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Medium Format on a Shoestring — Shame on You to Not Have Panoramas in Your Bag of Tricks

April 28, 2014 — Published by


Outside of sports and animal photography, either

  1. there is something dynamic happening in your photos. In which case nobody in the world cares whether your image is more than four perfect megapixels (though they do care about overall contrast, clarity, color balance, saturation and low noise). After all, in a dynamic scene, your viewer’s going to be looking at the action. Or,
  2. there is nothing dynamic happening in your photos. In which case you can often use a tripod. And you can often make stitched panoramas, that completely blow away what you can possibly do with any single exposure of any portable camera.

Any old small-sensor camera and normal lens can make ridiculously wide angle F22 überphotos that look perfect all over — if you bother to download and use a freeware copy of Microsoft ICE or a modern panorama stitcher as part of your post-processing workflow.

An “indexing rotator” panorama head tripod setup lets you take a single-row, 2-frame, 30MP panorama in maybe 1 second. A 2-row 6-framer will set you back about 10 seconds, and boost you up into the 50-100MP range.

Click image for the originally 60MB, almost full quality 9,508 x 5,988 pixels panorama with clean, sharp corners... | RussellInCincinnati

Click image for the originally 60MB, almost full quality 9,508 x 5,988 pixels panorama with clean, sharp corners… | RussellInCincinnati

Good luck finding an 8mm wide angle lens for your full-frame 35mm camera that will give you this 130° horizontal angle of view with a single click of the shutter. The lens used here a plastic 35mm Sony prime.

Center crop | RussellInCincinnati

Center crop | RussellInCincinnati

Hope the extreme corners of your ultra wide angle lenses look as clean as this in a one meter wide enlargement?

Upper left corner crop | RussellInCincinnati

Upper left corner crop | RussellInCincinnati

Another use of panoramas is to reduce your tiny/cheap camera’s noise in impossibly dim lighting situations.

Pretty clean despite difficult light -- shot with a cheap camera setup (click for larger resolution). | RussellInCincinnati

Pretty clean despite difficult light — shot with a cheap camera setup (click for larger resolution). | RussellInCincinnati

Merge a few super noisy closeup frames into a single full angle of view, and then downsize the heck out of the 50MP to 100MP panorama.

High ISOs, such as 800 to 3,200 etc., work great with panoramas because you’ll be downsizing all your camera and lens sins away.

Now you would never settle for mere “medium format quality” i.e. for less than 200MP (perhaps super wide angle) images any more… for scenes where people are not running around.

A $150 to $250 used Sony NEX (check out eBay!) works fine. As do many plastic $50 lenses, such as an old Minolta 50mm F1.7 used with an inexpensive adapter. With panoramas, the possibly soft corners of conveniently small, inexpensive lenses are discarded anyway.

Part of the reason a merged panorama’s quality is so great is that you are approximating, via the time dimension, the dream situation of a huge, 3-dimensional, “spherically curved sensor” as you rotate the camera left and right, up and down, taking individual snaps at each rotated camera position for eventual merging.

The upshot is this:

Shame on you in 2014 if you pretend to care about real high quality images (or do paid photography) of static scenes, and you have not put together and practiced an easy panorama rig and workflow.

Posted by on April 28, 2014. Filed under Photog/Techniq. A word on our own regarding comments: Please practice mutual respect and nice grammar is never wrong. And why not support THEME. We love what we do and hope you enjoy our takes on photography. If you get new gear — or anything else for that matter —, please do so by clicking our AMAZON affiliate link — or shop via our trusted partners. Doesn't cost a cent more. Appreciate!
  • DanTHEME

    Behold, the good lies so close at hand!

    Great hands-on workaround, Russell.

  • dierk

    you are so right!

    I always wounder, why landscape photographers use wide angle lenses??
    10 years ago I bought a Panosaurus head for my Nikon D70, as the 6MPix where not enough, and printed these 1,50m wide. For about two years I almost 100% shot panoramas.

    The next step was, when I participated in the Beta program of Gigapan. I used the Epic motorized head for my small Leica D-Lux3 and made pictures from up to 200 frames with more than 800MPix.
    Here are these pictures at Gigapan (you may zoom endless in), some of the latest pictures are hand held!

    But most of the time I just shoot hand held, sometimes two or three rows, sometimes with a 75mm lens. Very often I have only one or two primes with me and shoot around the main scene to get a wider FOV.
    Here is one from yesterday made with the converted to infrared Sony NEX-7 with the tiny Leica Elmarit 28mm/2.8 hand held.
    For other sizes click here: