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Leveling Head w/ Indexing Rotator

Posted on 12-17-2012 in Influential Photo Gear
Leveling Head w/ Indexing Rotator

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.


- turff


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neshlittleshamrock [Delete] Feb 1st, 2013 1:43PM

Good ones =)

turff [Delete] Dec 18th, 2012 11:07PM

8stripe - I have not tried the panning clamps. I do like the concept of them and it is a great deal more compact, but I personally like the click stops. Click stops are quicker than needing to visually see the rotation amount. Other than this, a panning clamp coupled with a ball head would achieve virtually the same results though. I also have not tried a nodal slide. I would enjoy a true panorama head but I currently do not take enough pictures with a close enough subject to cause any parallax issues. If you do plan on taking these shots it would be a necessity though! PM me if you have any specific questions, Ill be glad to answer anything I can!

zosxavius - I am totally with you on the portability. I suppose you must balance weight with function. I guess I tend to lean more to the function side, but I will admit this does get HEAVY to carry everywhere. I often leave most of the pano gear behind and just take the tripod with a ballhead. I only bring all the gear when I really plan on getting a shot that may be printable.

zosxavius [Delete] Dec 17th, 2012 5:55PM

I must add that having clickstops would be huge for me. Maybe I do need to look into some of the better heads. I can level the hard way, but click stops would be huge.

zosxavius [Delete] Dec 17th, 2012 5:50PM

First of all let me say that this setup looks amazing. It really does. That said, I generally find I can do a huge wide panorama with focal lengths between 35 and 100 hand held in good light. As long as you leave plenty of overlap (50% or so), you can combat parallax and give photoshop files that it should get together. A tripod is extremely beneficial and allows slower shutter speeds, use of filters, etc. I have never used a pano head, nor have I ever needed one. Any parallax error I get is usually extremely close to the lens, so avoid objects in the foreground directly as a rule of thumb, but even with tons of overlap that will work out ok too generally. As I often carry a k-5 and someties a k-7 as well as a cheap tiny manfrotto tripod, my bag starts getting pretty heavy after a day of lugging it. Something like this would kill me. I'm all about doing more with less. Sure my tripod sucks and is not ideal, but it is lightweight and that is key. It slows me down a bit, but it gets the job done. In truth I hate it and need something a bit better, but I think I will pass on this. Btw, I can get decent poster sized prints from the k-5 and have even gone larger. It wasn't all that long ago people were stretching 10 and 12mp pictures to wall sized....

Your shot is beautiful btw.

8stripe [Delete] Dec 17th, 2012 4:55PM

Thank you for your informative post. Before you decided on the larger leveling base, I was wondering have you tried using the Sunwayfoto Panning clamp DDH-01 or DDH-03? Also, have you ever find the need to used a Nodal slide for some of your shots?

dotsquish [Delete] Dec 17th, 2012 2:06PM

I'd love to have a piece of kit like yours as I've recently started taking evening panoramas of London, similar to your Kansas City shot. I've used up to 9 shots, tripod mounted but not always perfectly level, and have had no trouble when Elements stitches everything together- apart from the time it takes on my fairly basic laptop, of course! Even when I use exposures of 25 or 30 seconds there aren't any moving object issues that can't be corrected with a small amount of cloning.

neuropol [Delete] Dec 17th, 2012 7:39AM

Nice write up, I don't know why more companies don't make indexing heads. Key for stuff like this.

tessfully [Delete] Dec 17th, 2012 6:20AM

This is an awesome piece of kit I would love to have... it looks expensive. I am shopping over the holidays for a new tripod and head. So glad I read your blog.