Archive for July 18th, 2008


LX2 and VR photography…Part 1

July 18, 2008

I have mentioned in a few ocasions now that I was about to reveal a new gadget that would allow me to use the LX2 in a new way, complimentary to my work, and that I believe will provide great fun…Well, I am ready, after a little burden, to write about it..  🙂

I think I might have mentioned before that I do some web designing and mainly virtual reality (virtual tours) for companies and multimedia products, basically for the turistic industry as well as real estate agents, museums and the likes..I thought it would be fun to try and produce virtual tours and panoramic photography with the LX2 as well, so I started doing some research to find out what kind of stuff would be compatible to allow me using it in such a way. And only after some sleepless nights and plenty of “forum-lurking” I opted for this setup:

The lens is a Nikon FC-E8 fisheye providing a FOV over 180º and originally designed for the 5xxx Coolpix series. It is curently out of production, but can be found in the used market relatively easy. 

When producing panoramic images or virtual tours from several stitched images, the key is to have a panoramic head that allows you to rotate the lens over it´s entrance pupil or “no paralax point”. This will reduce the stitching errors and will avoid some serious headaches. The head chosen in this ocasion is the “MrotatorA” from Agnos, an italian manufacturer of very high quality hardware for panoramic photography. This Panohead is specificly designed to be used with the Nikon FC-E8, regardless of the camera make, so any future upgrades wouldn´t affect the setup (I actually plan using the setup with my new RicohGX100 as well). The panohead is designed with the shape of the lens so when this one is attached it fits there perfectly and starts rotating over it´s entrance pupil. Once mounted on the head it can remain there and there is no need to remove it any more, so the kit is like one piece that is after attached to the camera. This is what the fisheye  looks like once “craddled” in the head:

The panohead and the Fisheye lens arrived a couple of weeks ago, but I haven´t been able to use them due to the fact that the Nikon fisheye has a mount thread of 28mm. Those that know about the lens adapter I use on my LX2 allready know that it has a 52mm filter thread!! This extreme step-down rings are not easy to find and I finally had to purchase mine in China. It only took a month to arrive, so the rest of the setup has been here sitting bored and teasing me day after long day…The infamous ring:

And finally..My beautifull and trusty LX2 attached to the dream-combo!!

Up untill now I have been using my Canon30D and EFs 10-22 lens with a 360precision custom panoead. This head is specificly designed for a certain camera/lens combo and will not fit any other. This might sound rather restrictive, but the head is designed so precisely that it produces flawless batchable results from day one without the need of any calibration for the setup. There are many other great “modular” panoheads in the market (360Precision also makes such products) that adapt to any camera/lens, but they are not for me, I prefer the “scientific” precision of this custom heads (reason why I went for the Agnos panohead as well, no calibration or fooling trying to find the “slippery” entrance pupil of your lens). But the 360Precision “Absolute” panohead is not only a very expensive piece of equipment, it is also a big and heavy one. It is built to the highest quality standards, with a fantastic finish and is definetely buit to last for ever…Here you can see my 360Precision panohead compared to the LX2 setup:

The panohead alone is bigger and heavier than the whole LX2 setup!! It will also need a good sturdy tripod to be used once the camera is mounted. Here a couple of snaps of both complete setups, draw your own conclutions…

Need words? You need to take 14 shots to complete a “sphere” with the Canon/360Precision combo: 6 around at +30º, 6 around at -30º, a Zenith shot (roof) and a Nadir shot (floor). The resulting equirectangular image will be something around 10.000×5.000 pixels. Very high quality indeed that would satisfy the most demanding client and that allows displaying stunning high resolution panos fullscreen. But 14 images makes it impossible to make a pano of an event with moving people and takes quite a bit of postprocessing time, specially if you are dealing with HDR images of interiors with big windows and the such. Not the sort of price everybody is willing to pay…The setup, including the tripod will weigh a few good kilos, definetely not a “take everywhere” kit…

You need as little as 3 images to complete a sphere with the PanasonicLX2/Agnos/Nikon FC-E8 combo!! Make it four(Nadir floor picture) if you want to avoid making a cap to cover the panohead under the camera.. The resulting equirectangular image will be roughly 4.200×2.100 pixels. A full spherical panorama can be done in seconds!! The postprocessing times are reduced dramatically and the setup can be carried in a small bag. But what is more interesting, in good light conditions, the panos can be made with a monopod. With a bit more than a kilo your are allready producing panoramas!! 

There is an obvois trade-off in quality terms. The results from this setup won´t come even close to the ones done with the DSLR, but they can be acceptable for a lower budget market or simply for having fun and doing panos that other way would have never been done..That is the spirit of a compact camera in the first place!! Higher quality panoramas can be achieved with this setup by zooming in a bit due to the fact that the image circle produced by the fisheye is consderably smaller than the sensor:

But this, toghether with some further explanation of the operation of this setup and the arrival of the Ricoh GX100 to the play are things that will be  commented on the second part that will be up soon…

Here, to finish this post, a quick & dirty pano I did today in the corssroad of four streets with the monopod handheld two meters above my head…