3D Photography by Brian Greenstone, Austin TX

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HOW TO: Simple Pano Rig

When hiking or going places where a tripod and pano head would be too heavy and bulky, I use this simpler monopod setup. Stitching panos taken with this rig is much more prone to error due to the massive parallax problems that can pop up, but it still is possible to take very good panos with this. All of the panos on this page here were taken with this setup.

Basically, this rig is just a monopod with a 90º rotator head on it:

This is a Velbon Neo Pod 6 monopod with a Manfrotto 3229 rotator / quick release head on it.

Velbon Neo Pod 6

This is an excellent monopod since it is lightweight and short enough to fit into a standard backpack. I can fit this monopod plus all my camera gear into my hiking backpack, and still have room for snacks and water. The monopod is carbon fiber, so it only weighs 1.3lbs. I can probably lose an extra 0.1lbs by detaching the shoulder strap (which is pretty useless, actually). On top of all of that, this monopod was relatively inexpensive at about $100. When fully extended, the monopod will give you a height of about 5'.

Manfrotto 3229 Head

This is the perfect $35 head for shooting panos on a monopod. It is easily adjusted to shoot zenith and nadir shots, and the integrated RC2 quick-release is the best. This is the same RC2 quick-release system that my complex rig uses, so I don't ever need to remove the plate from my camera since it can quickly attach to either rig.

To improve parallax issues that would arise from the lens nodal point not being centered, I tilt the camera a few degrees so that the monopod is actually at an angle when the camera is level. This moves the swivel point of the monopod closer to the camera lens nodal point as shown in these pictures:

To shoot the zenith and nadir shots, I simply rotate the camera and shoot:
When shooting the nadir shot, I rotate the camera such that I can hold the monopod at about a 45º angle. This keeps the monopod out of the shot (mostly), and keeps me from whacking innocent bystanders with the monopod.

Raynox CF185 Pro Circular Fisheye Lens

When shooting with a monopod, I always prefer to use my circular fisheye lens instead of my full-frame fisheye lens that I use with the complex rig. The reason I do this is because a full-frame fisheye lens does not capture enough vertical image when the camera is in landscape orientation:

As you can see in the above shot, the top and bottom of the image are cropped by a full-frame fisheye lens. This does not give enough overlap with the zenith and nadir shots to get a good stitch, especially in places where there is important detail in those areas. So, a circular fisheye lens solves that problem by providing 185º horizontally and vertically:

The other benefit to using this lens is that it weighs a lot less than the full-frame lens. It's quite a bit longer, but since weight is a key factor when using the monopod setup, this is a good thing. The only downside is that there is some resolution loss since fewer of the camera's CCD pixels get used with the circular fisheye lens. It doesn't make a huge difference in the final pano, however, but your panos will be maybe 15% smaller.

I've seen other people using L brackets with their monopods to put their camera into portrait orientation. Unfortunately, they have to do this if they're using a SLR camera such as a Canon 20D because there are no circular fisheye lenses available for DSLR's - at least none that don't cost more than the camera itself. People using DSLR's usually are stuck with the Nikkor or Sigma full-frame fisheye lenses. This is yet another reason why I prefer to use the Canon Powershot Pro 1 instead of a DSLR for my pano shooting. I have the option of using a full-frame fisheye with my complex rig, but I can use a circular fisheye for my monopod setup, thus making life easier for me in the end.

Shutter Speed Considerations

In addition to having parallax errors to deal with when using a monopod, the other issue is shutter speed. It's much more difficult to take indoor or dim shots with a monopod because you've got to lower the shutter speed and/or raise the ISO setting on the camera. As you lower the shutter speed blurring becomes an issue, and as you raise the ISO so that you can raise the shutter speed, then graininess becomes an issue. For example, this pano was shot at ISO 400 because of the dim light. That was the only way I could achieve a high shutter speed to prevent blurring, however, as you can see it's a pretty grainy image even after heavy processing with Noise Ninja.

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©2005-2009 Brian Greenstone