Panoramic photography

Panoramic photography is a great way of presenting a landscape. Anything above the 2:1 ratio can be considered as a panoramic photo. Back in the days of film there was the wonderful Hasselblad XPAN for 35mm format, and then the large medium format cameras from 6×12 to 6×24. I believe the most representative panoramic format was the 6×17, and it was one of he reasons I purchased the a Gaoersi 617 camera.

With digital cameras, panoramic photography became much easier to do with any type of camera, since stitching digital images was relatively easy and it could also create photos with huge megapixels count. Today, any decent smartphone can automatically capture a panoramic photo, but of course creating a good quality pano which can printed at large size (as it is meant to be) it’s a different story.

Last weekend I was once again at the wonderful location of Meteora to shoot some pano images. I also took the opportunity of making a short video showing both the beauty of this location, and also the procedure of making a pano photo with the Gaoersi camera. I also used the Nikon D800E and had a chance to compare the results of both cameras.

For starters, here is the video.

Operating a 6×17 camera requires some effort comparing to a normal camera. It approaches the way someone uses a large format camera. You only get 4 frames in roll, so each frame counts. The Gaoersi has a ground glass which you can use in each shot since it has a removable film back. You frame, focus, place the filters in the position you want and then insert the film back. I always use my Sekonic meter to calculate exposure, set the aperture and shutter speed, remove the dark slide and make the shot. It is a straightforward process, but there is room for errors if you are not careful enough. Most common mistakes is to forget to remove the dark slide before the shot, or forget to close the diaphragm blades before inserting the film back (you need to open the diaphragm blades in order to use the ground glass). I don’t make these mistakes anymore, but I have ruined some good images in the past this way !

The digital approach in making a pano image, also requires much attention. First of all I calculate exposure, and then set the setting manually. Manual mode ensures that each image will have the same exposure (besides ISO, aperture and shutter I also set the White Balance manually). I focus the lens and then turn to manual focus mode to ensure that focus remains the same for each shot.

While the Gaoersi viewfinder allows you to frame the shot exactly as you want, with the Nikon I do not have that option. What I do is use the Gaoersi viewfinder to frame a shot, and then start shooting with my digital camera consecutive shots. I always shoot some extra shots around my subject to be sure that I have included the full picture I planned to capture. It is better to crop later than find out that there are parts missing. An overlap of about 30% is what use when shooting my consecutive images.

Using filters is quite difficult since you are not dealing with a single shot, so I usually underexpose a little to retain highlight. The D800E is excellent at shadows recovering, so underexposing is not a problem.

Finally, something that is crucial is levelling correctly the camera. A panoramic head is ideal for this purpose, and there are technical things like nodal point, but so far, I had excellent results with my normal tripod head, so I am not going to get into this subject. The most important thing here is to remember to properly level the camera between shots, in order to “help” software make a better stitch in post process.

Let’s see some photos now.

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Both cameras did an excellent job. The use of a red filter in the Gaoersi reveals better details in the sky and background (you can see the mountains at the back) , you cannot emulate that by adding a b&w red filter preset in post process.

Now, let’s see a zoom crop of the images above.

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The Nikon D800E has clear advantage in terms of resolution, since it’s actually a collage of eight 36 megapixels photos. But I was really impressed by the resolution a single 6×17 frame carries. Keep in mind that the scanning was done with a flatbed Epson V700. A scanner like the Nikon Coolscan 9000 or a drum scanner would reveal a much better detail closing the gap between the the two cameras. Of course you can shoot more digital photos and further increase the resolution but there are things to consider here.

The more images you shoot, you increase the odds of creating a stitching problem. This specific shot does not have any moving elements like water, visible leaves on trees which could be moving in a windy day, people moving, etc., so it was a an easy stitch.

The Nikon D800E is a game changer in many things, and the huge 36mp resolution is invaluable for this kind of photography. It allows the creation of multi megapixels images (panoramas included) with just a few shots. With other cameras there are more shots required to reach the same results, increasing the possibility of making an error. I use my Gaoersi much less than before since I purchased the D800E, but still I much prefer in certain situations to have a single panoramic shot than having to deal with corrections in post process. I have seen Gigapans on the net very impressive and without any stitch faults, but I know this required a great effort in post process. As I have mentioned repeatedly, I prefer to spend more time in the field than in front of a computer monitor, so in difficult subjects I will always prefer the Gaoersi over the Nikon. For people who don’t mind or have the patience making corrections in post process, it could be the other way around.

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Again, the red filter allowed the film camera to capture more details in the background, but it also increased contrast and reduced tonality.

Now, the crops.

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The D800E is once more ahead in terms of resolution but not by far. Again, a better scanner would yield better results and a large number of stitched shots would also increase the resolution of the Nikon.

One thing that cannot be shown in the computer screen is the way these images look when printed. I have printed these images at 180×60 cm size (that’s 70×23 inches) and they look spectacular. I was expecting that from the Nikon since the final digital stitch was 140 megapixes (20700 x 6920 pixels), but I was really impressed by the printed film photo, since I didn’t expect the Epson V700 to be able produce such good results at these print sizes. I can only imagine a scan from a dedicated film scanner will look like. I also was impressed by the performance of the Fuji Acros 100 film. I have mainly shot landscapes with Ilford Delta 100 and Kodak TMAX 100 films, but I will definatelly use more Acros 100 rolls in the future. One more thing that look great on paper, it the tonality of the black and white film, even with the use of the red filter. These are things you cannot easily notice on the sreen, the 300dpi resolution of a print seems completely different.

Now, comparing both cameras is possible, but this was not the point of my article. A good 6×17 panoramic camera in not cheap, and the film also costs money. I believe that someone should really be dedicated to panoramas to go the analog way. The results can be stunning with black and white film, and of course with using slide film like the unique Fuji Velvia, but with digital you can also produce stunning panoramas. With proper technique, you can create huge images and today we have digital cameras with amazing image quality, so each one can choose the medium he/she prefers.

I enjoy using both my analog panoramic and my Nikon cameras and choose the one which serves my needs better, according to the situation.

Some technical info: I used the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with the Nikon D800E, at 50mm. It’s away form the zoom edges and provides a great image quality. Shot at f/7. 1 which I consider it to be a good spot between the lens and sensor’s optimum aperture. On the Gaoersi I have the Nikkor 90mm f/4.5 SW lens. Although large and heavy, the f/4.5 provides adequate light for the ground glass. For filters, I use the LEE system which is very helpful with ND Grads and using multiple filters at the same time. Finally, the video was shot with a Sony CX730E video camera and the close ups with Sony NEX 5N and Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 which allows a razor thin depth of field for creatives shots.

Enjoy the rest of the images.

Gaoersi 617

Gaoersi 617

Nikon D800E

Nikon D800E

Nikon D800E

Nikon D800E

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©2014 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.

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4 Responses to Panoramic photography

  1. Frank says:

    Very informative, thank you!
    I always measure the exposure at/on the lightest part of the scene, before turning my digicam to manual and AEL. Sometimes I underexpose by -0,3 to be certain, and always shoot raw.

    • kbesios says:

      I pretty much work the same way, highlights must be protected when shooting digital, and of course shooting RAW is the way to go !

  2. Brian says:

    Did you settle on a favorite b+w film then for high resolution… Acros 100? Thank you for sharing as this is just the kind of comparison I like to see – how film scans still hold up to the latest and greatest DSLRs and stitched higher resolution images.

    • kbesios says:

      I think Acros 100 is one of the best b&w films you can use today. And it also has excellent reciprocity which makes it suitable for long exposures.

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