Off the shelf
There is a number of commercial panoramic tripod heads on the market, at widely varying prices. Panorama heads are actually very different kinds of animals and each manufacturer seems to have a different understanding about which functionality has to be part of such a head. Some are made of plastic or even "aircraft" aluminum, you might also fall in love with a stylish wooden head. The price range varies from "a round of beers" to something close to a visit on ISS. Some of them are a joke, a lot of them work nicely, some are specialised on certain body/lens combos, a few have that very professional wow factor. Choose yourself, and if unsure, don't hesitate to ask the members of Panotools NG what fits your needs.
360Precision offer different panorama heads, all CNC machined but with that hand crafted touch. Very elegant products, and certainly more expensive than you might expect. but are very predictable panoramic heads. They are very sturdy and at the same time elegant.
The Absolute is a very plausible option for those that make panoramas frequently and with the same equipment each time. It is built to a specific body and specific lens combination, saving the photographer the need to find the entrance pupil for their lens and midpoint of the camera. Because of this, it is a very precise way to batch-create panoramas without needing to generate control points for each panorama. The sacrifice is that you lose the option of using a different combination of camera and lens with this head until you purchase an additional lens arm.
Although these limits may seem restrictive, the results are very, very predictable. One possible workflow includes calibrating a template in your software (hugin, PTGui, PTMac), and for every panorama afterward, apply the template and immediately skip to stitching. This saves you the time spent in generating and correcting control points in each panorama. For those that can save significant amounts of time and/or money by doing this, this head truly is a life saver. The generation of the template can be time consuming but may save you hours upon hours of post processing time compared to other solutions.
It is possible to upgrade the 360Precision in modular ways, for instance if you decide to use a different lens for your panoramas, you can order just the lens arm you need, or if you decide to use a different camera for panoramas, you can order just the different camera leg and use the same lens arm.
The Adjuste is nearly as strong as the Absolute but is easily adaptable for different camera / lens setups. The diameter of the rotating base is smaller which makes for a better (smaller) footprint if you shoot full spherical panoramas.
Agnos - Italian manufacturer of panoramic heads and accesories for panoramic photography. I bought an adapter for my fc-e9 fisheye adapter and it is very well built and of a good quality. They will also release (if they didn't yet) a new solution for creating a spherical pano out of 3 pics taken at 120 degrees each with a DSLR rotated at 45 degrees (!).
The Gadget Works offers AutoMate, a motorized pan-tilt head that is unique in many ways. As the lightest (2 pounds/ 1 Kg) and most compact (4" x 5.5" x 4.5" / 100mm x 145mm x 115mm) robotic pano head on the market, it is particularly well suited for taking into the wilds. AutoMate was originally designed for making gigapixel landscape panos and works quite well for that purpose. It is not well suited for making interior panos or any pano where there are objects in focus closer than about 30 meters, due to parallax issues. The AutoMate controller is a phone or PDA with Bluetooth, but unlike other Bluetooth-controlled pano heads, the controller does not need to be connected to the head more than a few seconds, eliminating the problem of dropping the connection during the taking of the pano. This is because the app running on the smartphone generates a program based on the user's input and then sends that program to the head which contains a computer that saves the program in EEPROM memory. After receiving and storing the program, the robot's program reads it back out and executes the instructions to pan, tilt, half-press and full-press the shutter (electronically through the camera's remote shutter release port). The user can save the current settings on the smartphone, giving the file a memorable name for recalling again if they want to repeat the same process. Even more conveniently, the app remembers the most recent settings and uses them as the default settings set the next time they start up the phone app. There are two apps, one for Windows Mobile phones and one for Android phones. The Android app does not yet have the panorama feature and concentrates on timelapse and HDR. The Windows Mobile app has both panorama and timelapse features. Both apps have a programmer interface that allows the user to write their custom programs. The Windows Mobile app also has a trigger sensor that can be used for capturing the elusive snow leopard in her cave (just as an example :-).
DOBAS-01 and DOBAS-02
see > QTVR HEADS
Fanotec, founded by developer and inventor Nick Fan, is based in Hong Kong. Fanotec manufactures the award winning Nodal Ninja panoramic tripod heads and accessories. They use high quality lightweight aluminum alloy and state of art CNC machining processes. Nodal Ninja is the only pano head built and refined from end user feedback over several years. From universal to specific model designs there are configurations to fit almost any camera and lenses and shooting style. Design objectives for all models include quality, ease of use, portability and price with some models starting at $179. These pano heads allow the user to produce virtually any type of panorama, from single row 360 degree cylindrical panoramas to multirow 360x180 degree spherical panoramas to multi-image mosaics like the super high resolution gigapixel images. Added features also include rail stops to remember positioning of camera settings no parallax point and variable click stops so you can feel the rotational increments while rotating the head. All pano heads also allow for mounting a camera in landscape mode. The heads are available with the new CNC machined advanced rotators. The changing click stops on-the-fly is as easy as changing a knob from one whole to the next. Depending on rotator model click stops are available from 180 degrees to 3.75 degree click stops - the smallest click stop of any pano head rotator on the market. Fanotec currently builds 4 basic pano head model series combined with a choice of 4 different rotators.
Nodal Ninja 180: NN180 is intended to simplify panoramas by allowing “single row” shooting only. This makes it ideal for uses of large diameter circular fisheye lenses such as the Sigma 4.5mm & 8mm, Sunex 5.6mm, and Nikon FC-E8/E9, IPIX, FC-E8/E9, Raynox, Samyang etc. You can also use longer focal length lenses for single row panoramas. --The NN180 has been discontinued.--
Nodal Ninja 3 series: NN3-MKII is an award winning pano head. Lightweight, compact and strong, great for those on the go and a popular choice for Real Estate Photographers, hobbyists, hikers and travelers. This model supports most point and shoot cameras and many smaller DSLR’s.
Nodal Ninja 5/5L series: NN5/5L is built bigger and stronger and more precise supporting up to 22 lbs (10kgs). Fits all DSLR’s, including Nikon D3X and Canon MKII with or without battery grips, and even some medium format cameras. This series is best suited for both single row and multirow panoramas using wide angle to extremely long focal lengths lenses. The casting mold reached the end of its life span. It's successor, due out by end 2010, will be modular in design and built to even greater precision standards.
Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 and R10: R1 and R10 is part of the new "Ultimate" line of CNC machined components. These are ring style pano heads which uses a lens clamping system. The ring attaches to the lens collar which in turn easily attaches to the head. It's important to note this clamping system does "not" interfere with the focusing capability of the lens. The unique cantilever design of the R1 is one-of-a-kind design and allows the user to select the best tilt option for their lens. By tilting the head up slightly, depending on lens, eliminates the need to shoot the zenith (up shot) for full spherical panoramas reducing both field and post production workflows. And the small diameter base leaves the photographer with an extremely small tripod footprint. This model is best suited for those using ultra wide fisheye lenses and when shooting very quick panoramas is paramount such as in populated areas. The R10 differs from R1 in that the tilt option is built in or static. Both R1 and R10 are available without rotators making them ideal for monopods and pole photography users as well.
Carbon Fiber Poles Series 1 Pano Poles Fanotec poles are easy to operate and carry. They can be extended to maximum height in minutes by pushing up and locking each telescoping section. Made of carbon fiber tubes, they are light-weight, portable and are ideal for on-the-go situations and areas not accessible to vehicle mounted units. Fanotec poles are modular in design. Users can start up with a small module and gradually build up the height by stacking it to a larger module. Each module can be used independently (additional parts needed), creating an array of short poles with different stiffness for different applications, such as horizontal pole for cliff panoramas. Features and Highlights: Thick cross-layered carbon fiber tubes for maximum rigidity and durability, light weight, compact in size - fit most cars and checked luggage, Anti-rotation system maintains rigid azimuth / yaw locking /accuracy, support a large range of DSLR, s3/8" stud and 3/8" female receiver for working with other accessories. (note: include link to pole listing)
Fanotec also manufactures the lightweight EZ-Leveler-II with or without built in rotators. These EZ-levelers are designed to help fine tune the leveling of a pano head.
Distributor of -> Panamatic
For me, the Jasper Engineering head has been an excellent value. At about $200, it's strong enough for serious 35mm or comparable digital cameras, which can be used horizontally or (with the included adapter) vertically. No-parallax point correction is horizontal and covers a variety of focal lengths as long as (I'm guessing) 135mm or more. Like so many heads, a bubble level is included, but hard to read when the head is set up at eye level. The builder will add custom touches very reasonably, In my case I put a Wimberly/Arca quick realease plate on the base. The base is machined aluminum; they provided a peel and stick piece of rubber for the base (to keep the plate from slipping) for about ten bucks.
Pivoting parts on this unit are tightened with cap screws which have patent caps on them to give more leverage in tightening. I ended up prying these off and taking a t-handle allen wrench with me. I'm using a D-70 and a 17-35 usually; a smaller camera would be fine without that extra step.
Manufacturer of two high quality panoramic tripod heads that compare very well to other heads employing the Arca Swiss clamping system.
The Jobu PGH-1 and a Manfrotto quick-release compatible version PGH-KM1.
The Arca Swiss clamping system is used on almost all the high end panoramic heads as it provides significantly better clamping pressure with less force and virtually no wear on moving parts. A review
However, the vertical arm protrudes pretty much in front of the rotation axis. For short fisheye lenses it may extend in the image.
LinkDelight is a vendor of photographic goods on eBay. They offer a Pro 360° Photography Panoramic Tripod Head & Gimbal Bracket Kit, also referred to as K7G, with a rotator with click stops at a number of different increments, set by a pin, and what appears to be the ability to make both vertical and horizontal panoramas, but it's not clear if it even works. What is clear is that the product photos show the camera mounted in a completely inappropriate position.
A more expensive option is the Manfrotto 303SPH, a large, but well made head. It could double as a boat anchor! I (Rick) have the 303SPH and the Agnos mentioned below. Manfrotto has a site dedicated to their line of pano heads Manfrotto 303SPH Mini-Site. Some users complain that the head sags - I have not experienced this. This head can be used with virtually any lens / camera combination. I used to use it with the FC-E9 fisheye, but the head left too large of a footprint in the image.
Manfrotto has a service that helps to find the correct part number for spare parts (...just in case you drop the click-stop selector screw).
Manfrotto used to be distributed by Bogen Imaging in some countries. They have now unified the name as Manfrotto Distribution.
The FT-900H Precision 360 degrees Panoramic Tripod Head is marketed on eBay by vendor memorycardsman. It appears to offer both horizontal and vertical mounting, multi-row, and comes with a rotator with click stops every 45°. The only feedback on this unit is in Russian (the link is translated with Google translate), and is extremely negative about the product quality.
MK PanoMachine / MK PanoHead
MK Panorama Systeme, Germany, the new MK PanoMachine version 3.1 is an automatic rotating VR head designed to move your camera from one shot to the next - the camera is released exactly in the right position. Version 3.1 has a new time-lapse mode as well as an integrated power management.
MK Panorama Systeme, Germany launched with the new MK PanoHead a fine mechanical precision and high-quality 360° panoramic tripod head on the world market.
• Panoramic tripod head for the stitching of digital panoramas
• Suited to create cylindrical, spherical and cubic panoramas as well as Multi-Row
• 360° panoramic plate with pre adjustable scale and integrated circular bubble
• Mount the MK PanoHead bracket alternatively on the Manfrotto MA 300 N or a 360° plate of your choice
• Motorize the MK PanoHead bracket with the MK PanoMachine or ROUNDSHOT VR Drive (with adapter)
• tilt up and down + / - 90° exactly in the no-parallax point (click-stops each 15°)
• The MK PanoHead allows the use of heavy digital SLR cameras and medium format cameras
• High-quality materials, fine mechanical work - Made in Germany
The company also provides a rental service.
Novoflex is a German company with a good reputation in building high-precision photographic accessories. The company offers now three different sets of already pre-assembled products as well as four different rotators.
All parts are built modular to be combine- and interchangeable with other parts from Novoflex. E.g. you can use a standard angle bracket or focusing rack as a part of your panohead setup. This makes it easy to create a custom panorama head that fits your specific needs. Also, it gives you the option to upgrade your setup - or easily re-order a broken part.
Works great with heavy gear.
The Owl panoramic head is a vertical mount head with a single horizontal rail. It does not allow moving the camera along the lens axis. Instead, it uses a second rotator to rotate the camera to position the no-parallax point above the axis of rotation of the adapter. The rail has a scale and the rotator has degree indications. The no-parallax point distance is the distance on the rail divided by the trigonometrical sine of the angle. Apparently this type of construction is meant for single-row panoramas only while providing a stable hold for heavier lens/camera combinations.
A more than affordable solution. Judging from information available at their web site this "head" is not only extremely inexpensive but also mostly useless. No way to mount a camera in a way so that the lens turns around it's NPP, and no click stops. The pan head of a standard tripod isn't worse but maybe more stable. Also marketed as Hama Panorama Kit. Better try handheld shots...
As of October 2010, the domain panamatic.com appears to have been taken over by a domain squatter.
pano-MAXX is a low-cost German panorama head. It features multi-row vertical orientation and a rotator with click stops at 22.5°, 30° and 36° increments, more click stops selectable by changing a plate. The Pano-Maxx rail system is simple to adjust.
Priced towards the upper end of the middle ($499) is the Pinnacle VR Universal Pano Head that will work with any camera where the tripod hole is in the center of the lens axis. Using pin registration, it can accomodate cameras with or without battery grips attached and supports a wide range of lenses from fisheye to 135mm (on a full frame sensor, 80mm on an APS sized sensor). Details and sample sets of images with PTGui templates can be found at Pinnacle VR
German manufacturer specialized on extremely lightweight and precise panorama heads with minimal footprint, optimized for single row panoramas with compact cameras. Different types of rotators and leveling plates (also combined in one product) should work with existing gear, e.g. L-brackets. They also offer a 1.2 ~ 4.1 m / 1.7 kg MonoPod with carbon tubes. PT4Pano.com
DOBAS-01 and DOBAS-02 made by QTVR HEADS POLAND is high quality, reliable and easy in use panorama head in excellent . It is made of anodized aluminium and stainless steel - the highest quality materials with LIFETIME WARRANTY !!
With DOBAS-01 panorama head you will be able to do single row 360 degree cylindrical panoramas as well as multirow 360x180 degree spherical panoramas, or mosaics. DOBAS-01 is "universal" fitting most point and shoot cameras, SLR's and DSLR's. It fits many medium to large format camera like BRONICA ETRSi. I used that pano head with heavy cameras like OLYMPUS E-1 + ZUIKO DIGITAL 8 or OLYMPUS E-3 + ZD8 Bubble level helps to keep whole system horizontally. Camera is mounted to the panorama head with standard 1/4 screw. Wieght less 400 grams. Price (about 100$ or 80 EUR)
DOBAS-02 panorama head is ultralight pano head for cylindrical panoramas. Wieght less 200 grams. Price (about 55$ or 45 EUR)
Really Right Stuff
RRS panorama equipment is nicely machined, modular gear.
The Rodeon VR Head is a programmable pano head. Tilt and Rotation are motorised, all steps can be controlled using a Bluetooth device (Notebook or PDA).
Various unbiased reviews are floating about on many of these panorama tripod heads:
KingPano: Max Lyons / Tawbaware |
MK PanoMachine / MK PanoHead: l Rosauro Ona |
Nodal Ninja: Max Lyons - NN1 | Canon Digital Photography - NN1 | Brad Templeton - NN2 | Applelinks - NN3 | Josh Korwin - NN3 | Eric Rougier - NN3 | Pixelmania (dutch) - NN3 | 360 Rage - NN3 | Thierry Rebours (french)- NN3 | Cameraportal (dutch) - NN3 | John Houghton - NN3 | Digital Photography Magazine (May 07) - NN3 | Rosauro Ona - NN3 MKII | Photo Products Reviewed - NN3 MKII | VRMag - NN3, NN5 | DSLR Users - NN5L | Max Lyons - NN5 | Digital Magasinet (Dannish) - NN5 | Amazon.com - NN5 | IT Enquirer NN5 | Expert Reviews - NN5 w/RD12 | Joergen Geerds - NN5 w/RD16, EZ-Leveler-II | Max Lyons - NN5 w/RD16 | Andrew Jorgensen - R1 EZ-Leveler-II | Denton Images - NN5 w/RD16 | Brian Opyd - NN5 w/RD16 | Customer Testimonials |
Novoflex: 360 Rage |
Pinnacle VR: Sacha Griffin |
Another way to keep the lens/camera fixed to the no-parallax point are lens brackets that directly mounted onto the lens itself. The advantages are less vibrations but the drawback is that you need one bracket for each lens. They are a special type of a no-parallax adapter.
- Agnos Lens ring
- Atome series by 360Precision
- Laser cut wooden brackets from Pano Bracket from bophoto
- Self made bracket from Willy Kaemena
L-brackets, rails, quick release plates
A compatibility table lists different brands of Arca Swiss style plates (and their counterparts). This could help to combine already bought equipment with parts of a different manufacturer, e.g. an old Manfrotto rotator with an additional quick release plate could be connected with a Novoflex L-bracket...
If you want to build our own pan/tilt head you might get some ideas from those shown below.
- Helmut Dersch
- Erik Krause
- Mike Runge (German)
- Robert Breuer (German)
- Bernhard Vogl
- Peter Nyfeler/Monopod
- Peter Nyfeler/Tripod
- Sean Parkin (English)
- Pete Loud's Nodal Samurai
- Scott Hendershot
- Tom Sherry
- Jim Watters
- Bernd Dohrmann
- low cost wooden head by arodrix
- John McAllister
- Carl von Einem
- Milan Knížek (Czech)
- Carlos Eduardo Carvalho (Brazil)
- Carlos Eduardo Carvalho model #2 (Brazil)
- Tilman Bremer (German)
- Tilman Bremer (English)
- Thomas Pryds
- Pete Prodoehl
- Panphoto.de (German)
- Harry van der Wolf
- Anthony Goh (Singapore)
- Anthony Goh compact version (Singapore)
Since you often can't get the popular aluminium profiles in your local do-it-yourself store here some possible suppliers:
- Item International http://www.item-international.com - Internationally active
- CAP http://www.aluprofil.com - situated in Austria
- MayTec http://www.maytec.org - situated in Germany
- KJN Aluminium Profile http://www.kjnltd.co.uk/ - situated in UK
- TSlots Aluminium Profiles (metric and fraction) http://www.tslots.com/ - North America
A web search for "aluprofil" or "aluminium profile" might reveal other suppliers.