My 360 X180 VENTURE so far

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Terry
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My 360 X180 VENTURE
Or… The Trial Tribulations and Successes of my new venture into 360x180 on a budget.

I have wanted to extend my ability in Panorama stitching for some time, However it can be a fairly costly exercise to set up from scratch.

I had a few stipulations as to what I wanted to achieve and how to go about it.
  1. I wanted to do it in only Four shots around

  2. I wanted the simplest possible set up

  3. I wanted to shoot in the shortest possible time

  4. I wanted to be able stitch with exposure fusion

  5. I wanted the most cost effective high quality fisheye lens.

  6. I wanted the minimum but highly accurate hardware.

  7. I wanted to use my Fuji XE2 as the camera body.

  8. I would prefer to use a free stitching software if the limitations were not too restrictive.
One way or another I have resolved most of these issues successfully.

Hardware

There are a number of expensive camera lens options, if you wish to use a full frame camera and lens to archive a four shot around 360 x180 but rather fewer with an APS sensor. That reduces to perhaps only one when you want a professional quality output. The chois come down the the Four Thirds Samyang 7.5mm fish eye. For many reasons this will not work, as is, on an APS camera. But it can be very easily modified to do so.

Nodal Ninja sell a kit of parts and tools to do just that. This includes a new lens mount come lens ring and foot, and a new replacement lens hood. These are available for Sony, Canon M, and Fuji X cameras. Because of the dimensions of the cameras, the Sony and Canon cameras can be used with the Nodal Ninja R1 or R20 mounts with assorted bases. However the Fuji cameras can only be used with the NN R20 mount. (see photo.)

These all allow a four shots around sequence using a suitable rotator ( photo shows a NN mini 2 Rotator)
Of course if you do not mind a lot of fiddling about it is possible to use something like the NN 3 mk2 or 3.
However for consistent results the fixed setup shown, is far easier to use, and is used by a large proportion of specialist VR photographers ( and also Google Photographers)

As a point of interest, there is almost no advantage to use a full frame camera for this sort of work. This is mainly because the only way to view such images is electronically or online. And the sheer size of the files preclude using them at their maximum size. Even an Aps 16 megapixel sensor produces a stitched equirectangular image of over 9000 pixels on the long side. Which is itself an embarrassment of riches. And not something most viewers would want to download.

I was fortunate to come across a mint R1 set up as in the photograph at a stupidly low price on Facebook. However suitable Samyang 7.5mm lenses are rarely available second hand at much below £150. Though I did find one that I purchased for £85. Tragically it was decenterd and was only sharp in the top 1/3 of the image, this was swiftly returned and a mint very sharp replacement found for £145.

The Lens mount kit was purchased at full price from RedDoor, as they never come up for sale second hand. I fitted it to the lens, with great care, in less than 15 minutes.

Set Up

The final set up is shown in the second image.

In use, the camera is set for manual exposure and white balance and is of course manual focus.
I have set the shutter to electronic to eliminate all possibility of camera vibration, especially during Bracketed exposures for fusion. I use either an electric release or self timer when making the exposures.

The Samyang along with other fisheye lenses, are notorious for having an inaccurate focus scale (even though the lenses are individually shimmed) so either ignore them, or make a new index mark. In reality you rarely need to refocus once set, the depth of field is so massive.

Setting the lens attachment for the correct “nodal” point on a fisheye is usually problematic as such lenses have a variable no parallax point. However in this case Nodal Ninja have established the best point for us, and it is with this kit, set up 0.85 on the mount scale. (this is the same for the Canon M and Sony bodies as well, as it is a function of the lens.)

Software

There is really not much choice when it come to software.

And I spent a few days exploring the options and learning how to use the final two candidates. ( however I am extremely familiar with using stitching software so most was only an extension of what I already knew)

PTGui is phenomonal and I found the trial version easy to use, exceeding quick and produced highly accurate stitches with ease. Though like all VR software it is stitching onto a sphere and has no concept of Up or Down so it is usually beneficial to enter vertical control points on each image as earl as possible. If you do not you can get some weird and wonderful combinations.

The one and only down side of PTGui is that it has doubled in price over the past few years and the Pro version is now around £250.00

Fortunately there is a Free Stitching version Hugin. It is much more complex and difficult to use, very much slower (x10) and can produce some very strange results till you get the hang of it.

Partly this is down to lens parameters.
I have found that if I replace the same lens parameters as established in PTGui into Hugin
I get a first time stitch with few if any errors. Though I have found Azimuth problems with some images which require extra control points added to that region to correct.

Conclusion

The Kit choice works exceedingly well. And is probaly as good as it comes in terms of practicality and quality at a reasonable price.

The choice of software comes down to convenience accuracy and capability at high cost, against. A much tougher and slower life, but at no financial cost.

A compromise might be to buy the standard version of PTGui at half the price but forgo some of the more important abilities, like output to masked layers. The ability to accurately mask with a brush. Viewpoint correction and the ability to fuse exposures and work in HDR.

For the time-being I will continue with both the trial version of PTGui (Covered in watermarks)

and Huging (which is more of a struggle.)

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