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Panoramas the easy way

27th August 2012

Photographically speaking, a panorama is a photograph that encompasses a very wide view. I like panoramas because they reproduce a scene as if I were viewing it live by turning my head from the far left to the far right. I can view the photograph in small ‘chunks’ as I scan the entire image from the left to the right.

In the past, making a panorama was a complicated, multiple step process involving capturing the images and then stitching them together whether it be done chemically in a darkroom or digitally with a computer. I won’t go into details of making panoramas using either of these two “conventional” ways. Instead, I’ll point out the ease with which a feature on certain cameras enables me to easily make panoramas in one step.

For the past two years I’ve been using several Sony Alpha series and NEX series cameras to shoot panoramas. These cameras enjoy a feature called Sweep Panorama. When this feature is chosen, you simultaneously depress the shutter and move the camera in a sweeping fashion to the right. As you do this, the camera captures multiple images of the scene. The camera signals the completion of the sweep by halting the shutter. A few seconds afterward, the panoramic capture appears on the camera’s LCD for your review. Press the PLAY button and the image is displayed from left to right – in video fashion – but is actually a single, still panoramic image.

Above, I explained that the sweeping motion is from left to right. But in fact these Sony cameras let you sweep left to right; right to left; up to down; and down to up. These cameras also capture three dimensional appearing images using 3D Sweep Panorama that can be displayed on certain compatible 3D television sets.

Here’s a few of the panoramas that I’ve taken with various Sony cameras. You can click on each of the images to see a wide view of the panorama.
 


Red Rock Canyon, Nevada


Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

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Easy Panoramas

17th April 2011

Nothing Beats The Simplicity of In-Camera Panoramas

 

When you want to take it all in, a panorama is a fun way to recreate a memorable view.

Most panoramas are made by taking multiple photos and painstakingly stitching them together with specialized computer software.

Over the years I’ve put together many such panoramas. Since I’ve made so many, I know the routine by heart. I usually build a panorama from six to ten separate images.

First I set the camera shutter speed and aperture manually so that the lighting remains constant throughout all of the images. Since altering the focus point between shots makes it almost impossible to later stitch the photos together, I also set the focus to manual and choose a focus distance for the most important part of the scene. To make sure that the horizon remains level in all of the exposures, I use a tripod and bubble level. To keep track of the images in a set, I place my hand over the lens and shoot to indicate that the next photo is the start of a panorama. After each exposure, I rotate the tripod head so that the next exposure overlaps the previous one by about 30%.
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In this final Part 3, I’ll show you additional examples of some of the innovative and easy-to-use features that make the Sony Alpha A55 my recent favorite camera.

You can read about the “standard” features of the Sony Alpha A55 in Part 1 of my review. And in Part 2, I describe my experience using several of the A55’s unique features.


D-Range Optimization

When shooting a scene that has high contrast, you may notice that the shadow areas are likely to lack detail and/or the highlight areas are overexposed.

To counter this tricky lighting, the A55 offers D-Range Optimization that compresses tones to preserve detail in both shadows and highlights.

This feature is not unique to the A55; Canon offers a similar feature which it calls Auto Lighting Optimizer and Nikon uses the moniker Active D-Lighting.
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Unique Features of the Sony Alpha A55

The Sony Alpha A55 has a long list of features – some of which you may find in a few other cameras and others that are unique only to the A55. But taken together they they make the A55 a very compelling piece of equipment.

In Part 1, I talked about the “standard” features of the A55.

In this part of the review, I’ll key in on several of these features that are both unique and innovative.

The first three features are possible because of the A55’s translucent mirror.


Electronic Viewfinder

The first time I used the A55, I was surprised when I put my eye up to the viewfinder. In place of a conventional reflex viewfinder used in DSLRs, the A55 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). The resulting image is somewhat similar to what I might see on a miniature television.

A big advantage is that the image in the EVF can be overlaid with a variety of information as you can see below.


viewfinder displaying the level gauge in the center


viewfinder displaying histogram at bottom right

viewfinder showing changeable settings

Having used a dozen or more DLSRs extensively, it took me about a week to get used to the EVF. As a wearer of eyeglasses I was able to set the built-in diopter adjustment correctly for my vision. The image is bright and clear owing to the 1.1 megapixel viewfinder screen, a high refresh rate (60fps). The EVF also has 100% field coverage. I especially like the level gauge that helps to align the horizon.

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The “Panorama Machine”

29th December 2010

Panoramas Made Easy

Last week Fedex dropped off a small package with another high tech gadget. The shiny box contained a panorama base – a device for easily capturing photographic panoramas.

Let’s back up to last October when I met Howard Chen at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York. An attractive photo in front of his booth caught my attention. He proceeded to show me how the e-Filming PS-30B Digital Drive Panorama Base automates the making of panorama photographs with popular DSLR cameras: mount the camera on the base, press a few buttons on the control panel and press the start button. A few seconds later and you’ve captured a set of high resolution images ready to be combined (stitched together).

In addition to the drive unit, the package contains a vertical bar mount, a remote controller and control cables. A cable connects the device to the remote control socket on your DSLR camera. The six included control cables are usable with most of the popular DSLR cameras.

I spent a few minutes installing the Cool Stitch software from the included CD-ROM and printing the 16-page user’s manual.

The manual describes the five options available from the LCD control panel: shoot, time, speed, function and language. However in practice, I found that I needed to change only the shoot option.

There’s also a short article “How to Shoot Photos for Great Looking Panoramas” that appears when you run the Cool Stitch software. I recommend that you print this document and carefully follow the several helpful tips.

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