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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The GigaScape

The GigaPan gives you the ability to make images that are higher resolution than you’ve ever dreamed possible

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The GigaPan Epic and Epic 100 accept a variety of compact cameras (point-and-shoots) and small D-SLRs. You define the image parameters by pointing the camera at the upper left and then the lower right of the desired panorama. The robot calculates the required number of rows and columns and systematically captures all the overlapping images.
Your gigarama capture can be aided by some basic equipment. If you’re already a dedicated fan of the panoramic perspective, you may have everything you need to get started. A sturdy tripod is the foundation. A ballhead or tripod head that has a panoramic-rotation capability will facilitate the smooth horizontal transition from column to column. To be truly precise, you need a vertical axis control to keep you straight while you move the camera from top to bottom through the columns; these are available from Manfrotto/Bogen and Really Right Stuff.

The camera/lens combination you choose determines the ultimate resolution and detail of the image. The longer the focal length, the smaller the angle of view, meaning that more pictures must be taken to cover the entire field when you use a telephoto than are required with a wide-angle or normal lens. Higher-resolution cameras generate higher-resolution captures (and larger composited file sizes). As an example, a 21-megapixel camera with a 500mm to 800mm lens would yield the greatest complexity and ultimate detail. Good luck with that! You really don’t need to go that far to generate extraordinary gigaramas. A more typical combination would be a D-SLR with an APS-sized sensor and a 200mm lens. Capturing in 8-bit JPEG format also makes it easier to handle the resulting files, but some photographers prefer to capture in RAW with 16-bit files. Remember that this doubles the size of your already huge files.

This combination of Really Right Stuff accessories will allow the photographer to meticulously capture a gigarama. It’s important to have both a good panorama base and a vertical rotation that’s precise.
Capturing With The GigaPan Robot System
While the ultimate gigarama requires a D-SLR and long lens, all of the complex capture described above can be automated with a reasonably priced robot and a point-and-shoot camera. The GigaPan Epic and Epic 100 (about $300-$450) use robotics to calculate the positioning of the camera throughout the desired GigaPan capture. The instructions are simple. The robot calculates the camera’s field of view through a series of uncomplicated prompts. You specify the upper left and lower right corners of your image, and the GigaPan determines the number of rows and columns that are needed to cover the field. The robot walks you through the setup procedure each time you’re ready to take another GigaPan.

We’ve seen good results from the GigaPan Epic and a Canon PowerShot G10 14.7-megapixel compact camera. The lens zooms out to an equivalent 140mm. Lately, I’ve added Canon’s 1.4x tele-extender to make the G10’s focal length 200mm. More focal length means more images and higher resolution. With the GigaPan holding the camera and moving it through the capture grid, it’s a hands-off experience. You’ll actually have time to position yourself within the picture—even more than once!

The GigaPan Epic and Epic 100 accommodate a large range of point-and-shoot compacts and a few small D-SLRs. A full list is available on the website, www.gigapansystems.com. A rig for larger pro D-SLRs will be available from GigaPan later this year. If you’re really into this whole idea, check out Clauss, a German company that makes high-quality, expensive, precision robotic systems (Rodeon VR) for D-SLRs (www.dr-clauss.de/english.htm).

Assembling Your Gigarama

First, buy a fast, new computer with lots of RAM. Then add more RAM. It helps if you have a big monitor, too. Now you’re ready to assemble files of one gigapixel or larger. An efficient way to initially optimize the images is to bring them all into Lightroom. Optimize just one of the images for clarity, vibrance and exposure, and sync the rest to apply the same corrections to all of the images at once. Then composite the images into a gigarama using the GigaPan or Autopano software described below. Both are available for Windows and Mac platforms.

GigaPan’s software (GigaPan Stitcher) is provided with the robotic system, but it’s also available separately, so you can use it to assemble the gigaramas that you’ve captured with a D-SLR.
The software is simple and automated; it prompts you through the compositing process. But if there are any corrections to be made, you’ll have to make them in Photoshop. The resulting large file will be either a TIFF (under four gigabytes) or an Adobe Raw file. You’ll learn to work with a whole new type of file.

A new program, Autopano Giga 2.0, is a more complicated, but more versatile, compositing software. You can use the program to correct common problems with gigaramas: ghosting, color and exposure variations, curved horizons and alignment problems. Autopano Giga 2.0 is available from www.autopano.net for approximately 179 euros.

The larger the file, the more time the compositing will take, so be patient. A 40-image gigarama taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (21 megapixels) took most of the night to assemble. The first few times you do it, it’s like waiting for Santa. If you keep waking up to check on it, you’ll get frustrated because there will be long periods of time with no visible evidence of any activity. Then, when you’ve given up and fallen asleep, the present shows up under the tree, or on the monitor.


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