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Faster and Easier Way to Shoot SPECTACULAR 360 photos with a DSLR (Nodal Ninja R Series tutorial )

Nodal Ninja R Series tutorial: faster and easier way to shoot a 360 photo with a DSLR
Nodal Ninja R Series tutorial: faster and easier way to shoot a 360 photo with a DSLR

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.

Table of contents:
Single-row vs. Multi-row panoramic head
Nodal Ninja R Series Tutorial
Nodal Ninja R Lens compatibility and Lens buying guide


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.

Nodal Ninja R10 ring mount panohead
Nodal Ninja R10 ring mount panohead (left) and Nodal Ninja 3 mk II in the background

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 image circle
Circular fisheye image circle

Circular Fisheye lenses: fully spherical panorama on single-row head (but will have the lowest resolution).
Number of shots required: 3 or 4.
Examples:
Sigma 8mm f/3.5 on full frame sensor
Meike 6.5mm f/2 on APS-C sensor
Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 on APS-C sensor

Partial / Cropped fisheye lenses - image circle
Partial / Cropped fisheye lenses – image circle

 

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.
Number of shots required: 4
Examples:
Samyang 8mm 2.8 II used on full frame sensor, with hood shaved
Canon 8-15 @12mm on full frame sensor
Sigma 8mm f/3.5mm (Canon or Nikon) on APS-C sensor
Samyang 7.5mm for MFT used on APS-C sensor (use a conversion kit)
Meike 6.5mm on Micro Four Thirds sensor

Using a full frame fisheye on a ring mount panoramic head
Using a full frame fisheye on a ring mount panoramic head

 

Full frame fisheye or diagonal 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 will usually be a star-shaped gap in the nadir.  Also note that more shots will be required (usually 8 shots), which means more possibility for stitching errors.
Number of shots required: 8 or 6

Nodal Ninja R series nadir when used with full frame fisheye
Nodal Ninja R series nadir when used with full frame fisheye

Examples:
Samyang 12mm f/2.8 on full frame sensor
Samyang 8mm f/2.8 on APS-C sensor
Samyang 7.5mm on MFT sensor

Fisheye lens comparison chart

Here is a list of fisheye lenses and their sensor coverage

LensPrice (estimated street)Manual focus ring? Aperture ring?Full frameAPS-CMicro Four Thirds
7artisans 7.5mm f/2.8139MF, apertureCropped? (haven't shaved mine yet)Diagonal<180
Canon 8-15 f/41249MFDiagonal at 15mm
Cropped at 12mm
Circular at 8mm
Diagonal at 10mm<180
Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5299MF, apertureCircularCircularCropped
Meike 6.5mm f/2139MF, apertureCircularCircularCropped
Nikon 8-15 f/3.5-4.51095MFDiagonal at 15mm
Cropped at 12mm
Circular at 8mm
Diagonal at 10mm<180
Nikon 10.5 f/2.8772MFCropped if hood is shavedDiagonal<180
Opteka 6.5mm f/3.5 (similar to Samyang 8mm 3.5)120MF, apertureCropped with hood removedDiagonal<180
Peleng 8mm f/3.5289MF, apertureCroppedDiagonal<180
Samsung 10mm f/3.5299none - electronicno adapters foundDiagonal<180
Samyang 7.5 f/3.5219MF, apertureCircular if hood is shaved completely; conversion kit requiredCropped if hood is shaved; conversion kit requiredDiagonal
Samyang 8mm 2.8 II269MF, apertureCropped if hood is shavedDiagonal<180
Samyang 8mm 3.5 (removable hood)199MF, apertureCropped with hood removedDiagonal<180
Samyang 12 2.8399MF, apertureDiagonal<180<180
Sigma 8mm f/3.5899MFCircularCropped<180
Tokina 10-17 f/3.5-4.5479MFCropped up to 12mm if hood is shaved
Diagonal at 14.5mm
Diagonal @10mm<180
Tokina 10-17 f/3.5-4.5 NH (no hood)499MFCropped up to 12mm
Diagonal at 14.5mm
Diagonal @10mm<180
Yasuhara Madoka 7.3mm f/4200MF, apertureCircularCircularCropped

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.  Should you get a DSLR or mirrorless?  Full frame or APS-C or Micro Four Thirds?  See this post.

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) can also be used, but it will require more skill with stitching.

If you have a Canon or Nikon with APS-C sensor, Nodal Ninja’s distributor recommends the Sigma 8mm f/3.5 ($899) for Nikon or Canon .  You can also use the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 lens.

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.

For full frame mirrorless, Samyang 8mm 2.8 II with a shaved hood will result in a cropped circular fisheye.

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.  Update: I found that for diagonal fisheye, Panorama Studio works well.  For circular fisheye and cropped fishey, PTGui works better.

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)

Here is a sample with the Sony a6000 and Samyang 7.5 with conversion kit and R series:

About the author

Mic Ty

12 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • One thing that surprised me after all the talk about being careful to avoid shake due to multiple matching shots for HDR, he would then take the shots by pressing directly on the camera shutter button (which increases the possibility of throwing the camera out of alignment) instead of using a remote release !

    Seems to me that the use of a remote release should be among the recommendations just to avoid any possibility of accidentally messing with the alignment.

    • Hi Francois,

      If you look closely, I use a 2-sec timer to start the capture to avoid any shaking. My setup is sturdy enough, it won’t throw the camera out of alignment. I use a remote on locations where the floor is not stable enough, or where I could generate unwanted reflections or shadows, or when I can’t reach the camera (on top of carbon poles).

      360˚Greetings, Peter

      http://www.littleplanet.be
      facebook.com/littleplanet.be
      instagram.com/littleplanet.be

    • Hi Francois, if you look again, I use a 2-second timer to avoid camera shake. My setup is very sturdy, so it won’t put the camera out of alignment when I use the trigger. I only use a remote if the floor is not stable enough, if I cast shadows or generate reflections, or if I can’t reach my camera when it’s on top of a large pole. If I can avoid using a remote, I will, less hassle is better imho.

      360˚greetings, Peter
      http://www.littleplanet.be

      • > I use a 2-second timer to avoid camera shake.

        Ah OK. That’s a good thing to point out. I personally would still choose a remote release because I often can’t spare the 2-second delay when shooting multiple shots.

        > My setup is very sturdy…

        I am sure it is but I bring this up because people reading this and wanting to try it out may not have the sturdy equipment you have. I use very heavy Manfrotto tripods but I also have some light tripods that are easily thrown out of alignment.

        > I only use a remote if…

        All good examples. You make my point. I would also add those circumstances where there are people around in the scene and you try and shoot in that tiny time frame when there’s nobody there and have to take all those shots as fast as possible. Sure, they could be edited out… but if I can avoid the hassle, I will.

    • Hi Francois. One of the things I like about the R series is that it moves less than a multi-row pano head, so it’s more resistant to being accidentally nudged. Anyway with 10 yrs pano shooting experience, I think Peter knows what he’s doing 😉 Best regards, Mic

      • > so it’s more resistant to being accidentally nudged

        That’s good but it’s still a good idea to be cautious.

        > Anyway with 10 yrs pano shooting experience, I think Peter knows what he’s doing

        I am sure he does… And I suspect my 37 years of experience shooting sequential images has helped me too. But even the experts sometimes unintentionally make mistakes… 😉

        But my point here isn’t to tell experienced people what to do but to keep in mind that new users reading this might not be so careful and a remote release can help in that respect.

  • I found a full frame fisheye (samyang 8mm II on a APS-C Samsung NX300) works well as although its not quite the full sphere you generally need a nadir patch shot anyway. I had intended to upgrade to the NX500 but stopped when Samsung abandoned them 🙁

  • Hi,
    Your videos are inspiring and motivating, Can I shoot 360 pictures with a Cannon 600D using a EFS 10-18mm f4,5,- 5,6 IS STM lens? I have a Benro T600EX (Photo & video tripod.
    Will this equipment be enough to shoot 360 photography in order to take it to a professional level? Please advice.

  • Hi Mic,

    Thanks so much to you and Peter for an excellent demonstration!

    I’m quite interested in trying out some 360° panorama photography myself but I’m finding the wide range of Nodal Ninja heads & mounts confusing, to say the least!

    I have a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera and am considering getting the X-mount Samyang 8mm Fisheye F2.8 II lens. From the information given here, I’m assuming I’d need to shoot 8 shots diagonally using an R series mount like Peters, but this would leave me with a star-shaped gap at the nadir. In my situation, would the Nodal Ninja III mark III be the better option?

    Thanks again & all the best,

    Andy

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