I am really excited about 360 VR spherical imaging and I have been revisiting some of my favorite locations in Alberta in order to take interactive movies. I am overcoming some of the technical obstacles and have learned just how important it is to have the lens positioned exactly at its nodal point if I want perfectly seemed images. I think the panorama photographs are interesting in themselves, but when animated and displayed on a big screen they are captivating. In February I posted an article on how to create 360 VR spherical images and also linked to other tutorials, software and hardware that is required to do this type of photography. Since then I have been testing different methods in order to improve my spherical movies. Up until now I have been using a Canon 5D Mark II with an 8-15 mm fisheye lens (at 8 mm). I take 4 photographs and stitch them with PTGui software and then process them into an interactive panorama using Kolor Panotour Pro. With the Canon images I noticed I was getting colour noise when I zoomed into the panorama. I found that if I process RAW files first, then stitch them in PTGui software I get better results and reduced digital noise. I began to wonder if using my Nikon D800 with 36 megapixels might offer even higher quality panoramas, so I have begun testing it with Nikon's 10.5 mm fisheye lens and the results look very promsing.
Canon 5D Mark II with 8-15 mm fisheye and Nodal Ninja tripod head.
Nikon D800 with 10.5 mm shaved fisheye lens on Really Right stuff ballhead and 192 sliding plate.
Unfortunately Nikon does not make an 8 mm fisheye lens anymore. Sigma makes an 8 mm fisheye lens for both Canon and Nikon, but unfortunately my experience with Sigma lenses in the past have not been good. A few years back I purchased a Nikon 10.5 mm DX f/2.8 lens for interior photography and also for taking wide views of the night sky in order to photograph the aurora. When I attached the 10.5 mm fisheye lens to my Nikon D800, the image is vignetted by the lens hood which is permanently attached to the front of the lens. Too bad Nikon did not make it a removable lens hood like Canon does for its fisheye. I read that some panoramic photographers were shaving their Nikon lens by cutting the hood off with a hacksaw and having good success. So, with some trepidation, I followed the instructions on this web site (www.virtualtourpro.com) and carefully cuff off the lens hood. The process took me about an hour. The lens may not look great anymore, but I think I will be using this lens a lot more often now.
Above is the Nikon 10.5 mm with the lens hood "shaved" off. The lens cap now touches the lens so to avoid any possibility of the lens surface being scratched I took a piece of moleskin (one sided felt available at pharmacy stores used to cover blisters) and placed it on the inside cover of the lens hood. With this camera lens setup, so long as its level and over the nodal point I am able to create complete 360 spherical panorama even in tight places like my digital-darkroom shown below. What I like about this fisheye lens is that it's lightweight and I am more likely to have it with me in my camera bag.
I set out to test the lens in my office and backyard and began to get good but not great results. The main problem was that the camera has to be positioned vertically and the lens has to be positioned directly over the nodal point in order to avoid parallax errors and stitching problems especially when subjects are close to the lens. I found a great tutorial by Dave Watts on how to determine the exact nodal point. The nodal point is where the light rays cross over when they pass through the lens. To avoid parallax errors and stitching problems the lens must be rotated around the nodal point. On the Nikon 10.5 mm lens it just happens to line up with the gold ring on the lens. On other lenses it has to be determined empirically i.e. by trial and error. It's easy to do, you line up two objects so one is directly in front of the other, then turn the lens about 85 degrees to the right and to the left. If the two objects stay lined up when the camera is turned- you have the nodal point. If the objects drift apart you need to move the lens forward or backwards. To this you need a really long lens plate or one that allows such adjustments as shown below.
One of the problems I encountered is that in order to get the correct nodal point I needed to purchase a sliding bar that allows me to move the camera and lens further back. Really Right stuff makes just what I was looking for - I purchased the 192 Precision Plus Package for $180. I phoned in my order and had the item next day by UPS shipping
- that's what I call great service! The plate fits onto my Really Right Stuff Ballhead and allows me to position my Nikon D800 further back so I can get the 10.5 mm fisheye lens directly over the nodal point on my tripod. The plate also includes a handy bubble level.
On July 11 early in the morning I visited Moraine lake in Banff National Park. This is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in Banff National Park. Unfortunately it began to cloud over and rain as I set up and I only was able to take a few shots - I will have to revist. Unfortunately the new stone walls and signs forbid anyone from getting off the trails and the best shots are from near the lake in my opinion.
To view more interactive 360 VR panoramas from Waterton including some of the Bayshore Hotel - Visit this web page.
Spherical imaging isn't new its been around for a dozen years or so, but in the Past we had to pay a license fee to IPIX who held patents and took anyone who offered alternative solutions to court. I remember having to pay up to $75 for each movie I made and they were tiny low resolution movies. On July 31, 2006, IPIX filed for bankruptcy after posting a 3.8 million dollar loss and losing a court battle (source Wikipedia). My interest in spherical panoramas was rekindled when I met Ahmed Kassim in December of 2012 - we are now working together to promote this form of photography in a new company called 360vrmultimedia.com.The panoramas can be created using other lenses, but its easiest and requires fewer images if a full frame fisheye lens is used. Fisheye lenses are not exactly common, they tend to be expensive, though there are companies offering cheaper fisheye lense(e.g. Rokinon 8 mm cost about $400) and these may a good way to try this type of photography. In the future I will post an article on HDR panoramic photography.