Leveling Head w/ Indexing Rotator
By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear on Dec 17, 2012
Having finally ventured into the realm of printing, my most influential accessory is definitely one that I actually haven’t had much of a chance to use yet but one that I know I will be using all the time. Small prints are fine, but being a landscape photographer I love printing LARGE. As great as the Pentax K-5 is, it is not entirely geared toward larger prints. Of course anything looks good from far enough away, but up close many landscape prints that look good on a computer don’t look too great printed. Enter my tripod head setup:
- Sunwayforo DYH-66i
- Sunwayfoto Indexing Rotator DDP-64M
- Sunwayforo Universal L Bracket DPL-03
- Vanguard ABH-120k Ballhead
So what does this set-up allow me to do that I couldn’t do with a simple ballhead? Instead of using an ultra wide angle lens (Sigma 10-20), I can use my Sigma 17-70 at 17mm with the camera mounted vertically and take three (or more if desired, but three is what I have been using) pictures across to be stitched together by my computer. This results in an image that has a slightly wider FOV than my 10mm, but equivalent to 2.25 times the amount of information. It does not contain three times the info due to the overlap of the pictures. This wider FOV gives me more flexibility in how I crop the frame and because of the increased number of pixels, I can print at much larger sizes that I could with a single image. Of course I could always just buy a large format camera or Nikon’s megapixel packed D800, but they are a little out of my price range and I currently love my K5 so it would be tough to give up. I don’t use this set-up for every single shot but only for those that I do plan on printing at larger sizes.
How does the setup work?
The leveling head comes first on top of my tripod followed by the indexing rotator and lastly with the ballhead on top. I mount my K5 vertically with my Sigma 17-70 attached and use my ballhead to compose either the far left or far right frame. I then use the leveling head to ensure that the indexing rotator is completely level. This guarantees that the images are level as the camera is panned across the scene. I then set the indexing rotator to have a click stop at certain degree intervals. With my 17-70 I usually use either 24 or 30 degrees. Lastly, I ensure all of the setting on the camera are locked and take the series of shots. As I had alluded to, my purpose is not to create a panorama per se, but a higher resolution image for the purpose of printing. This is why I usually take three pictures to stitch instead of five or six.
- The leveling head ensures level panning across the scene
- The indexing rotator makes it much quicker to pan and get each shot. Instead of physically aligning the scene on the camera or looking at the panning marks on the ballhead, I can rotate based on feel. I can take all three shots easily less than 5 seconds with the rotator and potentially in 2 to 3 seconds depending on the shutter speed. This reduces the chance of movement within the scene.
- I can more easily create high resolution images for larger printing sizes and also get a FOV roughly equivalent to 8mm on a cropped sensor which is awesome for landscapes.
- I have flexibility with the system and can use a different focal length by changing the rotation degrees of the rotator. The reason I usually stick with a still relatively wide angle and three shots it to ensure the most uniformity between the shots. The more shots that are taken the more chance of a blending error, often due to movement within the scene. I need to balance the number of shots with the number of pixels desired.
- Size! The set up is huge. It weight significantly more than the entire tripod itself weights.
- This likely won’t work with faster movement. Due to the speed that I can take the shots slower movements like clouds pose no issue, but any scene with faster movements or an a very windy day may not turn out great when stitched together.
Overall, these are quality products and have really changed the way I have been taking pictures. My ultimate goal is to produce something that is print worthy at larger sizes and this has definitely allowed me to achieve this goal.
The picture at the top of my post shows the set-up on my tripod so you can get an estimate on the size and below I have included a picture I took of Kansas City with this set-up. The image was actually six pictures across instead of the usual three I do, but there is so much detail in the image that I can zoom in on road signs in the city. Of course I can’t attach a shot that size so its scaled down to the allowable size.