You’ve seen 360 photos with a DSLR and you love the image quality. You’ve decided to take 360 photos to the next level with an interchangeable lens camera. Now you’re wondering which camera body to choose, and whether you should use a DSLR or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. And should you go full frame or APS-C or Micro Four Thirds?
Choosing the system instead of the camera
As a preliminary matter, if you’re choosing a camera, I very strongly recommend comparing the entire system, rather than just specific camera models. By system, I mean the lenses, and systemic features such as their sensor technology (some systems consistently have better sensors than others), or the way their menus are designed, for example. Choosing a system first, and then the lenses you plan to use, and lastly the camera, will lead to better satisfaction with whichever camera you end up getting.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless
For panoramic photography, the biggest difference between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is the availability of lenses. DSLRs have longer flange distances than mirrorless cameras. This means that DSLRs cannot use lenses for mirrorless cameras, but mirrorless cameras can often use lenses for DSLRs, with a suitable adapter.
Using an adapter typically means that the lens can only be used in manual mode. For many types of photography, such as event photography, that’s a usually a dealbreaker. But for 360 panoramic photography, it’s not a problem because you need to shoot with manual focus in any case (to maintain a consistent focus throughout all sides of the panorama). The only inconvenience of a manual lens is not being able to have EXIF data for the aperture and focal length.
Because mirrorless cameras can use more lenses, therefore mirrorless cameras have an advantage over DSLRs for panoramic photography.
Full frame vs. APS-C vs. Micro Four Thirds
Usually, one of the advantages of a full frame sensor is its shallower depth of field, which can be desirable for portraits (I’ll admit that was the reason I got my first full frame camera, a Nikon D3, many years ago). However, for 360 photos, photographers prefer having a deep depth of field. Note: the shallower depth of field is NOT a disadvantage for full frame. You simply stop down the aperture and increase the shutter speed or ISO.
Another reason photographers typically choose full frame sensors is because they have better image quality. To put it in concrete terms, full frame sensors have higher bit depth, higher dynamic range, and better low light performance. But for 360 photos, low light performance is generally irrelevant because most photos are taken on a tripod, making it possible to use low ISOs at slow shutter speeds.
As for bit depth and dynamic range, sensor quality has now improved to the point that some APS-C cameras have as much or even greater dynamic range than some full frame sensors. For example, according to DXO, the APS-C Nikon D7200’s dynamic range is 14.6EV, while the full frame Canon 5DS has a dynamic range of 12.4EV.
Rather than dynamic range or bit-depth, the biggest practical difference between full frame, or APS-C or MFT for 360 panoramic shots is resolution. Resolution is important for panoramic photography because a higher resolution will enable you to shoot more detailed panoramas with fewer shots. And unlike normal photographs, people look at 360 photos closely by default, since the viewer shows only a cropped portion at any given time. If you shoot tiny planets, it’s even more important because the outer part of the tiny planet (or rabbit hole) will be magnified several times from their original size.
With respect to resolution, full frame sensors have a clear advantage over APS-C size and Micro Four Thirds sensors. In 2018, most APS-C sensor cameras have a resolution of 24mp or less (Samsung NX1 and NX500 have 28mp but Samsung has abandoned the NX cameras). Micro Four Thirds sensors are typically around 16mp, although a few like the Panasonic GH5 have 20mp. Meanwhile, there are several full frame cameras with far higher resolutions such as Canon 5DS (50mp), Nikon D850 (45.7mp), or Sony A7R III (42.4mp).
Suggested lens / camera combinations
Here are some popular camera and lens combinations for 360 panoramas:
|Canon full frame||Canon 5DS||Canon 8-15|
|Nikon full frame||Nikon D850 or D810 or D800 or D800E||Nikon 8-15 or Nikon 10.5 (with shaved hood)|
|Nikon APS-C||Nikon D7200||Sigma 8mm or Nikon 10.5|
|Sony full frame||Sony A7R III or Sony A7R II or Sony A7R||Samyang 8mm 2.8 II with shaved hood or Canon 8-15|
|Sony APS-C||Sony a6500 or a6300 or a6000||Samyang 7.5 with conversion kit for E-mount or Samyang 8mm 2.8 II|
Here is a table of fisheye lenses and their field of view based on sensor size:
|Lens||Price (estimated street)||Manual focus ring? Aperture ring?||Full frame||APS-C||Micro Four Thirds|
|7artisans 7.5mm f/2.8||139||MF, aperture||Cropped? (haven't shaved mine yet)||Diagonal||<180|
|Canon 8-15 f/4||1249||MF||Diagonal at 15mm|
Cropped at 12mm
Circular at 8mm
|Diagonal at 10mm||<180|
|iZugar MKX22 f/2.5 (220deg fisheye lens)||$499||MF, fixed aperture||Circular||Circular||Cropped for Z Cam E1 4:3
Circular for GX80 4:3
|Laowa 4mm||199||MF, aperture||Circular||Circular||Circular|
|Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5||299||MF, aperture||Circular||Circular||Cropped|
|Meike 6.5mm f/2||139||MF, aperture||Circular||Circular||Cropped|
|Nikon 8-15 f/3.5-4.5||1095||MF||Diagonal at 15mm|
Cropped at 12mm
Circular at 8mm
|Diagonal at 10mm||<180|
|Nikon 10.5 f/2.8||772||MF||Cropped if hood is shaved||Diagonal||<180|
|Opteka 6.5mm f/3.5 (similar to Samyang 8mm 3.5)||120||MF, aperture||Cropped with hood removed||Diagonal||<180|
|Peleng 8mm f/3.5||289||MF, aperture||Cropped||Diagonal||<180|
|Samsung 10mm f/3.5||299||none - electronic||no adapters found||Diagonal||<180|
|Samyang 7.5 f/3.5||219||MF, aperture||Circular if hood is shaved completely; conversion kit required||Cropped if hood is shaved; conversion kit required||Diagonal|
|Samyang 8mm 2.8 II||269||MF, aperture||Cropped if hood is shaved||Diagonal||<180|
|Samyang 8mm 3.5 (removable hood)||199||MF, aperture||Cropped with hood removed||Diagonal||<180|
|Samyang 12 2.8||399||MF, aperture||Diagonal||<180||<180|
|Sigma 8mm f/3.5||899||MF||Circular||Cropped||<180|
|Tokina 10-17 f/3.5-4.5||479||MF||Cropped up to 12mm if hood is shaved|
Diagonal at 14.5mm
|Tokina 10-17 f/3.5-4.5 NH (no hood)||499||MF||Cropped up to 12mm|
Diagonal at 14.5mm
|Yasuhara Madoka 7.3mm f/4||200||MF, aperture||Circular||Circular||Cropped|
If money was not an issue, I would choose a Sony a7R III. It has an excellent high resolution sensor, and although I’m not impressed with the full frame Sony FE lens selection, the a7R can use most lenses from almost any brand. But since I can’t afford it just yet, I got a used a7R from eBay instead (btw it has a similar sensor as the Nikon D800), with an eye toward possibly upgrading in the future. Meanwhile, I also still have a Sony a6000 and several lenses that I am testing, which I’ll discuss next time. Because I am using the Sony a7R and a6000, I can use lenses such as:
- Samyang 7.5 for Micro Four Thirds (converted to E-mount): 4 shots on APS-C
- Samyang 8mm for Sony E-mount: usable for either APS-C (8 shots) or full frame (4 shots)
- Tokina 10-17 for Nikon: usable for either APS-C (8 shots) or full frame (4 shots or 8 shots)
- Sigma 8mm for Nikon: usable for either APS-C (8 shots) or full frame (4 shots)
- In the future I plan to get the excellent Canon 8-15. Yes I can use that too.
Do you agree with my analysis? Are there other factors that you consider when choosing a camera? Let me know in the comments!
Here are related tutorials. For multi-row panoramic heads (typically, 8 shots):