The Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 panoramic head must be categorized with spherical heads for heavy and bulky bodies. It easily supports a body like the EOS 1 DS Mark III or even a digital Hasselblad. It stands out thanks to a great manufacturing quality, a perfect universality and a great smoothness of functioning.
The Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 panoramic head is a head called spherical. It can be completely disassembled in four parts which makes it choice equipment for transportation and storage in a photo bag. This is no detail! As robust as the Cambo CLH-500 it is part of my favorite duo on this criteria. It thus handles very well heavy equipment like the Canon 1 Ds Mark III, a Nikon D4 or even a Hasselblad H4D or H5D.
Four things are striking when you have it in your hands:
A very good manufacturing quality (Arca standards),
A great stability,
Great modularity and universality,
And a great smoothness of use.
As with all spherical panoramic heads, it is possible to set the entrance pupil of the lens used in absolutely any direction. It is thus a very versatile head and absolutely universal because the vertical arm can be turned over to shoot the nadir. Doesn't it look like the perfect spherical head?
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-1or M2 ?
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M spherical heads are declined in two versions: M1, described in this page and M2, reviewed in this other page, more dedicated to gigapixel shooting.
The two big differences, literally and figuratively, are the bottom positioner: RD-16 is replaced by a RD-8-II much wider with much tighter notches in order to shoot more photos with a teleobjective lens.
And also the positioner of the vertical arm. It is wider but above all, not notched.
Also note that RD8-II is noticeably shorter and heavier (450 grs instead of 400 grs) and that the influence on sensibility, without being inexistant, isn't really sensible.
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 panoramic head presentation
The Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 and its M2 version panoramic head is thus a spherical head. It comes with a stage of setting in depth that can tilt on a vertical arm to shoot cylinders or multirange panoramas. And since the arm can be turned over easily, it becomes, with the Manfrotto 303 SPH head, the ideal head to shoot a complete sphere in order to realize a virtual tour, even with heavy equipment.
The rails are of pretty long dimensions which will facilitate setting it up even if certain settings might be a bit bold and will bring important overhang to the camera but this head is really more robust than the average and will deal with it effortlessly. If this head can't handle your equipment, who will?
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1
Average price: $630.00
Height of use
On 10 cm upwards and 10 cm downwards
Yes - in four parts - Head, one stage and vertical arm.
It is made of four distinct and dismountable parts. In addition to classic horizontal and vertical stages, you can also dismount the vertical arm (that can thus be turned over to shoot the nadir) and that supports the tilting axis as well as the classic notched positioner, the famous RD-16. Please note that the positioner has 16 notches which is a record and makes this head especially universal.
Once mounted, it is quite impressive - in standards of "serious" spherical heads like the Cambo CLH-500 and the Manfrotto 303 SPH -, but becomes easy to store in a photo bag once dismounted because each piece takes minimum space.
Once the camera set, it is about 25 cm higher than the head. The height alone being 30 cm from the base of the tripod. As you can see in the image here, its dimensions in width are rather important which enables to fasten a bulky camera like a Canon 1 Ds Mark III or a Nikon D4.
You can clearly see also that the vertical arm can be disassembled and can thus turn over. Very convenient to shoot the nadir.
Caution, the vertical arm isn't high enough sometimes and your body can bump into the inferior stage when you shoot the zenith. Then, please note that the thickness of the stages inspires robustness, and I could indeed remark it in real life! Very few bending or torsions. Remarkable !
What about the manufacturing quality?
Finally, and unfortunately you won't be able to see it in these photos, I want to stress what a smooth functioning the clamping screws have and how they guarantee great quality clamping without forcing it. The realization of this head is really remarkable, almost like the Cambo CLH-500. With use, this head is one of the two most pleasant heads I got to review.
Four distinct and dismountable parts
Apart from the model Manfrotto 303 PLUS which rails are micro-metric and can't be disassembled, all spherical heads on the market can break into several parts. It is a great asset to store the equipment in a photo bag. You can fit each plate in a different compartment of the bag. To place or remove the rails, you just need to unscrew the clamping screw and make them slide by pushing the blocking ergot at the same time (fig. here).
Once dismounted, the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 head breaks into: a notched head RD-16 (1), an inferior horizontal stage 20 cm long (2), the vertical arm supporting the tilting axis (3), and a stage sliding in depth on 20 cm to fasten the camera (4):
Once dismounted in four parts, the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 spherical head doesn't take much space. It will easily fit in a photo bag!
(1) - Rotary notched base RD-16 - The base RD-16, well-known because present on numerous Nodal ninja products thus enables to choose easily the number of notches between 2 consecutive photos with 16 possibilities. Impossible not to find what you're looking for!
The choice of the number of notches is as simple as it can get because you just have to use the blue wheels: the big wheel (Lock) is used to block the positioner to screw/unscrew it on the tripod. The little blue wheel (there's another one hidden behind the positioner) is used to select the number of notches between two consecutive photos (here 10°/2).
(2)- Bottom rail - Each rail, corresponding to ARCA standards, is really very robust. I didn't note any bending even with my heavy Pentax 645Z. Each rail enables a setting on 20 cm and integrates a spirit level.
(3)- Vertical arm and tiltable positioner block - This tilting block is fastened on the vertical arm and it can turn over on the bottom rail. Handy to shoot the nadir. Great smoothness of movement.
(4)- Sliding top rail and quick fastening stage for your camera - The top rail on the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 supports the camera when it's a reflex one. It slides on 20 cm in depth. It fits into the tiltable stage of the vertical arm. For more details, see later.
Use of the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 head
Like all panoramic heads, the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 head is used to place the entrance pupil of your lens above the rotary axis of the head and in the tilting axis of the vertical arm to get perfect overlap zones in multirange photography. This head being a manual dismountable head, its functioning is very simple and always the same if you read this type of review for the second time at least.
Setting the head at the entrance pupil
Let's start with an essential point, the fastening of the body on the upper stage. Indeed, depending on whether the screw thread of the sole of the camera is in the axis of the lens or not, its fastening on the panoramic head won't be the same:
1 - Fastening the camera on the upper sliding stage :
Important!To fasten your camera, you need to buy the quick fastening stage (fig. below on the left) corresponding to your body unless you fasten the quick fastening stage of your head's brand directly.
Note that since the quick fastening stage slides on a short distance (3/4 cm) into the bracket of the upper sliding stage, it is possible to place the axis of the lens exactly in the tilting axis,even if you own a point-and-shoot camera or even with a booster (on a Canon 5D Mark III/IV for instance). Indeed, in both cases, the screw thread of fastening on the head under the camera isn't in the axis of the lens anymore. (image above on the right).
Caution! When you use the Nodal Ninja quick fastening system (complying ARCA standards) then you'll have to dismount it every time you'll want to set your camera on a classic head IF it's not ARCA. Not convenient but offers more stability.
2 - Place the center of the lens just above the rotary axis of the panoramic head
Once the camera fastened on the upper stage, itself on the tiltable arm, you just have to center the lens just above the rotary axis of the notched base thanks to the movement of the inferior stage on which the vertical arm is fastened in a first time. For that, you just need to move the stage a little on the left in this example after loosening the clamping screw (fig. below)...
Once it is done, you need to find the setting in depth in accordance with your lens and if it's a zoom lens, you need to find the settingS in accordance with the most used focals. This is done using the upper stage, quite simply!
4 - Place the entrance pupil (also called nodal point) of your lens above the rotary axis of your panoramic head - Note that the center of your lens is in the tilting axis of your panoramic head.
The entrance pupil (nodal point) is perfectly set in all axis hence in 3D on this panoramic head for this lens. You just need to mark the settings down on the marked reglets below.
Marking the settings of the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 head
Once you found the settings for your lens, you need to make sure to mark them down in a corner of your head for the younger ones or more cautiously in a notebook for the others ;-). Who said I was making notes???
On the head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 , the marking is done on the marked reglets (superior and inferior stages).
You can as well use a piece of tape as a marker if you don't want to take out your notebook all the time. If you use several lenses or focals, it will be more convenient to make a mark for each focal.
Markers are not very legible at night but always very accurate.
Turn the vertical arm over to shoot the nadir
In the tutorial dedicated to the creation of virtual tours on this site, I wrote an article about shooting the nadir with a tripod. To do so, you need to turn the vertical arm from 180° in order to tie the camera above empty space by putting it as far as possible from the arms of the tripod. On the head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 or M2, you just need to unscrew the screw in the vertical arm to be able to turn it on 180°. And for that, please note that you don't even need a screwdriver! It is very convenient. And yet Nodal Ninja does even better... Here's how.
The nadir adapter
When you're trying to shoot a complete sphere in order to realize a virtual tour and if you want to get the best possible quality, it is better to shoot the nadir while leaving the camera on the panoramic head in order to keep the camera as close as possible to the entrance pupil relatively to the ground, but also, of course, to be able to shoot photos with long exposure times.
Nodal Ninja produces a small accessory that comes between the vertical arm and the inferior stage and that enables to turn it even more easily without dismounting it. You just have to unscrew the small wheel on the side and to turn the stage over. It couldn't be easier!
Conclusion and rating!
Nowadays, the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 head isn't alone on the competitive market of top-range and very stable spherical heads (Cambo CLH-500 and Manfrotto 303 SPH, and let's not forget its big sister Ultimate M-2. However, it offers one of the best manufacturing quality I've ever seen with the head Cambo CLH-500. The finishing is really impressive and the settings are so smooth. It will easily handle your heavy digital camera body, even more than its M2 version if you want to make gigapixel panoramas.
As a conclusion and since it's even more universal than the Cambo head (its vertical arm turns over and a nadir adapter can be added to turn it over even more easily) it is probably the best top-range and/or robust spherical head on the market.
Setting of the base
Value for money
Wonderful design and manufacturing quality
Robustness and stability (for a spherical head)
Wind sensitivity far above the average
Smoothness of the settings
The vertical arm turns over
Honestly, not many if you're OK with its price, weight and bulkiness (of course since it's very robust)
Fine, then I could mention the setting on the camera on the upper stage in a dark environment, the lack of blocking wedge to mark the settings as its little sisters have (Nodal Ninja 4 et 3), really not much finally.
9.5 / 10
My opinion: Top-class! It is probably the best top-range spherical panoramic head on the market hence in the products over 500 euros. It is convenient, really superbly finished, you can almost do everything with it and there is also a M2 version, gigapixel-oriented. Nodal Ninja really rocks. It hits the mark!
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