Rotating Camera

Hardware

PanoMoments are completely hardware agnostic. You can theoretically capture them with just about any camera. Below is a brief list of the various items you'll need. Make sure to read the following sections for more details on compatible robotic panorama heads, cameras, and lenses.

  1. Robotic Panorama Head
  2. Camera
  3. Fisheye Lens
  4. Tripod and Leveler
  5. Various mounts and brackets

Rotating camera rig

Robotic Panorama Head

The most important piece of gear is something called a robotic panorama head. These devices allow you to automatically rotate your camera while capturing frames. See below for a list of compatible robotic panorama heads.

Name Price Fastest Rotation Still Burst Control Video Control Confirmed Compatibility PanoMoments Workflow Rating
PanoCatcher $$ 4 Seconds Yes Yes Yes Excellent
Dynamic Perception $$ - No No Yes Decent
Alpine Labs Radian $ 60 Seconds No No Yes Decent
Seitz Roundshot VR Drive $$$ - No No - -
GigaPan $$ - No No - -
Syrp Genie / Mini $$ / $ - No No Yes Decent
Clauss Rodeon $$$ - No No - -
Cinetics $$ - No No Yes Decent
Kessler CineDrive $$$ - No No - -

Camera

One of the biggest benefits of PanoMoments is their ability to utilize high quality still photos captured using larger sensor format cameras (Full Frame, M43, APS-C, etc.) compared to dedicated 360 cameras which are often lower quality. Depending on the type of motion you’d like to capture (stop motion vs. smooth motion) you will need to use either the “Shoot, move, shoot” or “Continuous capture” mode of your rotating panorama head. The former will allow you to capture stop motion timelapses across longer rotations (ie. greater than 180 seconds). The latter will allow for the capture smoother motion using shorter rotations (ie. less than 60 seconds) that feel more natural / real time. The type of motion captured is mainly a creative decision, however, your camera choice will impose limitations to the frame rate you can capture with: the higher the capture frame rate the smoother the motion in the scene will be. And the higher the capture rate, the faster you can rotate your camera. Your goal is to get around 300 frames in 360 degrees, so this could be 5fps across a 60 second rotation, 60fps across a 5 second rotation, or something wild like 1 frame per day across 300 days. Remember that when shooting in video you'll likely end up with lower quality footage due to additional compression and alsa a smaller field of view given the narrower 16x9 crop.

Recommended Cameras

There are many compatible cameras out there, and there is no right choice. It depends on your budget and the type of motion you're looking to capture (smooth motion requires high frame rate capture - either in still burst or video). If you're looking to shoot longer rotations (>180 seconds) pretty much any camera will work as you won't be running into buffer/memory speed limitations of the camera. For shorter rotation captures (<180 seconds), most cameras will be limited by their buffer memory which means you’ll need to test your camera’s capabilities before going out for a shoot. High speed and long duration burst capture is relatively uncommon amongst still cameras. We recommend mirrorless cameras that offer fully silent electronic shutters and compatibility with the new UHS-II memory card standard. Check out the growing list of recommended compatible cameras but note that it is not at all representative of the entire spectrum of compatible cameras; it's just the one we've been able to test.

Rank Camera Model Silent E-Shutter UHS-II Support Recommended Lens Notes
1 Panasonic GH5 Yes Yes Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 Shoots 6k 30p and 4k 60p in addition to still bursts
2 Fuji X-T2 Yes Yes Meike 6.5mm f/2.0
3 Fuji X-Pro2 Yes Yes (slot 1) Meike 6.5mm f/2.0
4 Panasonic GH4 Yes No Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 Large buffer makes up for lack of UHS-II support
5 Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Yes Yes Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 Burst shooting reliable only at ISO <= 1600
6 Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II Yes Yes Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 Burst shooting reliable only at ISO <= 1600
7 Sony A6500 Yes No Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 Large buffer makes up for lack of UHS-II support

Lens

When looking for a suitable fisheye lens, find one that captures at least 180 degrees on the long edge of your camera’s sensor. This can be determined by finding a sample photo of that particular lens/camera combination or testing out the lens in person. If you see a circular image with black regions surrounding, then it means the fisheye is capturing at least 180 degrees in that direction. It’s okay if the short edge of the sensor crops the circle a little, but if it’s heavily cropped (likely on video cameras or still cameras in video mode) you may not have enough horizontal FOV to create a PanoMoment with a natural viewing angle (see Virtual Reality support below).

Virtual Reality Support

VR playback will be limited to PanoMoments with a minimum of 115 degrees horizontal x 150 degrees vertical captured to ensure compatibility with head tilting. This means that circular fisheye lenses (with black areas fully surrounding the image) are the best choice as they capture 180+ degrees in both horizontal and vertical directions. It is possible to maintain VR support with a partial circular fisheye lenses (cropped edges of the circle) but this will depend on the amount of the crop. Fisheye lenses are heavily compressed towards the edges so even a tiny crop can result in a large loss of usable FOV. If you don’t care about VR support, you can capture with a full-frame / diagonal fisheye (ie. no black areas) or an ultra-wide rectilinear lens. The resulting viewable horizontal and vertical field of view will be limited depending on the captured FOV and number of photos. If you choose to capture with an ultra-wide rectilinear lens, we recommend a maximum of 14mm (in 35mm equivalent) to provide enough field of view to produce an engaging PanoMoment.

Electronically Coupled Lenses

Lenses that are electronically coupled to the camera can actually cause a slight flicker between subsequent shots due to the aperture blades not closing exactly the same way for each shot. Thus, we recommend shooting with fully manual lenses, or lenses adapted from one system to another. Note that this is not an issue if you're shooting video as the iris maintains a constant aperture throughout the shot.

Recommended Lenses per Mount

Mount Recommended Lens FOV Video Mode Compatible
Micro 4/3 Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 190 x 125 degrees Depends on sensor crop (usable on GH4/GH5 in 4:3 or 1:1 crop, not usable in 16:9)
Fuji X Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 190 x 190 degrees Yes
Fuji GFX Rokinon/Samyan 8mm f/3.5 HD + 35mm Adapter 180 x 180 degrees Yes
Sony E Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 190 x 190 degrees Yes
Sony FE Rokinon/Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 + Nodal Ninja Conversion 180 x 180 degrees Yes
Sony Alpha Rokinon/Samyan 8mm f/3.5 HD 180 x Unknown degrees No
Pentax K Rokinon/Samyan 8mm f/3.5 HD 180 x Unknown degrees No
Canon EF-S Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 180 x 180 degrees Yes
Canon EF Rokinon/Samyan 8mm f/3.5 HD 180 x Unknown degrees No
Canon EF-M Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 190 x 190 degrees Yes
Nikon FX Rokinon/Samyan 8mm f/3.5 HD 180 x Unknown degrees No
Nikon DX Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 180 x 180 degrees Yes

Fisheye Lens and Format Compatibility

Lens Image Circle M43 APS-C Full Frame Electronically Coupled
Rokinon/Samyang 8mm ~33mm - - Cropped Circular No
Nikon 10.5mm 28.4mm - Diagonal Cropped Circular Yes
Pelang 8mm ~25mm - Diagonal Circular No
Canon 8-15mm Min ~24mm - Diagonal Circular -> Diagonal Yes
Rokinon/Samyang 7.5mm ~23mm Diagonal Cropped Circular - E-mount only with adapter Cropped Circular - FE-mount only with adapter No
Sigma 8mm 22mm - Cropped Circular Circular Yes
Meike 6.5mm f/2.0 ~16mm Cropped Circular Circular Circular (FE-mount only) No
Yasuhara Madoka 7.3mm 15.1mm Cropped Circular Circular (E-mount only) Circular (FE-mount only) No
Lensbaby 5.8mm 14.6mm Cropped Circular Circular Circular No
Sunex 5.6mm 14.5mm Cropped Circular Circular Circular No
Sigma 4.5mm 12.7mm Circular Circular Circular Yes
Entaniya 2.3mm MFT Fisheye - Circular Circular Circular (FE-mount only) No
Entaniya 3.0mm MFT Fisheye - Circular Circular Circular (FE-mount only) No
Entaniya 3.6mm MFT Fisheye - Cropped Circular Circular Circular (FE-mount only) No
iZugar MKX22 10mm Circular Circular - No
Fujinon 1" C Mount 2.7mm 8.6mm Circular Circular - No
Canon 15mm - Diagonal Diagonal Yes
Nikon 16mm - Diagonal Diagonal Yes
Rokinon/Samyang 12mm - Diagonal Diagonal No
Sigma 10mm - Diagonal Diagonal Yes
Sigma 15mm - Diagonal Diagonal Yes
Nikon 14mm - Diagonal Diagonal Yes

Lens Calibration

For each camera/lens combination you will be using to capture PanoMoments, you’ll need to create a calibration template file that contains the necessary information to convert from Fisheye projection to Equirectangular projection. This file includes the following information:

  • FOV
  • Crop
  • A/B/C correction coefficients
  • Horizontal/Vertical Shift
  • Horizontal/Vertical Shear

Once you have created this template file, it’s only a few quick easy clicks to batch convert a set of images. There’s really only one adjustment you may need to make every time you convert a set of images. Small knocks/bumps and focus changes can move the image circle on the sensor by a few pixels, and this can be enough to throw off the cropping (this also does technically change other image parameters slightly but you'll never notice it). But that’s it, once you have the template file built, it’s very easy to convert from Fisheye to Equirectangular.

PTGui

  1. Capture a 360 panorama with 12 - 24 images with the camera/lens located on the No Parallax Point. See here for ways to determine where your lens’ NPP is located. Static scenes with the majority of subjects at far distances are ideal for calibration panoramas.
  2. Hit Load images… and select all photos taken during the calibration panorama in Step 1.
  3. Leave Lens Type set to Auto and enter in your lens Focal length and Crop Factor (sensor size will calculate automatically). Now the Lens type selected above should be set correctly. If not, uncheck Auto and manually select the correct lens type. Hit Okay. Don’t worry if PTGui calculates a Hor. Field of View number that doesn’t seem quite right. This will be resolved later.

ptgui1

  1. If you used a circular Fisheye lens, go to the Crop tab and resize the crop circle to align perfectly with the edges of the image data.

ptgui2

  1. Select the Project Assistant tab and Hit Align images…
  2. After a few moments the Panorama Editor should appear with a preview of your panorama. If not, go to the “Tools” dropdown and select the Panorama Editor entry. Don’t worry if there are misalignments.

ptgui3

  1. Go to the “Tools” dropdown and select the Control Point Table. Sort the table by the Distance column in descending order. Hold shift and select all control points that have an error greater than 10. Hit the Delete or Backspace key to remove these selected control points.

ptgui4

  1. Back on the main PTGui window select Advanced on the top right. This will add more tabs to the main window.
  2. Select the Optimizer tab and change the Minimize Lens Distortion setting to “Heavy + lens shift” and then hit the Advanced button on the Optimizer tab and enable "Link roll" and "Link pitch". Now hit the Run Optimizer button. The optimizer results window will pop up showing your average control point distance. Hit OK.

ptgui5 ptgui6

  1. Go back to the Control Point table and again delete all control points with distances greater than 10.
  2. Re-run the optimizer.
  3. Check the Panorama Editor for visual alignment. If everything appears good and the optimizer is reporting good results, move onto step 13. If not, repeat steps 10-12 until good results are achieved.
  4. Select the Panorama Settings tab on the main PTGui window and ensure that the projection is set to Equirectangular (for spherical panoramas). Change the Field of View to be 180 x 180 degrees.
  5. Under the “Project” dropdown menu select the “Align to Grid” entry. The following step will align each image at the exact same location. Remember, PanoMoments are aligned on playback. Ensure the following settings:
    • Apply to: all images - Checked
    • Center horizontally - Checked
    • Center vertically - Checked
    • Spaced by - 0 degrees
    • Roll angle - Unchecked and Set to 0 degrees
    • Adjust panorama field of view and projection to fit the panorama - Unchecked

ptgui7

  1. Select the Create Panorama tab on the main PTGui window
    • Hit “Set optimum size” button
    • Change File Format to your prefered format. We recommend TIFF (8 Bits, Packbits, No Alpha Channel).
    • Change Layers to “Individual layers only”
  2. Go to the “File” dropdown and select “Save as Template” and name this file something easy to remember.
  3. You’re done! Now the PTGui steps to convert to equirectangular are:
    • Load your images
    • Select your template
    • Verify the crop circle is correct and adjust if necessary
    • Select an output directory and hit the “Create Panorama” button

Hugin [In Progress]

  1. Capture a 360 panorama with 12 - 24 images with the camera/lens located on the No Parallax Point. See here for ways to determine where your lens’ NPP is located.
  2. Load all images taken during the calibration panorama in Step 1.
  3. Select the correct Lens Type and enter the HFOV, Focal length, and the Focal length multiplier. If you don’t know the HFOV you can just enter in the lens Focal length and Focal length multiplier, and Hugin will calculate the HFOV for you. Don’t worry if it calculates a number that doesn’t seem quite right. This will be resolved later.
  4. If you used a circular Fisheye lens, select “Advanced” from the Interface dropdown menu and go to the Masks/Crop tab. Select the top image and hit Ctrl+A to select all images. Resize the crop circle to align with the edges of the image data.
  5. Click the "GL Preview" button and then hit Align. This will create control points and align the photos.
  6. On the Control Point tab, verify that the vertical control points are correctly calculated. These are shown when the left/right images are the same (eg. image 0 and image 0). Sometimes Hugin gets the vertical controls points wrong with circular fisheye images. If that happens, just delete the bad ones and recreate several by hand for each photo.
  7. On the Photos tab, set Geometric = "Everything without translation" and then hit "Calculate"
  8. Verify that the panorama looks correct by going back to the GL Preview.
  9. If the alignment is off, go to the Control Points tab and remove any control points with a high error. Also consider adding additional vertical control points.
  10. Once you're satisfied with the alignment, select all of the photos in the Photos tab and right click, and select "Reset->Reset positions". Then go to the Stitcher tab and set the field of view to be 180x180 and hit "Calculate optimal size".
  11. Save the project.
  12. You’re done! Now the Hugin steps to convert to equirectangular are:
    • Load your images
    • Select your template
    • Verify the crop circle is correct and adjust if necessary
    • On the Stitcher tab select "No exposure correction, low dynamic range" and then hit the ”Stitch" button

Planning the Shot

Choosing your Subject

Standard 360 cameras capture in all directions at once, whereas PanoMoments only allow you to see ~120 horizontal degrees at a given instant. This fundamental difference allows you to more easily direct both the subjects and the viewer’s attention. With the exception of the extreme edges of the frame, everything captured by the camera during its rotation will be seen by the viewer as they pan around. One of your goals as a photographer should be to make sure there are interesting elements throughout the 360 degrees rotation, whether that’s movement, interesting visual details, etc.

Number of Frames

You can capture a PanoMoment in as few as 36 shots with a full circular fisheye lens, but if you really want the PanoMoment to feel engaging and smooth (if you're capturing with parallax - see below), you’ll likely want to capture many more frames. Note that the exact number doesn’t matter; it could be 127, 363, or 4101 frames (though the uploader is limited to 540 frames for now). We typically like to shoot between around 300 frames.

Your camera’s capture frame rate directly controls the type of motion you can capture - either smooth or stop motion. Even though most modern still cameras advertise high burst rates (ie. 10-15fps), they typically are only capable of recording 1-3fps in long (over 60 seconds) periods. Make sure to test your camera’s capabilities and to use the fastest compatible memory card to maximize your capture rate. Even with a modest capture rate of 2fps you’ll be able to capture interesting stop motion PanoMoments in a 60-180 second rotation. Note that pretty much any camera is capable of capturing long timelapse PanoMoments (> 3 minute rotations) since the effective capture rate is extremely low. Take a look through the Required Gear section for a growing list of camera models and their capabilities.

If you’d like your PanoMoment to have smoother movement (ie. people moving or water flowing) then you’ll need to use a video camera recording at least 30fps. This likely means you’ll need to capture in a compressed format like .MP4 or .MOV which will result in a lower quality capture compared to a still camera capturing in RAW or high quality JPEG. Also remember that when shooting in video modes you’ll likely have a narrower vertical field of view (16:9 vs. 3:2 or 4:3) compounded by a larger crop factor (some cameras sample from the entire sensor in video mode, and some crop from the middle) - so you might need to use a difference fisheye lens with a smaller image circle when shooting in video mode on a still camera.

Parallax

Typically when you shoot panoramic photos you want to position your camera on the ‘No Parallax Point’ (NPP). This allows the camera to be rotated about its optical center and results in seamless stitching. However, this isn’t how your eyes see things when you rotate your head. While it does allow you to pan around a panoramic photo, it ends up feeling very static as you don’t get to “see around” objects as you pan your view. Since PanoMoments don’t rely on standard photographic stitching, you are free to position your camera away from the NPP (80mm in front of NPP is about ideal). This allows you to capture realistic motion parallax in the horizontal direction and feels much more natural during panning.

If you choose to shoot with horizontal parallax you’ll need to capture more frames to create smooth transitions, even for entirely still scenes with no movement. This is due to the nature of parallax where objects at various depths in your scene will move at different speeds relative to each other. If you have too few frames you’ll see visual parallax “pop/jump” when you pan. If you are capturing with parallax, we recommend a minimum of 180 frames.

If you’d like to shoot without horizontal parallax, you’re free to lower the frames to around 36, but you may still want to capture many more if there is motion in the scene.

NPP Offset

Time period of the Rotation

There is no right answer for calculating the time period for a rotation. It’s mainly a creative choice, but light conditions and camera capabilities do play a role. If you’re shooting outside on a bright sunny day and have a camera capable of high frame rate capture (> 30fps), you can complete a continuous shooting rotation in a little as 10 seconds (any shorter and you may have issues with rolling shutter), but you should also experiment with slower captures (60-180 seconds) or even crazy long multi hour/day captures. The key point to remember is that the capture time influences the speed of motion on playback. Ie. Capturing a rotation in 120 seconds and rotating the full 360 degrees on viewing in 12 seconds would result in 10x realtime playback speed, ie. fast forward. It is important to note that if there is no motion in the scene, the time speed up/down effect will not be discernible.

Depending on light conditions, you’ll be able to shoot in two primary rotation modes using your automatic panorama rotating head: SMS (shoot, move, shoot) and Continuous (capture while rotating). The former is useful for shooting in lower light conditions where motion blur due to camera rotation is a concern, and the latter is useful for when you want a faster rotation and you have enough light to shoot at a high enough shutter speed to freeze any blurring effect of the camera rotation.

Tip - When shooting with artificial lighting (in particular indoors), you'll most likely need to shoot with a shutter speed <= 1/100th second to eliminate any lighting flicker. This means that you won't be able to do rotations faster than around 30 seconds (see the Min Shutter Speed equation in the section below).

Also important to consider is that when shooting in burst or video mode, you don't want to be recording when the rotator is on its acceleration/deceleration phases. To compensate for this, you should rotate a little bit more than 360 degrees (380 - 400 degrees is good) and then trim the excess frames from the beginning/end of the photo set.

Exposure

While light conditions are likely different at various points around the 360 degree rotation, you most likely don’t want to shoot in any automatic exposure mode (P, A, S, or Auto) as the light levels will jump too abruptly (in ⅓ or ½ exposure stops) as you pan around the PanoMoment. We recommend shooting in full manual exposure and white balance modes. That way you don’t have any exposure jumps as you pan, and if you find that you must adjust light levels, you can do it in post processing with much more granularity than ⅓ or ½ exposure stops.

Regardless of shooting in SMS (shoot, move, shoot) or Continuous capture modes, you’ll need to pay special attention to your shutter speeds. Sometimes you may want blurring of moving subjects in your scene, but you likely don’t want the still environment to be blurred. For continuous rotations, a good rule of thumb is to keep the Min Shutter Speed = 100 * Capture RPM Ie. if you're rotating at 2 RPM (30 second rotation) you should shoot at 1/200th second shutter or faster.

If you're shooting in SMS we recommend shooting in your camera’s RAW capture mode. This provides the highest possible quality and much more freedom in post processing compared to JPEG. Burst mode still capture most likely will require you to shoot in JPEG as RAW files take up more more buffer memory per shot. If you’re shooting with a video camera you most likely won’t have a RAW option (except in high end cinema or machine vision cameras) so you’ll want to choose whatever the highest quality/resolution setting your video camera provides.

Capture

Depending on your camera/rotator setup and capture mode (SMS vs. Continuous) you may end up using your camera’s built-in intervalometer, video capture mode, continuous burst mode, or the rotator’s trigger to start the capturing process. Set up your rig at home and test out a slow rotation with your rotator’s SMS mode, then take it outdoors in bright sunlight to try a continuous capture. The most important detail of the capture is ensuring that each frame is at an equal angular distance (ie. for 360 frames each frame should be at 1 degree increments). If there is large deviation between frames then you will notice alignment errors (ie. judder / jumping) when viewing the PanoMoment.

Post Processing

Trim to 360 degrees

If you're capturing in a continuous rotation in burst/video mode, you will likely end up with more than 360 degrees worth of photos. Before converting and uploading, you need to ensure that the photo set contains the exact amount of photos to cover a 360 degree circle. Assuming you have a precise rotator, you should be able to just pick the First Frame index that is after the acceleration phase, and then just count to find the last frame. Ie. If you're capturing at 6 FPS with 1 RPM rotation across 400 degrees, and you determine that a safe First Frame is the 10th photo due to acceleration, you can calculate the End Frame = (First Frame + (FPS * 60 / RPM) - 1) In this example that would be 369.

Color and Exposure Edits

Make any edits you'd like in your favorite photo editor (Lightroom, Aperture, etc.)

Convert to Equirectangular - PENDING UPDATE DUE TO SITE CHANGES

After your capture is complete, you'll need to batch convert the entire photo set into Equirectangular projection (and optionally correct any lens distortion). You're welcome to use any traditional stitching programs such as PTGui, Hugin, or Autopano, but remember you won't be using the actual stitching functions of these programs. You're simply changing the projection to Equirectangular and setting the output FOV to correspond to the maximum of the horizontal and vertical FOV captured. See the lens calibration section for a walkthrough of creating a project/lens template so that the process can become an easy 3 click workflow.