Sweep Panorama

Go wide, young man

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The Fuji 617G was a favorite camera for a relatively small group of photographers who wanted to make panorama images with maximum possible quality. It used medium-format (120, 6cm, 21⁄4-inch) film and shot a negative or transparency that was 6x17cm. With an integrated 105mm ƒ/8 lens, the camera could take just four exposures on a roll of film, and while you could conceivably handhold it, really, it needed to be used on a tripod to achieve the level of quality of which it was capable. Even as the used market for most film cameras has dropped precipitously in recent years, when 617Gs show up, they usually go for more than $2,000. Such is the nature of a rare camera with a rare ability. To be sure, there were other panorama cameras, but the 617G stands out.

GigaPan Epic PRO

Since digital took hold, landscape photographers have been looking for the best way to get a high-quality panorama photograph. OP Tech Tips columnist George Lepp has become an expert with the GigaPan Epic PRO, which automatically shoots an array of photographs that are automatically stitched together in the computer. The result is a massive image file with the potential for astounding resolution. The main downside of the GigaPan Epic PRO is in the cost. It’s $895 for the computerized tripod mount. You attach your DSLR and lens to that mount. Another downside is the need for computer horsepower to process the huge images. If you can overcome those obstacles, the GigaPan Epic PRO can make some incredible images. (Check them out at www.gigapan.org.)

In most aspects of photography, digital technology has made things easier, and panoramas are no exception. For anyone who wants to experiment with wide panorama shots with better resolution and image quality than simply cropping a standard frame, the Sweep Panorama function that’s built into several DSLRs and mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras is a perfect solution. It’s simple, and it delivers surprisingly good image quality.

Sony A55

How does Sweep Panorama work? Once you enter the mode, you press the shutter button and literally sweep the camera across the scene. The camera automatically shoots several images and stitches them together. For finer image quality, use a monopod, a pan/tilt tripod head or even just a ballhead that has been slightly loosened to allow the camera to rotate smoothly.

We saw Sweep Panorama in action for the first time at the annual PMA show a few years ago where it debuted in a Sony compact camera. We were skeptical. Every instinct most nature photographers have tells us to lock a camera down. Sweep Panorama mandates that you move it—this is the definition of camera movement! Even seeing the demonstration on the show floor didn’t fully convince us. When we received review samples of the Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5, as well as the Sony A33 and A55, we tried Sweep Panorama in real-life conditions, and the results were stunning. Not only do the images look good on the monitor, but we’ve made several large prints (20 inches wide) of the panoramas shown in this article with great success.

There will be some who read this and shake their heads in disbelief that Sweep Panorama can outperform cameras like the Fuji 617G. All things being equal, if we could set up a 617G next to an A55 and capture the same scene, we’re pretty confident the image off the Fuji would be better. But making that kind of comparison misses the point. Sweep Panorama is a feature that’s already included in several cameras, it produces excellent results, it’s easy to use, it doesn’t require a used, finicky $2,000 film camera, and you can experiment with it on a whim. Welcome to the New Wide World Of Panorama Landscape Photography!