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Multi Row Panorama Rig

We have many articles on panoramas.

The point of this article is to describe the multi-row panorama apparatus I created with off-the-shelf, inexpensive parts from Amazon. The good news is assembly is pretty simple. When you are done you will have a gimbal style mount suitable for taking multi-row panoramas using a modestly sized camera/lens combination. It is important to point out that you need a sturdy tripod and head beneath as the extra top-heaviness will tax a wimpy head or spindly legged tripod. I use the Gitzo mountaineer series tripod – it is lightweight, stable and has served me well for many years. I also have an older (much heavier) aluminum-legged Manfrotto. I have Acratech ball heads on each tripod. Those Acratech heads are really light, and solid. I HIGHLY recommend them.

Multi-Row Panorama Gear in action at Asilomar State Beach, California

What is a Single-Row Panorama (or Vertorama)

A single row panorama is what you get when you take a series of photos left to right (or right to left) – usually in portrait mode to extend the field of view up to 360 degrees. A vertorama is the same idea, except you usually use landscape mode. In either case, the camera needs to be rotate around the “nodal point” or “no parallax” point. The no parallax point is usually found IN the lens, and is thus never where you attach the camera to a tripod.

What is a “Multi-Row” Panorama?

Imagine taking a single row panorama, then repointing up (or down) and taking another single row panorama. Now you have a multi-row shot.

Here is my parts list all purchased from Amazon.

  1.  $19.99 Neewer 200mm Rail Nodal, Quick Release Clamp  [1]
  2.  $28.99 Koolehaoda 360° Panoramic Head  [2] This unit was chosen because all the other possibilities had very long lead times.
  3.  $16.95 Desmond 200mm DLR-2002
  4.  $39.95 Desmond DVC-220 220mm Rail 90° Arca Compatible w Vertical Clamp instead of this 90 degree rail, you can also buy a regular rail (another #3) and a 90 degree clamp.

Total is about $125 USD and weighs just under 2 pounds.

NOTES:
[1] You can get shorter or longer rails. Might as well get the longer one. While it is heavier, you can use it with a longer lens.

[2] If you have an old tripod head, it may have a panning clamp and/or leveling base that you can re-purpose.

Other Items to Consider

  • $430.00 Acratech GPs-s Ballhead with Clamp Ball Head with Arca Clamp. This one is not required, but it’s really good and has the advantage of being usable without a leveling base by using it “upside down”. And yes, it is designed to be used that way, notice how the markings are repeated so that they are visible right side up, and up side down.
  • ($60-$200) L-Bracket (arca swiss) for your particular camera
  • Leveling base.
  • At minimum you will need a bubble level somewhere on the horizontal surface or a means to align the unit perpendicular to the ground.

Assembly and Alignment

Assembly is straight forward. The only tricky part may be securely mounting the Panoramic clamp to the vertical rail. All the rest go together with the built-on clamps.

What If I Do NOT Have My Ball Head Upside Down?

As we show in the video, we have mounted our Acratech GP-s head “upside down”. This allows us to level what was the base using the ball head and then use the rotation of the base as a horizontal panning clamp.  There are several ways you can proceed if you do not, or cannot use your tripod in this way:

  1. If you already have a panning clamp on the top deck of your ball head, level the deck and use the existing panning clamp.
  2. If your ball head has a panning base, you can carefully align the tripod so that the head mount (the deck where your ball head attaches) is level. Then align the clamp so that it is level as well. You can use the panning  base of your ball head. Note this is not easy to get right, but a slight misalignment is usually easy to correct in the stitched photos.
    NOTE: Be sure to check for level-ness through a complete rotation!  Our Acratech Nomad ball head, for example, is not designed to be easily mounted upside down, and this method is what we use.
  3. If your ball head does NOT have a panning base, then you can buy a second panning clamp and attach that to your ball head clamp (or replace your existing clamp with a panning clamp).  WARNING: Not all panning clamps are easily attached to arbitrary ball heads as there is little standardization

 

Taking and “Stitching” Panoramic Photos

Since we have plenty of material on how to  do this, we will refer you to our prior articles (see the top of this page).


Alternative Hardware

If assembling a multi-row panoramic head from parts is not exciting, there are several pre-built options.

ProMaster GH25K Gimbal Pan Kit

ProMaster GH25K Gimbal Pan Kit

At about  $300 USD, it seems pretty well built. The flaws in the design are:

  • It does not have  a leveling base,
  • While the bottom head (vertical axis) has handy detent stops, the horizontal axis does not.
  • There is no bubble level on the base.

I have not used one, but found and played with one in a local camera store, and saw that is also available online. Like the system we laid out above, do not expect this rig to hold up your 20 pound camera/lens combination. Total weight is about 2 pounds and rated capacity about 7 pounds.

 

Really Right Stuff Multi-Row Pano Package – PG-01 or PG-02 (the Big One)

There are two units. The PG-01 which is similar to what we custom-built above at a price of $285 USD (at B&H). The other option is a beast. And at $795 USD (from B&H) is not cheap, nor complete. You may still need a leveling base. There are many options available, too, including a gimbal cradle. Check out the possible configurations at the Really Right Stuff website (though when we last checked the units were on back-order).

PG-01 for smaller cameras (non telephoto lenses)

You will also need a nodal rail to pair with the above. There are no detent stops for this, and as with others, you’ll need to level your base to use this.  (There is also an option that includes a leveling base for about $290). One reviewer reported that he had trouble keeping his moderately heavy camera from slouching down on the vertical arm. There does not appear to be a bubble level on the horizontal bar as there is on the larger model.  The version with the built-in leveling base clearly does have a bubble level. There are no detents to set up fixed rotational amounts. Note that the vertical rotational axis clamp is located under where your camera would be and might be inconveniently located.Total weight is about 1.3 pounds with the two pieces plus a nodal rail.

 

The Really Right Stuff PG-02 Panorama Kit (from B&H)

 

As with all Really Right Stuff gear, there is some seriously thoughtful design and overbuilding here. It is beefy with big easy to find knobs, great clamps and little touches like the target on the center of the rotational axis. Why is that a good idea? If you align the bulls-eye target in the center of your image (see our video), you have the correct location for multi-row panoramas (provided the set back is correct). You may still need a leveling base (though might be able to use the bubble level at the right edge). You can replace your current head with this unit and have full mobility, otherwise you’ll need a plate to mount the unit to your ball head.  All that great design costs money though: about $795 and up. Weight is about 3.3 pounds.

Exploring Night Photography 4 – Stars and Star Trails

Published: April 27, 2016
Last Update: None Yet.

 

Listening to the Sky II [B_025555-714c]

Last week, in Lesson 3, we managed to get through all the creative example slides in a marathon overly long meeting.  We also talked about what makes a better camera and lens for night photography – and why “full frame” cameras are better at squelching noise than crop cameras – megapixels being equal. The bottom line is that larger sensors usually have larger sensor area to collect light. The larger area collecting light makes larger sensors produce less noise in comparison to the total light collected. A related, whimsical illustration can be found here.  Yes, rather technical, but some of our students want to know!

Inclement weather means we are stuck to an indoor session, but our photos need processing! We are took a second look at focusing tricks since it is a recurring issue. Indeed, we have covered focus in not one, but two prior articles which we reference here.  One method for focus is the Bahtinov mask. The Bahtinov mask is aimed at astrophotographers, but it works well with a regular camera, too. Our more normal list of focus tricks can be found in this article.

Like many other night photography subjects, we have done extensive writing about creating star trails. It is no wonder then that we are called “StarCircleAcademy”. Rather than try to summarize many years worth of writing it seems wisest to point you to the articles where different star trail discussions have been chronicled.

It all starts Here – A treatise on taking star and star trail shots. After that…

  1. How to combine multiple shots into a star trail is here in this step by step guide.
  2. How do you get a better star trail?  Try this.
  3. Want to do fancy stuff? Try these tricks, or our AdvancedStackerPlus (Photoshop plugin).
  4. Is there more, why of course… but we notice your head is spinning, so we will let it rest for a while.  😉

Last Week’s Homework

  1. Use the light you were given in class to write a message or draw an image in light.
    XNP_3_Marcie XNP_3_tracie XNP_3_Tricia
  2. The moon is full, if you didn’t work out settings for capturing the moon. Something on the order of 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 4000; or 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 800; or f/9, 1/200s, ISO 400 (latter is best overall as lower ISO means less noise).
  3. Find a way to make a strong white flashlight a different color… several methods were demonstrated in class. Simple examples: colored cellophane (bread wrapper, etc), bounce light off of or shine through colored paper, or even use your hand as a reflector / light bouncer.
  4. Blue “white” LED flashlight can be made warmer using your hand or something in the yellowish range – see above.
  5. Gaffers Tape can be used for all sorts of things, stopping light leaks through the viewfinder (Nikons are notorious for this), making a “snoot” for a light, covering over offendingly bright lights… and even holding stuff together.

This Week’s Assignment

  • Weather Permitting, get at least 20 minutes worth of star trails.  First determine what the best starting exposure is, then take 20 minutes worth.  More is better, though for the reasons we demonstrated in class.
  • Get StarStax or AdvancedStackerPlus for Photoshop and combine those trails. Or do it by hand in Photoshop.

NOTE: If the stars refuse to shine for you, that doesn’t mean you have to do a “star trail”. You can use the same trick to “expand time” nearly any kind of shot.  Like this daylight sunset shot, for example:

Space Time ContinuumThis is not a star trail, but it was a sequence of shots combined using the same trick. You could even, for example, do a series of light painting.

Exploring Night Photography – Lesson 1

Original Publish Date: 06-April-2016
Last Revision: 07-April-2016

The Rise and Fall

Hello. Welcome to night photography. This is the first of 6 lessons on Night Photography based on a weekly in-person course taught by Steven Christenson.  Shall we begin?

Ponderables

What is a photograph, really?

Wait… don’t rush off and start reading something else. This is an important question worth spending more than a few seconds on. Perhaps another way to ask this question is what are the essentials to create a photograph?

The class came up with the following answers:

  • A photograph is a record of a moment in time.
  • A photograph is a means to evoke emotion or connectedness.
  • A photograph is a record of light over time.

All good answers, bonus points awarded to the last answer. The key words are light and time.  A better photograph is one that also instills emotion or connectedness, but ultimately a photograph is a record of light.

Goals

  • Use manual mode
  • Understand light
  • Use camera self timer

In class we will be covering those goals point by point. For the reader, start with your camera. Set it into Manual mode (not automatic, aperture priority or shutter priority). Not one of those fancy “portrait” or starlight modes either. Manual. usually it’s “M” on your camera.  Next be sure you know how to set and use the “self timer” on your camera. Most cameras have one with e.g. 2 or 10 second delays.

Finally, turn off auto-focus. The experiments we do in class do not require focus to be accurate or correct. If you do not turn OFF autofocus, your camera may refuse to take a photo.

In class we darkened the room as much as possible. We started with an aperture priority shot (f 4.0, ISO 400) and noted that the different cameras all took different exposures – none of which revealed much detail.  We then demonstrated how the effect of a quickly or slowly moving light altered the results. Unfortunately there is no simple way to duplicate those tasks for the reader as they are situation dependent.

For Further Study

  1. Mastering the basics: The three components of an exposure are  ______,  ______, and  _______
  2. To get a good exposure if you change the (a) _______ you must change the (b) _______ or (c) _______.
  3. What does “1 stop” (up/down) mean?
  4. How can you judge the “quality” of a photo without looking at the photo? (This is not a trick question!)

Homework Assignments

Exposure Experiment  – in a DARK outdoor environment.

  1. Set your aperture to f/8. Set your camera to “aperture priority” and take an exposure, make note of the exposure setting (shutter speed). Next change to manual mode. Use the same aperture (f/8), and divide the previous shutter speed by 4. Take an exposure at that setting. Make 7 more exposures doubling the exposure time (1 stop more) each time.
  2. Pick the “best” exposure from above and divide the shutter speed by 4. Open the aperture by 2 stops. Take an exposure. Double the exposure time and decrease the aperture by 1 stop. Repeat this process until you reach the minimum aperture for your lens.
  3. Look through all the exposures. What are the most noticeable differences?
  4. Extra credit: Experiment and see if you can find settings to capture stars in the sky while including some land, too.
  5. Extra, extra credit: Work out what exposure settings will capture details in the moon (that is, not a “white blob”, but something that shows the phase and “man” in the moon). What do you notice about the stars in the shot showing detail in the moon? [To do this, you will have to be up when the moon is up!]First Light - Luna

Creativity Assignment – Use MANUAL mode only.

  1. From your experiments, select the best settings for a 10 second exposure. Try capturing something that is lit (and moving).
  2. Walk through your shot while it is exposing (may need to use self timer to start it).
  3. Repeat the above, but stand still in the shot.
  4. Extra credit: Try using a (dim) flashlight… what happens?

 

Next Week: Getting (More) Creative

Want some inspiration: Watch this slide show.

 

Ready for Lesson 2?

Off Topic Post Ahead: Combating Robocalls

Last Revision: 18-December-2016

Boy have we been busy at StarCircleAcademy. Eric has been burning the midnight oil in his day job being a mad scientist and all.  Steven survived layoffs at his day job and found his workload tripled, and Harold keeps plugging away writing, teaching and creating full time.

We are going a different direction with this article which we hope you’ll regard as a public service announcement.  Even though Steven lives in the Silicon Valley, his only high-speed option was Comcast/Xfinity which rates an “F” on the Better Business Bureau. But this article is not about Xfinity, their egregiously intentionally confusing pricing, or their inept customer service.

Death to robocallers

Death to robocallers

We Are Tackling Robocallers – And Saving You $

With high speed internet, it’s now possible for Steven to more effectively run Webinars at home as well as work from home part of the week on his day job. But this gave rise to severe annoyance.  One day while working at home Steven got 11 “robocalls” from telemarketers including a call you’ve probably gotten before.  The most famous fraudulent (and illegal) caller is “Rachel of CardHolder Services“. You probably have gotten robocalls yourself, even if you, like us, have been on the Do Not Call list for a long time. Even though Steven has successfully sued telemarketers in the past the RoboCallers with their automated voice messages are hard targets to assault via small claims courts. Robocallers spoof phone numbers and you can not find out who they really are without following the money (i.e. paying for the scam).

The FTC even held a contest to find a way to stop robocalls. The winner was NoMoRobo.com. NoMoRobo is rather ingenious.  You configure your phone to simultaneously ring a number at NoMoRobo which analyzes the calling number. If the calling number is a suspected robocaller – NoMoRobo answers the call for you and your phone stops ringing.  In short, you don’t have to hang up on the RoboCaller yourself, NoMoRobo will do it.

BUT There is a catch.  Many, many services do not support simultaneous ring, including AT&T, or Xfinity’s (overpriced) voice offering.  AT&T has all sorts of very expensive plans to “help”, but mostly they help themselves to your money and provide next to zero value.

At AT&T a landline phone with CallerID, Anonymous call rejection and number blocking will cost about $45 / month after all fees and taxes. There will be a significant limit to how many numbers you can block while the robocallers can spoof any number they wish.

But if you already have a decently fast internet, you can get VoIP from providers for less than $11/month.  Who? PhonePower Ooma Google Voice for one. But we will get to that in a minute.

Here is how I set up my service:

  1. Call AT&T and tell them the Robocallers and telemarketers are annoying (IMPORTANT STEP!)
  2. Call AT&T and tell them I want “simultaneous ring” service so that I can use NoMoRobo to stop RoboCallers.
  3. Open an account with PhonePower** and wait for their device to arrive.  I *could* have moved my phone number to them, but decided it will be better to get a new number.
  4. Called AT&T and told them I’d had enough and to cancel all services on my landline except call forwarding.  This gives me a few months to notify folks of my new phone number… and I get more features out of PhonePower at a lower price.
  5. Installed my device and configured my landline to forward to the new number.
  6. Unplugged my cordless phone from my landline jack and plugged it into the jack on the device (an ObiHai, or if using OOMA, the Telo).
  7. Signed up with NoMoRobo.com (free).
  8. Registered my new phone number (and reregistered my old numbers) to the US Do Not Call list.
  9. Configured my PhonePower line to first ring the NoMoRobo number for 6 seconds, then to ring my PhonePower number.  This is BETTER than simultaneous ring because it doesn’t ring the phone in my house until AFTER NoMoRobo has had a chance to disconnect it for me.

Wondering why I’ve removed “PhonePower”. I can no longer recommend them. Horrible billing practices and customer support.

What Can You Do?

You can report the number to the FTC here.  Too bad their site is painful to use.

Change your answering machine greeting

“Please Hold for a second…..  (several second pause) You’ve reached us. Leave a message”.

Why? Because robocaller software listens to the line and when they think they’ve got a live person speaking, they play out their message or connect you to an agent. By leaving a pause and using a short greeting, you convince them into thinking your answering machine is a live person which causes them to leave a message or summon a live person whose time you want to waste as much of as possible (see next item). Also, if it’s a Robocall and you fooled it into leaving a message you will have proof of their call should you need it in court!

Answer It Yourself… and Do THIS if you get a Live Person

The worst thing you can do for your fellow man is to immediately hang up. The worst thing you can do for you own sanity is to scream or shout obscenities (though sometimes it is quite therapeutic). As soon as you realize it is a telemarketer say:  “Sounds interesting, Tell me more.” Then put your phone on mute, put it down and do not hang up until you hear the “re-order” (phone off hook) tone.

Why?
A> Every second they spend on you they cannot annoy someone else.  A few days ago I had a caller who called back three times. The second time he called he said “so are you interested?”  I said: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you very well, could you explain again?” (MUTE). The third time “I’m still confused, explain the benefits…”
B> Most telemarketers are trained to not hang up until they are clearly dismissed… if you make it easy for them to move on they will.

Isn’t it mean to waste their time?  Perhaps, but remember they called you in violation of the Do Not Call rules!

NEVER Do Business with a Telemarketer

If you’re on the Do Not Call list and they are calling you anyway they are unethical and willing to get business illegally. Does that sound like a business you want to do ANYTHING for you?

Do Not Answer Any Questions in a “Survey”

First, many surveys – which are permitted under the Do Not Call rules – are actually marketing scams pretending that they are surveys. Either you’ll get the sales part right away, or you’ll be placed on a list to recall if they find out ANYTHING useful from you. Do not even acknowledge your name! As soon as they ask anything or give an inclination that they are a “survey” I tell them to “Put this number on your do not call list and send me a copy of your do not call policy.”  While survey takers are not required to do either, it’s worth a try.  If they press or say “we are exempt” then my response is: “And for that reason I will not participate in any survey.” Or you can participate in their survey and make up bogus answers.

Will These Tips Stop All the Calls?

Sadly, no. Political organizations, charities, and several other exemptions exist that allow those organizations to call you notwithstanding your status on the Do Not Call list.  Robocall scofflaws have also started spoofing (pretending to dial from) local numbers and businesses. You might even get what appears to be a call from your own number.  The only way to put an end to all the calls is to get a service that pre-answers and requires the user to press some (random) digits to connect to you.

What About Phone Power (OOMA, Vonage)?

PhonePower is one of many companies providing Voice over IP service. You’ve no doubt heard of Vonage, for example. But Vonage charges about $28/month (do not be misled that $9.99 price is temporary and doesn’t include all fees).  At Vonage you have to pay extra for a SoftPhone (computer based phone), for example.  Phone Power on the other hand acquired BroadVoice a company with whom I had service for several years with good service. Unfortunately PhonePower took a nose dive with unreasonable billing practices and inconsistent to no customer support. OOMA, unfortunately is not any better. Vonage’s cheaper service might make sense – the catch: minutes over 400 per month will cost 5 cents each at Vonage.

Additional strikes against PhonePower, are that the service is nerdy to configure, their user interface is a tad clunky, and they do not have a feature like “call intercept”. See a review I wrote of PhonePower here. They have been hammered on Yelp, too. Much of the yelping seems to be over done, though.  I have also been less than thrilled with both tech support and the billing support.

Are There Other Alternatives?

Oh yeah. Google Voice, which is super cool and COMPLETELY free and it has some spam caller detection features. All you need is an ObiHai device and a decent internet connection.

Beware with others you may end up with a poorly supported expensive service – like those from Comcast and other cable services.