Off the shelf
There are a number of panoramic tripod heads on the market, at widely varying prices.
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 (!).
A more expensive option is the Bogen/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. Bogen 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. --Add360.com 03:21, 7 Nov 2005 (EST)
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. Nodal 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.
Kaidan offers two tripod heads. The KiWi and QuickPan. The KiWi when equipped with Twin-Axis Bracket will work for smaller cameras equipped with fisheye lenses. This is a single-row solution. Kaidan's QuickPan Spherical will allow for multirow panoramas with either rectilinear or fisheye lenses. The aforementioned Twin-Axis Bracket will also work on the QuickPan for single-row fisheye panoramas.
Kaidan is also due to release their QuickPan Professional tripod head in the early part of 2006.
Nodal Ninja Entering into a competitive market Nodal Ninja, built by Fanotec, satisfies price, quality, ease of use, and portability. This is an easy to use FULL spherical panoramic tripod head with click stops. With this pano head you are anle to produce single row 360 degree cylindrical panoramas, multirow 360x180 degree spherical panoramas, mosaics as well as simple 2,3 or 4 shot landscapes. The specially designed T-adapter allows you to mount a camera/lens in landscape mode and/or allows the use of many 3rd party quick release plates. The all metal build quality also assures long product life - important to power users like those doing Real Estate Virtual Tours. Nodal Ninja retails for $199.95 and they offer a great package deal for only a few dollars more. The package contents vary depending on current specials. For ealry 2007 the package includes 5 reversible detent click stop rings, (15/18, 20/24, 45/60, 72/0, 90/120) t-adapter, and neoprene case. Added features include:
- Universal - fits almost all point and shoot cameras as well as most DSLR's.
- It is THE smallest and lightest pano head available - only 460 grams.
- Sturdy - made from lightweight aluminum metal.
- Leveling - built-in quality bubble level for exact leveling.
- Finish - attractive “non-glare” matt black.
- Closed rail design - assures your expensive camera won’t slip off accidentally.
- 3/8” AND 1/4” thread mount adapter.
This makes it ideal for the professional and amateur photographer on the go, traveler, hiker etc. Many other features can be found on their website. Nodal Ninja is also well known for their superior customer support. While product is one thing they realize support is everything. Read a recent review by Rosauro Ona, and a couple others - Panoguide and Eric Rougier. Fanotec is a small company founded by the inventor of Nodal Ninja - Nick Fan. They produce Nodal Ninja's in limited batches. Used older models have been known to sell for more than current models - that says something about a product! If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of these units you won't be disappointed. Have a read of their Testimonials and simply ask around the forums, you'll quickly learn what others think of their product and support. And Fanotec will very shortly release a new leveling head to compliment their Nodal Ninja or any other pano head which will retail for less than other levelers. I guess the only down side to Nodal Ninja (current model NN3) is the fact it does not support larger DSLR's like the D2X Fuji S3 Pro or Canon Mark II type cameras. Also NN3 does not support DSLR's using battery grips or larger lenses like the FC-E9 or the Rayonex lens. Nodal Ninja is backed by a FULL 30 day return policy as well as 2 year warranty. As their slogan says "what's in your bag?"
The 360Precision is a more expensive but very predictable panoramic head. At U.S. prices from $995-1095 for a single camera and lens setup, it is beyond the average user's price point. Its simple controls make it a very plausible option for those that make panoramas frequently and with the same equipment each time. The 360Precision heads are 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. Their suggested workflow is to calibrate a template in your software (hugin, PTGui, PTMac), and for every panorama afterward, apply the template and immediatly 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.
Pinnacle VR Universal Pano Head
Priced towards the upper end of the middle ($499) is the Pinnacle VR 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
Various unbias reviews are floating about on many of these panorama tripod heads:
Novoflex: 360 Rage
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.
- Agnos Lens ring
- Laser cut wooden brackets form Pano Bracket from bophoto
- Self made bracket Willy Kaemena
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)