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.
Here is a complete guide to shooting 360 photos with a DSLR, including what kind of camera or lens you need, how to shoot and how to stitch.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Another alternative is to use a high resolution 360 camera, such as Panono (134mp) or Ultracker Aleta S2C (66mp). I’m working on reviews for both of these cameras.
What do you think of shooting with a panoramic head? Let me know in the comments!
I decided to start create virtual tours recently. My first 360 camera is Insta360 one. I thought it is completely enough for good quality virtual tours. But than I understood that image quality leaves much to be desired. Excpessially in places with insefition light and and with objects on close distance. So I guess my next step will be Gopro hero 6 with panohero.
DSLR + fisheye lens + pano head = more than 1500 $. So this solution is too expensive for me. Moreover, such combo is not compact and heavy enough. This is a way just for high level professionals.
Hi Andrew. GoPro Hero 6 with Panohero H5B would work pretty well. I have samples here: https://roundme.com/tour/187770/view/487427/
Panohero is available here: https://goo.gl/Vr3iD8
Love the video. This looks like the best way (considering cost) to achieve the highest possible resolution 360 photos. I had a question about the nodal point: is the nodal point going to be the same for every scene? I was thinking that once you found the nodal point during the calibration that the camera could be removed, then you could move to a new scene, put the camera back on in the exact same spot and you wouldn’t have to find the nodal point again.
Said in another way, can you mark where the nodal point is on the tripod adapter? Or does the nodal point need to be found for each individual scene (if you have removed the camera from the tripod)?
Hi Sam, yes this is the best way to achieve high resolution 360 photos. 😀
BTW sorry for the filtered comments — I get so much spam that I personally review every single comment, which means your comment will not appear instantly.
I was wondering if the positions of the slide-bars and cranks etc. could be saved once the nodal point is found such that the camera could be removed from the tripod adapter, you could move locations/switch scene, then put the camera right back where it was and still have it be at the nodal point?
Said in another way, does the nodal point change from scene to scene? Once you remove the camera from the tripod and then put it back, the nodal point has to be found again?
Hi Sam! Great questions. And yes you can ‘save’ the positions using a marker for the top rail and bottom rail. See the video tutorial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBXWgrUgfKI&t=160s
Changing the scene does not change the nodal point. The things that change the nodal point are: camera, lens, focal length (if you’re using a zoom lens), and for some lenses the focal distance. If for example, I use the a6000 with Rokinon 8mm 2.8mm II, then the nodal point will always be in the same position for that combination, regardless of the scene.
If you remove the camera from the tripod, you can return the camera to the same position if you use the markers for the rails and if you attach the camera using the included mount. That’s one of the benefits of a high quality panoramic head — repeatability. If you use a low cost panoramic head such as the sunwayfoto for example, the way the camera mount attaches to the camera is not as easily repeatable / consistent, which leads to stitching errors.
Wow, that is really useful. It makes this approach to 360º photos much more palatable if you don’t necessarily have to find the nodal point each time. And sorry for the duplicate comment I wasn’t sure if my first one had actually posted!
No worries Sam! I forgot to add, there are usually markings on the panohead to help you take notes to replicate the setup if you have more than one camera / lens combination that you use.
I have done a lot of back country panorama’s with a variety of camera’s and heads both commercial and ones that came out of my shop. I have many software packages and am currently using Microsoft ICE mostly for this. Could you make some comments on the software you favor to do the stitching.
Thanks Walter! I’ve used PTGui, Autopano Pro, and Panorama Studio 3 Pro. The one I use most often is Panorama Studio 3 Pro because I find it the easiest and most user friendly, and I like the stitching results. But there are some scenes that stitch better in PTGui, and some that stitch better in Autopano, and some that stitch better in Panorama Studio 3 Pro.
Nice to see this video, I have a Nodal Ninja mkIII coming in the mail tomorrow, and am also already using Panoramastudio 3 Pro.
I’ve done some multi-image pano’s upto now, using both my Panasonic G6 camera and the ‘front’ lens of the Kodak 4KVR360 mounted on makeshift nodal rotators made of parts of stabilizers and camera brackets. It worked surprisingly well, with only minor stitching errors or none at all. But they were a hassle and a pain in use so now I’ve ordered a Ninja.
I’ll be using my new G80 with the 14-140 (= 28-280 in 35mm) lens on it, but am considering getting a really wide-angle like a 7mm (14mm).
One thing about Panoramastudio: do you know how to add nadir/zenith in them? I usually make a multi-row pano with the top and bottom row covering nadir and zenith, but you took care of shooting top/bottom photo’s, so did you use them?
Hi Frank. Congrats on getting the nodal ninja! For patching i use affinity or photoshop.
How come Matterport is not included? It’s on the expensive side of the spectrum for sure but it’s an all in one solution to consider.
Indeed, Matterport should be included, although it is of a different magnitude altogether. I work for a transport firm and sometimes see boxes with ‘Matterport’ written on them. Knowing what’s in them makes me instinctively treat those with even more repect then all others 🙂
Super curious why it didn’t make the cut, and if the results are even worth it anymore as compared to some other all-in-one cameras, albeit the Insta360one stands out by comparison. Then of course you have to weigh and compare hosting packages and costs.
I’ve been playing around 360° photography for a while… First i would like to thank you for your hard work making the world discover this unique universe. I am using a Nikon D7100 + 10.5mm Fisheye, and Autopano Giga and Panotour softwares. Just bought an Panono camera and started playing around with it. My biggest concern is about the stitching process of the Panono when there is objects near by. I am pretty happy with the Panono and intent to use it for creating virtual tours in a near future. My “mentor” is a french photographer named Arnaud Frich, who’s got a website about panoramic photography in french (my native tongue) and english: https://www.panoramic-photo-guide.com/. You can even find some tutorials on Youtube from this guy. I’ve learned a lot a few years ago… Please keep going and hold on !
Thanks Claude! Re Panono, its minimum stitching distance is something like 5 feet. Any closer and there will be stitching errors. But I posted a guide on how to fix stitching errors here: https://360rumors.com/2017/05/exclusive-how-to-stitch-panono-images.html Thanks again for the encouragement!
Your videos are so well done. Precise and clear. You’re really doing a great job in promoting 360’s photography.
After viewing this one, sure I’l get the NN3 and start trying high quality 360 photos, but ultimately I’d like to do 3d 360 high quality pictures. For 3d, I think I would need a different set up and also a kind of bracket to add somewhere even if I use only one camera. For the stitching, I suppose that it will be a nightmare. Do you have any advise for all of this.
Thanks to answer and keep on your good work.
How do I get higher resolution images using the Mi Sphere?
Hi Reman. To get the best quality, shoot in Raw DNG mode. But you cannot increase the resolution.
I want to start 360 photo shooting for GSV. Could you recommend a “good” camera?
At the moment I am considering to get either a Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 (Micro Four Thirds DSLM,1100€) or Sony Alpha 7R II (1700€) or Pentax K-1 Mark II (1600€).
Is a full format camera necessary or is a Four Third like the G9 also good to go?
Or in general what do I have to consider buying a DSLR for taking 360 photos?
Of course, the lens is also really important. So what combination would you recommend within a price range of 2300€?
Thank you in advance!
Love your content on 360. You are everywhere :).
This is an old post but i still hope you see this and get back to me.
Which option would you chose for mid professional virtual tours for businesses?
1 canon eos700d with samyang 8mm fisheye lens and a sliding pano head
2 6xgopro hero 5 black and an after market universal omni case taking all 6 gopros in with a gopro smart remote for the simultaneous control
3 ricoh theta z1 or qoocam 8k
I am most inclined to say option 2 but I would like your opinion please. 6 gopros seem to provide excellent detail and since they are in a rig, the stitching in ptgui should be easy.
With option 1 i only intend to shoot 4 images and stich them.
Do you think option 2 would be better quality over option 3
I would really appreciate some help please
Very informative! Thank you! I was trying to decide between the faster work flow of a dedicated 360 camera or quality with a DSLR while working within a budget of around $500. You helped make my decision to work with the DSLR and learn to speed up the workflow as I become more familiar with pano head at a much cheaper entry cost.
Thanks Conrad. I’m actually working on a video series that will show how to create virtual tours with a DSLR, from start to finish. It will be on 360rumors.thinkific.com. Stay tuned!
Hello Mic, great and interesting articles! I am going to buy again after many years of photo work, a mirrorless camera with wide angle to use for virtual tour. I was going to xphase but have seen that details are better on mirrorless. Someone put on internet also as xphase details that on my opinion are made on mirrorless camera. I ask to you, so which could be the ideal wide angle to use with a Canon or Nikon mirrorless with at least 20mp? Do I need a particular wide angle (fisheye) and how much work is necessary to create an image respect the minimal with an xphase.? I have pano2vr with nctech iris360 and use photoshop. So to stitch don’t know if there are better programs. And since have also quest oculus would create tour that can then see on oculus so have seen Tourviewer could be the ideal partner of pano2vr. Let me have your pro impressions. All the best. Claudio
Hi Claudio. The best lens for you depends on how much detail you want, and how many shot you are willing to take per photo. https://360rumors.com/lens-use-360-panorama-fisheye-lens-comparison-chart/
To match the detail on XPhase, you need a DSLR with more than 40mp, and a diagonal fisheye lens. But even with a lower resolution, a dslr can get better bit depth, dynamic range, and stitching than xphase.
Thanks, Mic, for your useful insights. There isn’t much like this online.
I’ve been experimenting with panoramas for years, and have found that they are quite challenging compared to still photography.
I really was not happy with the quality of the insta360 One X and have decided to give up on that route, until something a lot better (whilst affordable) comes along.
The thing is, the quality gap between one-shot cams and multi-row stitched panoramas is vast. In fact the kit, inc software (PTGUI) to do it like this, on a tight budget, can be acquired for about the same as a Theta Z1, and the skills and understanding gained from doing so are infinitely more worthwhile.
Hi BenW. It is true that DSLR photos will have much better quality. Having said that, if you’re interested I created a course for getting the best quality from 360 cameras such as the One X. https://360rumors.com/hq-method-faq/ In fact it is designed to lay a foundation for DSLR shooting, and the software and techniques are applicable to DSLRs as well (yes it uses PTGui).
Great videos as always! I’m on the fence between continuing to use a 360 camera or the Sony A6600. Do you recommend a specific fisheye lens for the A6600 or is it possible I could use the 10-18mm lens I already have and take multiple pictures? I’m definitely going to get a panohead.
Thanks Sean. The best lens for you depends on how many shots you want to take, balancing resolution on one hand with convenience on the other. I don’t have the 10-18 but in general, a zoom lens is trickier to shoot with because if you accidentally change the focal length while shooting, it could be harder if not impossible to stitch. Also, in general, fisheye lenses are easier to stitch than rectilinear ultrawides.
BTW I’m working on an online training for shooting 360 photos with a DSLR with techniques for producing the best images with the least amount of editing required. If you want to be notified when the DSLR pano training, pls. sign up at 360rumors.thinkific.com. 😀
I have the Nodal Ninja 6, Nikon z6 full frame camera and nikon z 14-30mm f4 lens. I have tried to shoot in 3 rows, 5 rows and one row, with rotation angles of 36, 45 and 60 degrees. Tried all manual, bracketing, aperture priority. Only time when I was able to get a functional 360 panorama was when I shoot in one row and rotation 36 or 45 degrees. I shoot in f11, manual focus, 14mm. I’m so frustrated. Tried 3dvksta sticher, Lightroom and PS. None worked well! Do you have an advice for me please? I’m so frustrated.
I have also tried to shoot in one row, and than took 1 or 2 photos up and than 1 or 2 photos down. That also didn’t work. Couldn’t stich those later in LR or PS or 3dvista sticher. 🙁 🙁
I havd spent so much money on the camera and now I can do only one row panorama, which means you can’t look up or down much when checking in virtual tour viewer.
Here is a complete guide: https://360rumors.com/dslr-virtual-tour-faq-camera-lens-guide-virtual-tour-edge/
You can use any lens but it is much easier to use fisheye lens. You’ll need far fewer shots. If you really want to use your 14-30, use it 14mm. It will take 4 rows. 1 zenith, 6 shots at +36, 6 shots -36, then 1 nadir. It is possible to do it with 3 rows with less overlap and therefore higher chance of stitching errors. Here is a complete guide: https://360rumors.com/dslr-virtual-tour-faq-camera-lens-guide-virtual-tour-edge/
Thank you very much for your fast reply. I made it. I figured, the crucial thing was to shoot photos in the exact order for the Sticher to stich photos easily and without problems (you can also rearange order of the photos in lr later on, but it’s much easier and faster if you take care of it during photo shoot). Also you need to be sure to have enough overlap, but also not to much. Thanks again!!
Good afternoon. What do you think is the best camera in terms of detail and dynamic range XPhase pro s2 or camera саnon R or Sony a7-3?
For detail, it depends on what lens you use. If you use a longer lens, then it will have more detail. Conversely, if you use a wide lens such as a circular fisheye, it will have lower resolution than Xphase. Typically, if you use a diagonal fisheye on a Sony a73 or Canon R, Xphase will have more detail, but Sony will have more dynamic range. I don’t have a Canon R to test, but I would bet it would have more dynamic range as well.