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.
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 :-).
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. Bill Bailey LLC dba Nodal Ninja (based in Arizona USA) is distributor to the Fanotec product line. Fanotec uses high quality lightweight aluminum alloy and state of art CNC machining processes. Nodal Ninja is built from end user feedback. From universal to specific model designs there are configurations to fit most cameras and lenses as well as shooting styles. 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. Most of these pano heads allow for mounting a camera in landscape mode as well. The heads are available with the new CNC machined advanced rotators. Fanotec currently builds 4 basic pano head model series combined with a choice of 4 different rotators.
Nodal Ninja 3 Series: NN3 Series Level: Amateur - Semi Pro. Lenses: 8mm - 50mm focal length. Features: Compact, Inexpensive, Durable. Popular Uses: Real Estate, Travel, Hobbyist, Amateur. Cameras: Compact, Micro Four Thirds, smaller DSLR's. This is an award winning pano head. Lightweight, compact and strong, great for those on the go.
Nodal Ninja 6 Series: NN6 Series Level: Amateur - Pro. Lenses: 8-200mm. Cameras: DSLR's, + Medium Format. Features: Upper Rotator 7.5° stops or free rotation. Popular Uses: Landscape, High Resolution, HDR. This series is built bigger and stronger and more precise than the older NN4/5's. 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. This series of Panoramic Tripod Heads is all CNC machined and Arca-swiss compatible.
Nodal Ninja R Series: R-Series Level: Amateur - Pro - Google. Lenses: Fisheye 4.5-17mm. Features: Smallest Pano Head, fits to lens not camera. Popular Uses: Google Street Views, Real Estate, Poles. Cameras: Any - fit based on lens. These are Arca-swiss style ring clamps. The ring attaches to the lens collar of a fisheye lens which in turn attaches to the R series head with the quick release mount. Due to the broad width of clamp and plastic insert the design does "not" interfere with the focusing capability of the lens and better protects against damage to 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. Some workflows allow for total elimination of footprint. This series is best suited for those using ultra wide fisheye lenses and when shooting very quick panoramas. Available in static and adjustable tilts with rings to fit most fisheye lenses on the market. Also available without rotators making them ideal for monopods and pole photography.
Carbon Fiber Poles Pano Poles Level: Amatuer - Semi Pro - Pro. Features: Pole Segments extend from 19"/50cm - 30.4'/9.3m. Uses: Real Estate, Aerial 360's, Events, Travel, 360° Video, GoPro. Cameras: Ultra Compact, Compact, Compact DSLR. Lenses: Recommended loading is 2kg (4.4lbs) for all poles. Fanotec carbon fiber poles are designed to create panorama at varying elevations. They are easy to operate and carry and can be extended to maximum height in minutes by pushing up and locking each telescoping section. Made of carbon fiber tubes, they are lightweight, portable and are ideal for on-the-go situations and areas not accessible to vehicle mounted units. 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 horizontally for cliff panoramas. Features and Highlights: Thick cross-layered carbon fiber tubes for maximum rigidity and durability, light weight, compact in size. Smaller units fit most cars and checked luggage. Anti-rotation system maintains rigid azimuth / yaw locking /accuracy.
EZ-Leveler-II: EZ-Leveler-II Fanotec also manufactures the lightweight with or without built in rotators. These EZ-levelers are designed to help fine tune the leveling of a pano head.
Robotics: Robotics Coming in 2017/2018.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Nodal Ninja is the recognized brand name of products produced by Fanotec. Nodal Ninja is also the name of the company which distributes and sells Fanotec products and operated under the legal protection of Bill Bailey L.L.C. a Limited Liability Company based in Chandler Arizona USA. The brand name "Nodal Ninja" is used by permission from Nick Fan of Fanotec International hence the official name of the company is Bill Bailey LLC dba Nodal Ninja. Many aspects of the business, to include customer support, marketing, sales and global distribution are all handled through Nodal Ninja. For list of products produced by Fanotec see -> Fanotec (above) or visit Nodal Ninja
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.
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
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).
TOM SHOT 360 Ultralight Panohead
http://www.tomshot360.com Range of lens-dedicated heads for fisheye lenses, with well thought-out details. Possibly the most lightweight and compact panohead with click stops. The main ring is made of 3D printed polyamide, which makes it about 25% the weight of aluminum heads and 1/2 sizeround 110g to 135g, and 130mm to 140mm height.
Various unbiased reviews are floating about on many of these panorama tripod heads:
360Precision: Dr. Karl Harrison
KingPano: Max Lyons / Tawbaware |
MK PanoMachine / MK PanoHead: l Rosauro Ona |
Nodal Ninja: Max Lyons - NN1 | Canon Digital Photography - NN1 | Thierry Rebours (french)- NN3 | Digital Photography Magazine (May 07) - NN3 | Rosauro Ona - NN3 MKII | DSLR Users - NN5L | Max Lyons - NN5 | Expert Reviews - NN5 w/RD12 | Andrew Jorgensen - R1 EZ-Leveler-II | Denton Images - NN5 w/RD16 |
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.
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
- Bernhard Vogl
- Sean Parkin (English)
- Scott Hendershot
- Tom Sherry
- Jim Watters
- Bernd Dohrmann
- Carl von Einem
- Carlos Cartola 1st model (Brazil)
- Carlos Cartola model #2 (Brazil)
- Carlos Cartola model #7.1 (Brazil)
- Tilman Bremer (German)
- Tilman Bremer (English)
- Thomas Pryds
- Pete Prodoehl
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
- 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.