My panorama tripod head

Homebrewed.

Some of you have asked me in the past what I am using to capture these large panoramic images, knowing that a traditional tripod head just wouldn't do. For those of you who aren't practiced in the art of making multi-row panoramic images, a simple tripod head won't due for one big reason: parallax. Put your finger right between your eyes, about an inch from your face, close your left eye while keeping your right eye open, then open your right while keeping the left one closed. The relative position of your finger and the background has changed in switching eyes. This is because the relative position of the imager has changed with respect to the finger and background. The same idea applies to a panorama. If you move the camera, well, then the relative positions of objects in the frame has moved. Unless, you rotate the camera around what is called the nodal point of the lens - that is, the point where, as light from different objects passes through the lens, the light paths cross. How do you know where the nodal point is? Well the best way is to determine in empirically, but I will post on that another time. For our purposes here, the nodal point is approximately in the center of the lens.

Now there are commercial solutions to this problem. One product is by Nodal Ninja, it is extremely well built and precise and costs over $500 for the equivalent of what I have here. Another solution is made by GigaPan and costs nearly $1000 and is highly automatic. If you've got a few hundred bucks burning a whole in your pocket, go for those. If you're just here to make images and are a fan of the whole homebrew thing, well then check out what I was able to design and have a friend, Mike, build for about $50 in steel, hex bolts and washers from McMaster-Carr. You'll see this design lets me change the rise and shift for any camera - be it point and shoot, DSLR or medium format. It also is made of one quarter inch steel - which means it can handle just about any massive camera/lens combination you can throw at it. You can see in the photographs below how the design lets one rotate the camera around the nodal point in both the vertical and horizontal directions.

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Rotating around the nodal point
Rotating around the nodal point

I was shooting around the north side with Mike and another friend this past May and he snapped the following pic of our creation.

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