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 (!).
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)
Nodal Ninja 3 (NN3) built by Fanotec, satisfies price ($199), quality, ease of use, and portability (less than 500 grams). Used by professionals and amateurs alike this is an easy to use full spherical panoramic tripod head. With this pano head you are able to produce not only single row 360 degree cylindrical panoramas but multirow 360x180 degree spherical panoramas, or mosaics. Rail stops, one for each of two adjustment rails, allow you to mount your camera/lens in the exact same position each time, once initial settings are learned. This eliminates second guessing on where the no parallax point is on your lens.
With the optional T-adapter you can mount your camera in Landscape mode as well as use many third party quick release plates. NN3 also uses an interchangeable detent ring system. Reversible detent rings offer click stops at varying degrees to include 15/18 (default) 20/24, 45/60, 72/0, and 90/120 degrees. All this packs nicely into a well made hard shelled case which is foamed line with dual zippers.
NN3 is "universal" fitting most point and shoot cameras, SLR's and DSLR's. This model does not support larger DSLR's however like the D2X, or Canon Mark II type cameras or DSLR's using battery grips.
For these cameras Fanotec is developing the Nodal Ninja 5 due out Nov. 2007.
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. 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.
see -> Bogen
MK Panorama Systeme, Germany, offers motorised VR heads that allow for horizontal movement at an adjustable speed (min. 3 seconds per turn) while the integrated control unit triggers the camera. The camera has to be tilted manually. The housing for batteries, electronics and the motor will lead to a big footprint when doing full spherical panoramas. Earlier models than the current PanoMachine Version 3.0 drained batteries quickly, so an external power supply may be important in the field.
The company also provides a rental service.
see -> Fanotec
Novoflex is a German company with a good reputation in building high-precision photographic accessories. The company offers two already pre-assembled products:
The non-tiltable Panorama VR System for cylindrical panoramas.
The universal Panorama VR Pro System for spherical panoramas.
All parts are built modular to be combine- and interchangeable with others 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.
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...
Priced towards the upper end of the middle ($399) 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
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 unbias reviews are floating about on many of these panorama tripod heads:
Nodal Ninja: Applelinks | Digital Photographer Magazine | Rosauro Ona | Josh Korwin of XYZ Computing | PanoGuide Forum | Eric Rougier | Pixelmania (dutch) | 360 Rage | Thierry Rebours (french) | Cameraportal (dutch)
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. They are a special type of a nodal point adapter.
- Agnos Lens ring
- Laser cut wooden brackets from Pano Bracket from bophoto
- Self made bracket from 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)
- Pete Loud's Nodal Samurai
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
A web search for "aluprofil" or "aluminium profile" might reveal other suppliers.