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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Lenses For Panoramics

Perspective Control In Panoramics • Tripod Shopping • Megapixel Printing • Is What You See, What You Get?

Tech Tips: Lenses For Panoramics

Perspective Control In Panoramics

I’m interested in trying panorama landscapes. In a class I recently took, the instructor said that the only way to get a good panoramic landscape is to use a PC (perspective control) lens. It’s a lot of money! Is there another way?
Participant at Photoshop World
Boston, Massachusetts

It doesn’t have to be so hard! It’s true that there are advantages to using a perspective-control lens when shooting panoramics, but in most situations, it’s completely irrelevant. A perspective-control lens lets you keep straight lines unbowed. But if your horizon is roughly centered in your frame or you don’t have a strictly defined, straight-line horizon in your landscape, the potential for bowing doesn’t matter.

A panoramic rendition of a flat sea or a Kansas prairie might be affected if you’re shooting with your camera aimed up or down on the scene. If your composition includes mountains in the distance, a jagged line of foliage or no horizon at all, don’t worry about taking it with a normal lens. Level the camera side to side, overlap the shots by about 20 percent (50 percent if you’re using a wide-angle lens), and enjoy taking panoramas with the equipment you already have.

Spend the money on a great software program, such as ArcSoft's Panorama Maker 4 Pro (www.arcsoft.com) or the new Photomerge feature included in Adobe Photoshop CS3 (www.adobe.com) to make putting your panoramic images together a breeze. And if you’re into fixing it in the computer, look at DxO Software (www.dxo.com); it’s a nifty program that, among other tricks, straightens a bowed horizon.

The advantage of a Canon tilt/shift or Nikon PC/tilt/shift lens is that once the lens is leveled along its axis and to the horizon, the front elements can be raised or lowered to change the vertical or horizontal framing without changing the position of the camera. This can be important for images with a defined horizon. With a normal lens, if the camera is pointed up to frame a lot of sky, the finished panoramic series will produce a slightly concave (bowed downward) horizon. If the lens is pointed down and the horizon placed low in the frame, the result across the series will be a slightly convex horizon (bowed upward). The PC or tilt/shift lens eliminates this curvature of the horizon when the horizon is placed extremely high or extremely low within the frame.

The panorama image shown here was taken in Yellowstone National Park with a 100-400mm Canon zoom lens set to 100mm. It’s a series of eight images, four across the top and four across the bottom. It was composited in the new Panorama Maker 4 Pro. There’s no horizon in the image, so I wasn’t concerned about any bowing of the horizon. I’ve taken panoramas with lenses from 1000mm to 16mm wide-angle. And, yes, I occasionally use my tilt/shift lenses.

Tripod Shopping

What features do you recommend when shopping for a new tripod and panhead? I’m a smallish woman and mainly take landscape and macro photographs.
G. Montgomery
Dallas, Texas

This is the perfect time for you to invest in a new tripod because there are so many choices in different price ranges that are perfect for you. You need to look for a tripod that's both lightweight and sturdy—something that carbon fiber gives you. Even though carbon-fiber legs are light in weight, they’re sufficiently rigid to handle telephoto lenses up to 400mm.

You need a tripod that can place your camera low to the ground. This last feature is important to macro photographers. Another useful feature is a center column that can be removed and placed horizontally in a configuration that improves its macro capability. Flexibility in positioning the legs in many ways can also help bring the camera and lens close to the ground.

In my opinion, the optimal choice for the types of photography you mention is one of the tripods with new leg-locking mechanisms, such as Gitzo’s G-lock. These lock and unlock with very little effort. This completely eliminates the problem of legs that collapse or are overtightened, which many women especially find frustrating.

An equally important part of your camera/lens support system is the head. The choice of most professional nature photographers is a ballhead because you can quickly position it and lock it into place with a single knob. A quality ballhead will have a quick-release top and a panorama base to allow you to smoothly rotate the camera/lens combination. Beware of low-priced tripods and ballheads that might seem okay for your endeavors. While better tripods and heads can be a bit pricey, they’ll serve you well for a photographic lifetime. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

> Visit www.geolepp.com.


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