Virtual Tour Accessories

Review: Take 360 photos quickly and easily with Acratech spherical panoramic head for Sigma 8mm fisheye

Acratech Panoramic head review for Sigma 8mm f/3.5 360 photos
Acratech Panoramic head review for Sigma 8mm f/3.5 360 photos

How would you like to take 360 photos quickly and easily, with a very fast setup?  Acratech’s panoramic head is a ring-mount panoramic head designed for the popular Sigma 8mm fisheye lens.  I found it very easy to use and it could be a great option for a panoramic head if you don’t mind its limitations.  Here’s a review.

Conventional multi-row panoramic heads are versatile and work with multiple lenses, but you first need to find the nodal point (see this tutorial), which varies for each lens (and focal length, for zoom lenses).  In addition, storing the camera can be a minor annoyance, as you’ll have to unscrew the camera from the panoramic head each time.

Ring mount panoramic heads attach directly to the lens and can take a 360 photo with only a single row, with no need to take a zenith or nadir photo.  Compared to other ring mount panoramic heads, Acratech’s panoramic head is designed for a quick setup and takedown, and can shoot photos quickly and easily.

Acratech’s panoramic head has an all-metal construction, but weighs less than 1 lb. thanks to its compact design.  It features a panning base with markers, a bubble level and a 3/8-inch hole with a 1/4-20 adapter.

The Acratech is all metal and solidly built. Shown on a Gitzo traveler
The Acratech is all metal and solidly built. Shown on a Gitzo traveler

To attach the lens ring to the Sigma, you just slide it over the logo on the lens, below the focus distance indicators, and ensure that the arrow etched on the lens ring is pointing to the focus indicator on the lens, then tighten with a hex key.  There’s no need to look for the nodal point.

The lens ring has two prongs which you insert into the panoramic head and then you just flip a spring-loaded lever to lock it into position.

The lens ring is easy to attach and detach from the Acratech panoramic head
The lens ring is easy to attach and detach from the Acratech panoramic head

The panoramic head has four 90-degree detents with reference markers 1 to 4.  You can take a 360 photo with 4 shots whether shooting with an APS-C or full frame sensor.

Here’s a video from Acratech showing how to setup and use their panoramic head:

I took sample photos with the Acratech on a Sigma 8mm f/3.5 for Nikon, which I attached to my Sony cameras using an adapter.  I tried it with both APS-C and full frame cameras.  On an APS-C sensor, the Sigma 8mm is a cropped circular fisheye with 180-degree field of view on the long axis, while on a full frame sensor, it is a circular fisheye.  Each photo was shot with a 3-shot exposure bracket (2EV interval) and stitched in Raw with PTGui.

Here is a sample 360 photo shot on the Sony a6000 (24mp APS-C sensor):

Here is a sample 360 photo shot with the Sony a7R (36mp full frame sensor):

Both of the photos appear to be stitched well, although there is a square-shaped hole in the nadir.

Acratech Comparison with Nodal Ninja R1 and R20

How does Acratech compare to Nodal Ninja R1 or R20?  The Acratech and Nodal Ninja R series are both very well made, and both can be used to take 360 photos quickly.

Compared to the Nodal Ninja R series, Acratech’s panoramic head is easier to setup, use, and takedown.  However, it has three tradeoffs.  First, it works only with the Sigma 8mm f/3.5.  The Nodal Ninja R series has rings for most popular fisheye lenses.  Second, the detents are not adjustable (there are four detents at 90 degrees).  Nodal Ninja’s rotators can be customized to change the detents.  Finally, it is easier to shoot a nadir shot with the Nodal Ninja R1, which has an adjustable tilt.  If you don’t mind those limits, then it is easier to use the Acratech than the Nodal Ninja R series.  But if you prefer a more versatile ring mount panoramic head, then the R series would be better.

If you’d like to get the Acratech, it’s available for $369 but there are a limited number of units currently on sale for $299 at B&H Photo.  It’s also available from resellers on Amazon.