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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Get 4x5 Quality With A DSLR

Using a stitch-together method, you can get a large-format look from your regular digital camera

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Kirk Enterprises BL-Mark3
Using my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, I shot the very same image as the rep and I had shot with the medium-format camera. With my Canon I took one image with just a single shot of the entire scene and then three vertical images encompassing the same area, all at ISO 100. Next, I stitched the three verticals together and compared the files side by side at 100% on my monitor. While the 39-megapixel file, which was shot at ISO 100, was of much better quality than the one-shot image file from my Canon, I was amazed at how close in quality the three-stitched file was to the 39-megapixel image! The medium-format digital back file definitely had much better dynamic range, and I saw much more shadow information in it. But with Canon’s excellent noise characteristics, I was able to bring the shadows back to a level comparable to the medium-format back. Also, at 100%, the digital back files were slightly smoother, showing off its larger sensor. The sharpness between the two same-sized files was almost indistinguishable.

Manfrotto 438 Ball Camera Leveler
I realized I couldn’t justify spending so much money on the medium-format camera for such a small difference in quality. I knew it would be a lot easier not to have to make three stitched files and perform the work required in Photoshop, but again, it just didn’t seem to justify the expense. Besides, there are advantages in speed of use and lens selection with my Canon.

Much of the landscape photography I do is based on capturing the fleeting moment—unique weather conditions such as clouds, fog, rainbows, etc. Because of the speed at which these conditions change, I’ve developed a system for capture that may not satisfy the perfectionist, but works well for this kind of photography. Of course, a variety of panorama equipment makes flawless stitches (I use gear from Really Right Stuff), and I’ve used some of this equipment in the past and have been pleased. However, it has always added weight and time to the process, and doesn’t allow the spontaneity I need for changing conditions.

I’ve successfully made stitches by shooting handheld, but in order to line up the files consistently, I find three pieces of equipment to be indispensable: a tripod, a bubble level that fits into the hot-shoe that most cameras have and a way to level my tripod. Leveling both the tripod and the camera is necessary in order to align the three images so I can more effectively process them in Photoshop. Some tripod legs have a built-in level, while others are sold with a leveling base built in. It’s also possible to purchase a leveling base to add to the tripod head. Some of these can be quite heavy, but others are lighter, perhaps adding an additional pound or less. I use the Manfrotto 438 Ball Camera Leveler. It’s light, under $100 and handles the leveling of the tripod head quite well.

Figure 1

Figure 2

The first thing I do to create a three-stitched image file is to level the tripod. Then I level the camera using the bubble level. Next, when setting up a horizontal-format picture, I compose it through my viewfinder in horizontal. I then memorize the boundaries of the composition I want and flip my camera to vertical to make the three images. It helps to have a horizontal/vertical quick-release plate on my camera to easily switch from one to the other. These can be purchased from companies like Really Right Stuff and Kirk Enterprises, among others. I then release the panorama knob on my ballhead so I can swing the camera to take the remaining images.

I generally overlap one-third to one-half on each image, depending on the composition. Both of these overlaps work. It just depends on how wide I want the composition to go. Also, I find it important to lock down the tripod head after each exposure because, in some instances, movement could occur. I expose the images set on manual and avoid using auto white balance, auto exposure and autofocus because these settings can change as you make the three panels. I want each file to have the same settings.


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