my Nodal Ninja order, I will post a sample from a combination very similar to this (except I will use a Samsung NX500 body).