You need a good tripod, and a good ball head, but the correct ball head clamp is most important.
Many newbies to the panorama game often immediately buy a tripod and a ball head with a “panoramic” base. Well, the unfortunate thing is that most of the time the base is the worst place to make your adjustments. The only time it really works is if your tripod has a bowl on it, and then you usually need to spend another 100-200 dollars picking up the leveling bowl to go with your tripod. The problem with this is you still end up having to level both your tripod base and your camera on the ball head, and they must be exactly parallel to one another (nearly impossible) or else your panoramas will not turn out flat.
A more convenient and cheaper solution is to use a rotating clamp on a ball head like the RRS rotating Arca-Swiss clamp. Now you only need to level the ball head using the main tensioning knob, and the rotations will always be flat because your camera is clamped perfectly into the rotation mechanism.
Ultra-wide-angle lenses are not necessary for panoramas.
It may seem like a great idea in theory, but 99% of the time an ultra-wide is basically a waste of time for panorama shooting. The first problem is that ultra-wide angles can make shooting the panorama more difficult due to parallax effects.
The main issue is that any lens wider than 20mm is probably already capturing more than enough of the scene on its own, so a panorama is unnecessary with such a lens, and when stitched together ultra-wide panoramas tend to have odd perspective effects that are nothing like “normal” reality.
Below is an example of a panorama shot with an ultra-wide-angle lens.
I like how it looks but it is a little weird I have to admit. It looks real and it doesn’t look real at the same time, which is an odd thing that some people probably find disconcerting. For this reason I have shifted away from using ultra-wide-angles for panoramas.
The best focal lengths to use for most panoramas are 24mm to 50mm. With a 35mm to 50mm lens in a portrait orientation you can get a nice tall panorama while avoiding parallax and maintaining a perspective that looks like something you would see with your own eyes.
Multi-row panoramas are a great way to make high-resolution images.
Are you jealous of your friend’s medium format camera? Fear not, it is possible to blow past even the highest resolution medium format cameras by stitching multi-row panoramas at longer focal lengths in the 24mm-70mm range.
Below is an example of a “panorama” that is made up of multiple images stitched together.
The full file is too big to be uploaded as it is 191 megapixels but the scaled down image below is made up of 9 images shot in 3 rows at 70mm on my EOS R. Going from 30MP to 191MP seems like a pretty good trade off that only requires a decent stable tripod and panorama rig to pull off. Here is the image:
Panoramas hide lens defects.
One of the nice side effects of panoramas is that shooting them tends to mask things like a lack of sharpness, corner vignette, and chromatic aberration, that are usually worst around the edges of a lens’s image. This happens when the final image is stitched together because the overlapping areas are thrown out, and by the nature of how panoramas are stitched the overlapping areas are the edges of the frame where the image quality is lowest. How convenient!! Additionally, as I mentioned above, it’s very easy to create a super high-resolution panorama. Because of that high resolution there is a lot of leeway to down sample your images which will let you add some sharpness simply with the photoshop resize image command. For this reason, I highly recommend using a small aperture like f/11 – f/16 when grabbing your panoramas. If you are concerned about image softness from these small apertures, don’t be, you’ll have such a huge image in the end it won’t matter. You’ll be able to downsize to a still respectable 45MP or so and have a razor sharp image even if using a “bad” lens shot at a tiny aperture.
An increase in focal length is an increase in resolution.
If you don’t shoot panoramas it can be easy to miss that a zoom lens does not just get “closer” to the subject, it is also increasing the resolution on the subject. Naturally if you have a zoom lens and you shoot a panorama zoomed in a little the end result is a higher resolution panorama. Of course you have to take many more shots the more you zoom in but the lesson is a good one. Resolution is not just a function of your sensor size as many tend to believe, it can be much more effective and easier to just shoot a quick panorama of a scene by zooming in and breaking the shot up into separate images. That is why a camera like the EOS R5 is so powerful, with 6 quick shots on an R5 I can easily blow past 150MP and probably get well over 200MP in the final image. When you get into these huge resolutions you do start to wonder just how much resolution is there?
Not every scene has more resolution in it.
One of my favorite benefits from shooting panoramas is the increase in resolution they provide. It’s just cool to have a gigantic image on your computer than you can zoom into seemingly forever to view all details, but not every scene provides that kind of resolution. If a large proportion of your scene is more than a few thousand feet away (like the view from a mountain top) you probably won’t gain much by trying to zoom in to increase the resolution. You are much better off just making it easier on yourself by shooting fewer shots at a wider focal length.
You can make the camera sensor appear bigger than it really is.
Have you ever heard of the “medium format look”? It is the belief that larger sensors provide a stronger transition to out of focus areas. If you have the same angle of view on 35mm vs 6×6 medium format the strength of the background blur will be much higher on the medium format camera at the same aperture. The problem for medium format is that companies like Canon made extremely large aperture lenses like the 85mm f/1.2 L which bring medium format levels of background blur to FF cameras. Now imagine shooting a panorama with an 85mm f/1.2 L, the end result is an image that will appear to have been shot at a much wider angle of view, but will have 85mm f/1.2 levels of bokeh across the entire frame. The resulting impression is that the image was made on a larger sensor. You can make it work for portraits too if you use your imagination.
And that’s about it!
I learned a lot of things from panoramas but the most important thing I learned is that they’re fun to make and it’s always a bit of a surprise seeing what the final image looks like!
Here are a few panoramas for you to enjoy! Thanks for reading.