Contents of guide to panoramic photography
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Shim
Updated on July 17, 2016
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My panoramic heads buying guide

To help you choose between all the types of panoramic heads (cylindric, spherical or motorized), I created several case studies. Each time, I give you advice to make choosing easier... These different cases are:


1 - Stitch a one-range panorama with light equipment suivre

2 - Stitch a multi-range panorama with a heavy bodysuivre

3 - Stitch a multi-range panorama with light equipment suivre

4 - Stitch a multi-range panorama with heavy equipment suivre

5 - Stitch a gigapixel panorama suivre

6 - Create a virtual tour suivre

7 - Create a panorama or virtual tour using a pole suivre



Panoramic heads


About my commitment...

I give advice about equipment I'm familiar with, that I've used myself or during training courses.
In no way am I trying to please anyone or to choose the best price.
I'd certainly want to guide you during the next forty years and this is my commitment...!

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Very important preliminary information!

Two technical points matter to make the right choice (besides value for money, which I can't influence):

Stability if you make panoramas or virtual tours even when it's dark or windy;

The length of the stages to place your camera and lens at the entrance pupil (Nodal point). The lighter heads often have very short stages only suitable for rather light cameras, without grip and fixed focal lenses. Zoom lenses are seldom compatible with such compact heads!
Example: A 24-70mm F2,8 Canon zoom lens can't be placed on the entrance pupil, even on a Nodal Ninja at 24 mm.


1 - Stitch a one-range panorama with light equipment

TÍte panoramique Nodal NinjaIf your camera/lens is not too heavy, the only problem is choosing: almost all panoramic heads on the market are spherical now and of good value for money, so you can even do multi-range panoramas.

Among all spherical models on the market, I have my favorites listed below but really, almost all heads can work in this case.


Several pieces of advice about cameras...

  • For all point-and-shoot cameras, bridge cameras, etc.
  • For light bodies as Canon 700D, Nikon D5200 or even D610, Pentax K3 without grip, etc...
  • Provided that the lens isn't too heavy or bulky like wide-angle 24-70mm F2,8 zoom lenses, the entrance pupil is close to the front lens and the camera must be placed as back as possible. This creates a noticeable back overhang, prejudicial to the overall stability when the stage is long enough, which never happens with the two more compact heads listed below.
  • Of course, wind is annoying but think about intermediate exposure times like the vicious 1/15 sec.
  • Prefer fixed focals, more compact and often even better at the edges of the picture.

My purchasing advice

For light equipment, without bulky 24-70 mm F2,8 zoom lens, I recommend three spherical panoramic heads with which you can do about whatever you want, without technical limitations:

Bushman Panoramic Gobi - the more compact and the lighter!
Nodal Ninja 3 - A very good compromise between weight and stability
Nodal ninja 4 - Bulkier but very stable.

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2 - Stitch a one-range panorama with heavy equipment

TÍte panoramique Manfrotto 303If your camera is heavy and bulky, I mean even a Canon 5D Mark III but with a 24-70mm F2,8 zoom lens or its equivalent by Nikon and you only want to shoot one range at a time, you're left with very less choice. In order to avoir extensive overhangs, prejudicial to the overall stability, you'll avoid almost all spherical heads with a few rare exceptions listed below.
It's one thing to fit your equipment on your head at home, but it's a different thing to use it in the field when it's windy or with long exposure times for instance!


A few pieces of advice about cameras...

  • Heavy means to me: Canon 1 D..., Nikon D4, Leica S medium size...
  • Come what may, avoid wide-angle F2,8 zoom lenses on spherical heads because you then have to set the camera as back as possible and thus have a strong back overhang except, of course, on the excellent Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 or M2.

My purchasing advice

I recommend three panoramic heads. A cylindric one which earned its spurs and two very well manufactured spherical ones:

Manfrotto 303 or 303PLUS (cylindric),
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 /M2 (spherical) which will handle effortlessly your heavy equipment and will allow you to shoot even multi-range,
and the excellent Cambo CLH 500 (spherical) that I just tested, more limited but excellent...

Caution! the Manfrotto 303 PLUS has a huge drawback: it can't be disassembled!

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3 - Stitch a multi-range panorama with rather light equipment

TÍte panoramique Nodal Ninja 4If your camera/lens isn't too heavy, you only have to make your choice: almost all panoramic heads on the market are spherical now and sometimes of good value for money.

Among all spherical models on the market, I have my favorites listed below but really, almost all heads are suitable in this case.


A few pieces of advice about cameras...

  • For all point-and-shoot cameras, bridge cameras, etc.
  • For light bodies as the Canon 700D, Nikon D5200 or even D610, Pentax K, etc...
  • Provided that the lens isn't too heavy or bulky like wide-angle 24-70mm F2,8 zoom lenses, the entrance pupil is close to the front lens and the camera must be set as back as possible. It creates a noticeable back overhang, prejudicial to the overall stability.
  • Of course, wind is annoying but think about intermediate exposure times like the vicious 1/15 sec.
  • Prefer fixed focals, more compact and often even better at the edges of the picture.
  • Why not a motorized head? Except for gigapixel projects, they're not that handy...

My purchasing advice

I recommend three spherical panoramic heads with which you can do about whatever you want:

Bushman Panoramic Gobi - the more compact and the lighter!
Nodal Ninja 3,
Nodal ninja 4, still light enough and above all very stable.

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4 - Stitch a multi-range panorama with heavy equipment

TÍte panoramique Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 If your camera/lens is heavy and bulky and you want to shoot multi-range panoramas, you're only left with three options according to me. You need a really robust spherical head, as well as long enough stages to place the entrance pupil of your lenses and above all bright zoom lenses above the axis of rotation.
It's one thing to fit your equipment on your head at home, but it's a different thing to use it in the field when it's a little windy!


A few pieces of advice about cameras...

  • Heavy means to me: Canon 1 D..., Nikon D4, Leica S medium-size...
  • Come what may, avoid wide-angle F2,8 zoom lenses on spherical heads because you then have to set the camera as back as possible which creates a strong back overhang. If it's windy or you're shooting with intermediate exposure times (around 1/15 sec.), risks are high, even with the mirror raised, to get camera shakes. Unless you turn to the Ultimate M-2version, even more robust and thought for gigapixel shots.

My purchasing advice

You have the choice between three spherical panoramic heads:
Manfrotto 303 SPH, which becomes quite limited with bulky zoom lenses, is the less expensive but also the worst manufactured and the less stable among the three. The excellent
Cambo CLH 500 , a little limited but excellent and
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 and Ultimate M-2(spherical) I just tried are roughly or noticeably more stable, with longer stages and above all much better manufactured than Manfrotto... My favorite, but more expensive!

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5 - Stitch a gigapixel panorama

TÍte panoramique motorisée Gigapan Epic ProTo shoot a gigapixel panorama, it is of course possible to take hundreds of pictures manually with a spherical head - I did in the past on 1148 photos! But it's so much more convenient with a motorized head when the number of photos is really high!
When I achieved the old record Paris26gigapixels in 2010, I only had at my disposal one motorized head, a Klaus head. Since then the situation has changed, since numerous models are now available.


A few pieces of advice about cameras...

  • If you wish to realize a gigapixel with a medium format or with a heavy camera/telephoto lens combination, choose heads with two arms. It will be a lot more stable. Among manual heads, you should also give a serious thought to the incredible Ultimate M-2...
  • Gigapan in particular makes three models of heads for all sizes of cameras, from the light point-and-shoot to the heavier medium format.

My purchasing advice

I recommend two motorized panoramic heads very well thought and a manual head:

Gigapan Epic Pro robust, with long battery life, accurate, and of excellent value for money. One of my favorites!
Then I recommend the wonderful Roundshot VR Drive: manufacturing quality, accuracy, speed... The price is really worth the quality of the product.
The manual head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2is also an excellent option for those who, like me, like to take in hand the panorama when the number of pictures is not too high, especially to look over it regularly...

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6 - Create a virtual tour

TÍte panoramique motorisée Gigapan Epic ProA whole tutorial is dedicated to the creation of virtual tours in this The guide to panoramic photography: create a virtual tour suivre

However, any photo can be turned into an interactive tour, even if it's been shot in a mono-range mode. Of course, virtual tours involve most of the time a complete sphere hence a spherical panoramic head.


A few pieces of advice about cameras...

  • I really don't recommend using a heavy and bulky camera to make a virtual tour.
  • Prefer Fisheye lenses, lighter, easier to carry and above all enabling to shoot a complete sphere with few pictures.

My purchasing advice

I suggest you read my pages dedicated to spherical panoramic heads in this tutorial Create a virtual tour suivre but I'll start giving you advice right away:

Bushman Panoramic Gobi - the more compact and the lighter!
Nodal Ninja 3 and 4 if your equipment is not too heavy;
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 if you want to treat yourself to the best spherical head.

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7 - Create a panorama or a virtual tour using a pole

Mâts télescopiques Nodal Ninja p1+P2A whole tutorial is dedicated to the creation of virtual tours in this The guide to panoramic photography: Create a virtual tour suivre

It's not unusual anymore to see virtual tours or panoramas taken from very original points of view, meaning from a height. When I'm talking about height, I'm talking really high! If you think about balloons or drones, I suggest you also consider another option a lot cheaper and less binding: a telescopic pole. For less than 900 euros, you can buy a giant monopod, in carbon, very convenient to use and that can reach 6 meters high!


A few pieces of advice about cameras...

  • Any kind of camera can be considered, to the Canon 1 DS Mark III or Nikon D4.
  • However, prefer lenses that are not too bulky.
  • This solution can only work with short exposure times, unfortunately...

My purchasing advice

I suggest you read my pages dedicated to spherical panoramic heads in my tutorial Create a virtual tour suivre but I recommend right away the Nodal Ninja telescopic poles (Fanotec) , for which a review is now available on this site. Anyway, we don't have much choice!


Pointilles

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Read my tutorials and buy panoramic heads from this site...


Pointilles

TÍte panoramique Kalahari

3 étoiles

Bushman Panoramic Gobi Head

This new Gobi panoramic head, by Bushman Panoramic possesses at once three obvious assets: it's very well manufactured - materials and finishing -, it's very light since it only weighs 320 grs and it's super compact since it fits in your hand! It won't take a lot of space in your photobag or even in your pocket. It's not the more stable on the market but this is of no importance regarding its qualities... Caution though: the length of the stages won't allow to place all of your lenses at the entrance pupil.


€166.00
|
Read my review

Technical specifications

  Manufacturer Nb of notches 360°x180 Weight
in Kg
Price in €
Gobi
Adaptable *
YES
0.320
166

Quick Click optional base: 90 °, 60 °, 45 °, 36 °, 30°.


Buy the BP Gobi head from...

Bushman Panoramic Gobi
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€166.39
Buy from Kolor Store
 
€165.28
Achetez cette tÍte chez Bushman Panoramic

Pointilles

TÍte panoramique Nodal Ninja 4

Nodal Ninja 3 and 4 - RD 16 heads

Light enough, the Nodal Ninja 3 and 4 heads are spherical heads. The matter of stability when the camera is placed in overhang is thus raised. They're mostly dedicated to point-and-shoot cameras or to light reflex cameras like the Canon Eos 700 D, 70 D or 5D Mark III or even the Nikon D7100 or D610. They're also not bulky at all and well thought. They take very few space in a camera bag.
There are several notched positioners. Caution, the model with built-in leveling base is not of a great stability.

€285/361
|
Read my review

Buy from...

Nodal Ninja 3 + RD 16
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor Store
€287.00
Buy from Kolor Store

Buy from...

Nodal Ninja 4 + RD 16
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€361.00
Buy from Kolor Store

Buy from...

Full Nodal Ninja 4 *
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€285.00
Buy from Kolor Store

* The notches are directly built in the base under the form of a brass stage more or less notched.


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TÍte panoramique Manfrotto 303

Manfrotto 303 panoramic head

The Manfrotto 303 model is thus the cylindric model. It possesses everything you could expect from a panoramic head to shoot mono-range. The rotation base is notched, all of the sliding stages can be disassembled, as well as the vertical arm, very robust. Disassembled in four parts, this model doesn't take too much space in a camera bag. It's thus a reference head to realize mono-range panoramas with high-end cameras or medium-size cameras.

$530
|
Read my review

Buy from...

Manfrotto 303
Price in € Retailer
Logo Amazon.com
$531.93
Buy from Amazon
$529.99
Buy from Manfrotto


Pointilles

TÍte panoramique 303 SPH

Manfrotto 303 SPH panoramic head

The model Manfrotto 303 SPH is the spherical model from Manfrotto. This head, quite heavy, is thus more appropriate to big bodies like the EOS 1DS Mark III with a 50mm. Anyway, I avoid to add it an open wide-angle 2.8 zoom lens! As for now, it's in the light of two other robust spherical heads, especially when it comes to stability but they're noticeably more expensive, unfortunately.

$570
|
Read my review

Buy from...

Manfrotto 303 SPH
Price in $ Retailer
Logo Amazon.fr
$569.90
Buy from Amazon
$689.99
Buy from Manfrotto


Pointilles

TÍte panoramique Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1

Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 Head

This new panoramic head by the Company Fanotec (Nodal Ninja) is a competitor of Manfrotto 303 SPH and Cambo CLH-500 heads. I think it's the reference spherical panoramic head for heavy equipment. Universal, very stable and well-manufactured and thought. Very few defects or disadvantages.


My favorite spherical head for heavy equipment.


€686
|
Read my review

Buy from...

Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 + RD16
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€686.00
Achetez cette tÍte chez Kolor


Pointilles

TÍte panoramique Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1

Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 head - New!

This new panoramic head from the company Fanotec (Nodal Ninja) is an even more stable, gigapixel-oriented version of the M1 over here. I think it's the best spherical panoramic head for heavy equipment. Universal, very stable and very well manufactured and thought. Very few defects or disadvantages.


€675
|
Read my review

Buy from...

Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€675.00
Buy from Kolor Store


Pointilles

TÍte Gigapan Epic Pro

Gigapan motorized heads

Gigapan motorized heads are among the best value for money on the market. They're quite easy to use, very pleasant and above all very powerful. Remarkable tools. The Epic Pro model comes with two vertical arms for more stability. To set up directly on a robust tripod. As for now, their main limit is the absence of radio or bluetooth remote control. But I notice that the firmware is regularly updated and available in different languages.

€998.00
|
Read my review

Technical specifications

  Manufacturer Nb of notches 360°x180 Weight in Kg Price in €
Epic
tailor-made
NO
1.400
450
Epic 100
tailor-made
NO
1.600
575
 
Epic Pro
tailor-made
NO
3.600
1,000

Buy from...

Gigapan Epic Pro
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€998.66
Achetez cette tÍte chez Kolor


Pointilles

TÍte VR Drive Roundshot

VR Drive II motorized head

The VR Drive II motorized head from Roundshot, is built on a Novoflex basis, that's just showing how irreprochable the quality is. One of the best motorized heads on the market, which is also the more expensive!

  • Motorized double-axis;
  • Very powerful engines;
  • Very quick shooting mode;
  • Full touch sensitive command module!
  • Almost "infinite" possibilities... Video modes, HDR, Time-lapse, etc.
€2,900
|
I don't have reviewed this head

Technical specifications

  Manufacturer Nb of notches 360°x180 Weight
in Kg
Price in €
VR Drive II
to choose
NO
2.300
2,900

Buy from...

Panogear
Price in € Retailer
  Logo Boutique Kolor Kolor store
€2,900.00
Buy from Kolor store


Pointilles

TÍte panoramique RS-1

RS-1 and RS-2 heads for P2 telescopic poles

Nodal Ninja telescopic poles need a specific panoramic head. There are three of them and my favorites are the RS-1 and RS-2 heads.
They're in fact Nodal Ninja 3 or 4 adapted to hold the body by the lens ring. They allow to shoot easily the zenith and the nadir.

€280
|
Read my review


Buy from Kolor...

RS-1 and RS-2 heads
Price in $ Kolor store
RS-1
$299.00 *
Buy from Kolor Store
RS-2
$299.00 *
Buy from Nodal Ninja

* Complete - With lens ring to choose and positioner. If you place your positioner at the bottom of your pole, the positioner of the RS-1 or 2 is useless.

Pointilles


In the next page, we'll calculate the number of photos we need to shoot to realize our panorama - How many pictures?


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  VR-Drive II

New PanoBook Kolor
2016

€29.90

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