Published: November 23, 2017
We have many articles on panoramas.
- Creating a Night Panorama
- Panorama Pursuit
- Improving Your Panoramas
- Lickety Stitcher in Lightroom + Panoramas IN Lightroom
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.
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.
- $19.99 Neewer 200mm Rail Nodal, Quick Release Clamp 
- $28.99 Koolehaoda 360° Panoramic Head  This unit was chosen because all the other possibilities had very long lead times.
- $16.95 Desmond 200mm DLR-2002
- $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.
 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.
 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:
- If you already have a panning clamp on the top deck of your ball head, level the deck and use the existing panning clamp.
- 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.
- 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).
If assembling a multi-row panoramic head from parts is not exciting, there are several pre-built options.
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).
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.
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.
I have the RRS PG-01. I can tell there is a bubble level on the horizontal bar.
It works quite well but is designed for lightweighted (mirrorless) camera’s. I use it with a EOS 5D4 with EF24-70L II or TS-E17L and I have no trouble with the weight. Using heavy equipment I would advise the larger version PG-02
Interesting. We contacted RRS and they told us that only the version of the PG-01 with the leveling system had a level in it. Thanks for the feedback. PS if you have a photo of it, that would be a great help.
How did you secure part 2 to part 3??? The screw you used is not included in the above set up….
Excellent question. One of the rails came with an assortment of screws and one of those screws worked perfectly.
I have a Arca Swiss ballhead. Can I use this along with a leveling base, instead of buying another ballhead?
Yes, of course. It *might* be possible to invert your Arca Swiss ball head as we did with the Acratech and you then wouldn’t need a leveling base. Depends whether your base has a separate knob for rotation lock (many do not).
I would not recommend the ProMaster GH25K Gimbal Pan Kit (generally any gimbal head), as it is not really a panoramic head. It is constructed to make movement of heavier cameras more easier on the tripod. The main problem there is that you cannot set the nodal point correctly and as you change the elevation, the nodal position is changed, too. Especially when making multirow panorama with close objects in the bottom this head will corrupt the stitching.
@Pavel: I believe the way to fix that problem is to adjust the height of the plate so that the center of rotation (up down) occurs at the nodal point of the lens. In the image above, it’s a matter of raising or lowering the quick release mount plate so that the arrow at the top is at the *center* of the lens. Indeed I worried about that myself until I discovered that that plate could also be adjusted. The same adjustment trick can be used as the one I show in the video and is illustrated with the Really Right Stuff PG-02 photo.
Thanks so much, I used your parts list to make a pano rig and I really like it. I did however make two modifications that work for me. I replaced the Desmond DLR2002 vertical rail with another Neewer nodal rail which eliminated the need to bolt the pano head to the rail. It just clamps in to the arca swiss slot on the vertical nodal rail. I also got a second pano head that the whole rig sits on. It mounts on my normal ballhead right way up. The whole rig goes on and off in a few seconds and doesn’t affect the normal configuration of the tripod but still lets me level the rig very simply. Again my thanks I never would have gone down this road if not for your efforts putting this together.
We used what we could get… can you provide links to the parts you used? Thanks for the praise, and we always welcome improvements!