3D Photography by Brian Greenstone, Austin TX

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HOW TO: Professional Pan-Head Rig

The Hardware

This is my professional rig that I use for panos that really need to be good. It is a simplified version of my complex rig, and it does a fantastic job of making my workflow go smoothly. The pan-head itself is a modified Manfrotto 303SPH and the camera is a Canon 350D with a Sigma 8mm lens.
Canon 350D $850
Sigma 8mm Lens $400
Kaidan Hot Shoe Bubble Level $35
Manfrotto Quick Release 3299 Base $27
Manfrotto 303SPH Pan-Head $500
Velbon QHD-61D Ball Head w/ Bubble Levels & Quick Release Base $89
Manfrotto 3021N Tripod $130
Manfrotto Anti Twist Plate $20

Canon 350D / Digital Rebel XT

I really love this camera! It's incredibly lightweight, the battery lasts forever (even if I'm using the flash), and it takes excellent photos. My only beef might be that like most other digital SLR's it still only does 3 exposure bracketed shots, and these days for HDR photography we need much more than that.

Sigma 8mm Fisheye Lens

This lens is much better than the old Raynox conversion lens that I used to use with my Powershot Pro 1. There is virtually no smearing near the edges, and I get crystal clear shots. The chromatic abberation and vignetting is strong, but it's nothing that Photoshop's RAW importer can't fix.

Kaidan Hot-Shoe Bubble Level

I cannot understate how important this tiny little part is. The bubble levels on the tripod head only tell me if the base is level, but I need to know if the camera itself is level, so it's critical to have a bubble level on the camera to be sure that you're really level.

Modified Manfrotto 303SPH Pano Head

The 303SPH is a very good pan-head, but it lacks two things that confound me: a quick-release base for the camera, and any form of bubble levels. This is the only pan-head that I know of which doesn't have bubble levels. The rotator, however, is very good and very precise. The best part about the 303SPH is how easily modifiable it is. It can easily accomodate different camera/lens combos, and since it's made of many stock Manfrotto parts you can add things to it and build it up however you like. That's what I did with my old complex rig.

The main modification that I've made to the 303SPH is to remove the top slider bar assembly and replace it with an RC2 quick release base (see below). That top slider bar assembly that comes with the 303SPH is only needed if your camera's tripod mount is not aligned with the lens axis. None of my cameras have that problem, so I've never needed that top assembly. It went into the spare parts bin.

3299 Quick Release Base & Anti-Twist Plate

This simple part should have been standard-issue with the 303SPH, but since it wasn't I had to add it on myself:

This allows me to quickly remove the camera from the pan-head with just a flick of the lever. These Quick Release Bases come with the standard RC2 Quick Release plate that attaches to the camera. Unfortunately, no matter how tightly you attach that standard plate to the camera, it always ends up twisting. Luckily, Manfrotto makes a special anti-twist plate that works like a charm! This is basically the standard plate with a sliding metal lip that you can adjust to fit your camera:

With this thing attached you'll never have to worry about your camera twisting at all. Before I found this plate I was always re-tightening and adjusting the old RC2 plates, but now I attach it and forget about it.

Velbon QHD-61D w/ Quick Release

Manfrotto seems to have a thing against bubble levels for some reason. The 303SPH doesn't have one, and none of their RC2 quick releases have them either. So, unfortunately, I had to switch brands and go with the Velbon ball head since it had bubble levels and a quick release base/plate:

The dual-axis bubble levels allow for accruate leveling - much more accurate than using a single, circular bubble level. The quick release mechanism is good, but not as good as the RC2's since it lacks a locking lever.

Manfrotto 3021N Tripod

I chose this tripod because it was fairly lightweight for it's size (5.x lbs.). It can extend to around 6 feet or so which is more than I ever need. I've noticed, however, that with the center column fully extended, the heavy pan-head can occillate quite a bit, so I don't recommend extending the column too far for slow shutter speed shots.

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©2005-2009 Brian Greenstone