When I went mirrorless with the Canon EOS R and then got my second mirrorless camera, the Canon EOS R5, I said that I was going to try to use them without the battery grip to keep the size and weight of my system down. During the pandemic, when I wasn’t shooting so much, and my tours all had to be postponed, I didn’t miss the grip, but when shooting in Namibia this year, I was reminded how much I dislike having to crank my hand around to the shutter button when using the camera in portrait orientation without a battery grip. So, with my Japan winter tours coming up in January and February next year, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get myself a battery grip for the Canon EOS R5.
The BG-R10 is the grip that fits both the EOS R5 and R6 and has a cradle that holds two batteries, giving double the battery life, but more importantly, and the thing that I’ve been missing, is the ability to flip the camera into the portrait orientation and still have access to all of the shooting controls, as you can see in this photo. The AF-ON button is slightly higher than on the R5 body, so it takes a little bit of getting used to, but all of the buttons from the camera body are replicated on the vertical grip, with the exclusion of the video record button, the light button for the LED display, the Lock button and the Mode button.
Without the LED, there is no use for the Light button, and as I generally will be in landscape orientation when shooting video, I can live without the video button and mode button, too, as my main use for the Mode button is to switch between stills and video. There is a lock switch on the battery grip, but that essentially turns off all buttons on the grip, so it does not replicate the Lock button, so ultimately, that is the only button I miss.
I can reach up with my left hand and press the lock button with my thumb, though, so I can live without the lock button too I guess. Apart from that and the price of the BG-R10 Battery Grip, which is almost 1.5X more than previous grips, I’m very happy with it and pleased that I picked it up. The other related expense, of course, is that the battery grip made it necessary to replace my Really Right Stuff L-Bracket. I really dislike shooting with a camera without the L-Bracket, and I was using the smaller version for the R5 without the battery grip but had to spring for the BGR10-L bracket as well so that I’m covered with my tripod plates in both the landscape and portrait orientations. I also like the extra protection that having the bracket along the side and bottom of the camera provides.
Let’s take a step back, though, and take a look at the BGR10-L bracket itself in this photo. It has that signature Really Right Stuff engineered finish and a wide mouth in the corner to allow the battery cradle to be removed to change batteries without removing the L-Bracket. As you can see, the screw that attaches the bracket to the camera slides along so that you can loosen that screw and slide the bracket away from the camera if you need more access to the cable ports on the camera, although you can access them without sliding the bracket out. I only slide it out when attaching the wire holder for video use.
So that you are never left searching for the hex wrench to loosen that screw, there is a hole in the base of the L-Bracket to slide the wrench into and a magnet to keep it securely stuck to the bracket. It’s nice that this is a full-sized hex key on this bracket, as the sawn-off version that comes with the smaller non-battery grip bracket can be difficult to turn, especially in cold conditions when your hands are naturally cold too.
Here’s another photo to show the battery cradle clearance of the Battery Grip, and you can also see how the side of the bracket provides access to the cable ports.
The gap in the side dovetail plate allows up to 70 degrees of swivel of the articulated screen on the camera, as you can see in the following image. This might look difficult to work with, but in practical use, I’ve never really found it much of a limitation to not be able to rotate the articulated display fully.
The other huge benefit of the L-Bracket is visible in this next image, where I show the R5 mounted on a tripod in landscape and portrait orientations. I haven’t moved the nodal point to the exact center of the tripod quick-release bracket for the shot on the left, but the bracket has these markings if you need to adjust to keep the lens axis in the same location as you switch orientations.
Mounting the camera on the side dovetail plate like this will keep the center of gravity above the tripod, reducing the risk of introducing camera shake. If you flop the camera over to the side, you lose that center of gravity, and the camera is more susceptible to shaking in the wind or even due to the movement of the shutter, although this isn’t such a problem with mirrorless as there are fewer moving parts.
One thing I’ve seen a few reviewers complain about is the fact that the BG-R10 battery grip sticks out about 5mm past the side of the camera, and I did find that a little bit annoying, but as you can see in this photo, the L-Bracket masks that to a degree, so that’s a bonus.
You can also see the Multi-Controller on the back of the grip, which is a very nice addition, enabling us to move the focus point around while shooting in portrait orientation. Also, notice the charge indicators that show the status of charging the batteries in the grip if you plug the camera into a power source. Unfortunately, this will only charge one battery at a time.
Even more unfortunate is that you cannot provide just any USB power to charge the batteries in the grip. You have to use the Canon PD-E1 power adapter to charge the batteries. I own a PD-E1 to power my camera when using it as a Webcam and for some microscope imagery work, but I will never take this on the road to enable charging the batteries in the grip. I can’t help thinking that Canon could have designed this to use a wider range of USB power, especially when you consider I have a third-party double battery charger that charges two batteries simultaneously and works with just about any USB power you can throw at it.
Another thing I’d like to cover before we finish is the addition of the QD socket in the bottom of the RRS bracket. I attach a D Loop QD Strap Swivel to the Peak Design camera strap loops, as you can see in this next image. This makes it possible to easily and securely connect a strap to the base plate and remove it quickly by pressing the button at the top of the QD connector.
As I also have a socket in the base of the lens plate on my Canon RF 100-500mm lens, as you see here, I can attach the strap with a QD connector, and I can then sling the camera with the strap over my left shoulder, allowing the camera to hang upside-down on my right, which puts the camera in a perfect position to quickly grab the grip, and swing it up to my eye to start shooting.
So, although I tried to avoid going this route, it’s nice to have this system back in my shooting workflow. I find it much easier to shoot in portrait mode with the vertical grip on the battery grip, and the Really Right Stuff L-Bracket completes the system.
As we say goodbye, or perhaps more aptly, good riddance to 2020, I just took delivery of the L-Plate that I’d had on order with Really Right Stuff, and I also included a few other handy accessories in my order, which I’m going to share with you today, as I build out my system for carrying my cameras as well as supporting them on a tripod. The Really Right Stuff team continues to make excellent products and they definitely aren’t simply sitting on their laurels when it comes to innovation, as you’ll see.
One of the biggest innovations with their current line-up of brackets is the addition of a whole called a QD Socket that houses their Quick Detach Strap Swivel Loops, and they facilitate the quick attachment of a camera strap, which, coupled with the Peak Design straps that I use, enables me to create a sling configuration for both long and short lens scenarios. I love being able to do this so much, that we might as well start with a photo of my EOS R5 with the new L-Plate attached, and a QD Strap Swivel D Loop attached so that you can see how this positions the camera when slung over the shoulder. Having the camera slung in this position puts the camera’s grip straight into the palm of my hand when I’m ready to raise it to my eye.
Click of tap on the image to open it up in the Lightbox to view it larger, but note here that the lens is hanging down, not straight out as it does when you hang the camera around your neck supported by a strap attached to the built-in strap lugs. This is important because it not only means the camera falls more comfortably into your hand, but it also makes it less likely to bang the camera and potentially the front of the lens as you walk around.
I should mention that as I’m paranoid about things potentially going wrong, I do occasionally check to ensure that the lens is not working loose, but I’ve never noticed a lens doing that. I did have the body fall off the lens when using a Black Rapid strap attached only to the lens, a couple of times actually, but that was probably more a design flaw of the older Canon bodies rather than the strap system. Still, it wasn’t great, and that’s why I started to do things like thread a long camera strap base through the Black Rapid Straps, but now that I’m using the Peak Design Straps and their smaller loops, I’m preventing the possibility of this happening by slinging longer lenses how you can see in this next image.
As you can see, I bought two QD Strap loops so that I could create this sling configuration as well, attaching one to the L-Plate, and the second to an L85 Lens Plate, which I also just bought for the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and that also has the new QD Socket both on the front and back of the plate. I could, of course, put both QD Strap loops into the plate on the lens, but that then leaves my camera free to fall to the ground if it did come loose as my old 1D4 did.
I actually think the RF Mount is probably less susceptible to that kind of rotation, and I recall hearing that Canon had made improvements in this area, but I like to cover my bases, and so I attach one loop to each piece of equipment. That also means that both are being pulled up from their bases, and that removes any force that could potentially cause the camera to rotate anyway. And again, this also puts the camera’s grip in the palm of my hand as I sling this over my body. I generally have the strap over my left shoulder with the camera hanging down on my right side, and it works really well in this configuration.
The D Loop itself is an ingenious little invention and they are incredibly strong. The RRS Website quotes both 450 lbs and 300 lbs of pull pressure for these devices, and although I imagine one number is for the D loop itself and the second for the main attachment, it doesn’t really clarify which it is, but either way, 300 lbs is the lower of the two, and that is more than enough for me to not worry about this coming loose unintentionally. Also, both to insert and release the QD Strap loops, you have to press the central column and there is no way you could do that accidentally while supporting the camera.
The D Loop is just $12 on B&H Photo, but I should note that if you wanted to feed a flat strap directly through the loop, as opposed to the Peak Design Loop that I’m using, there is a low profile loop also available although that’s $29, but it is more suitable if you’re using a flat strap. As we’ve come this far, we might as well take a closer look at the L85 Lens Plate before going into detail on the L-Plate, so here is a photo of the underside of the L85 Lens Plate.
Note the two little grub-screws at the front and back edge of the plate. These are to stop the plate from slipping out of the quick release clamp on the tripod should the lever come loose. They won’t, of course, prevent it from falling out if the lever is completely opened, but a loose lever is covered here. You also get a closer look at those QD Sockets that we mentioned earlier. I am actually more a fan of the complete replacement lens feet that Really Right Stuff usually make, but they don’t have anything for the Canon RF 100-500mm lens yet, and they couldn’t say if there were plans to produce one, so I went for the multi-purpose L85 for now.
And finally, before we move on, here’s a shot of the 100-500mm lens with the EOS R5 sitting proudly on top of my old and very trusted Really Right Stuff BH-55. It’s a bit beaten up, and I have to admit to cloning out a few scratches in these photos, but after more than 12 years of use I have no reason to replace this workhorse ball-head.
Canon EOS R5 & R6 L-Plate
OK, so let’s take a closer look now at the new L-Plate which is designed for use with both the Canon EOS R5 and the R6, and this again has a number of innovative improvements. The first as I’ve mentioned is the QD Socket to enable the attachment of the QD loop, and the other thing is the addition of the sliding plate that you can see in this image of the underside of the L-Plate. In the image to the right below, I aligned just this silver plate with the screw thread and registration hole in the bottom of the EOS R5, so that you can see what’s happening.
The slider is basically prevented from rotating because it’s fixed in two separate locations, so the L-Plate feels really secure when fixed to the camera, even though there is only one locking nut. There is also the inclusion of a short hex key held into place under the L-Plate with two strong magnets, so it’s always there when you need to loosen or remove the Plate. I actually have a hex key on my keyring which is always in my pocket, but this is a nice addition. In fact, I may even now remove the one from my keyring.
As you can see in the next image, the slider mechanism enables us to loosen the L-Plate and slide it out to the left of the camera, allowing for easier access to the cable ports, which is especially useful if you shoot tethered video or stills, and need to put the cable holders into position. You can access the cable ports without doing this, but these larger attachments take a little more room, so it’s nice to have this option.
There is also a gap in the vertical plate for the L-Plate which enables us to rotate the articulated LCD for up to 35 degrees when extended out to the side. You cannot simply rotate it freely though, so I’ve decided to stick with a regular base plate for my second camera, although I do like having an L-Plate of my camera as it also protects it from getting knocked around, especially when shooting on a rocking boat, for example. My L-Plates usually end up with white paint on them from the sides of boats, and I’m always grateful that it’s the plate and not my camera that is taking the knocks.
Of course, the major benefit to using an L-Plate is because it provides the ability to flip the camera up into portrait orientation on the tripod and keep the center of gravity in the center of the system, unlike when you flop the camera over on its side in the ball-head, which I really dislike having to do. With the L-Plate you hardly lose any height of the viewfinder and it is simply so much better balanced in portrait orientation.
This is only an issue, of course, when using shorter lenses. With longer lenses like the 100-500mm, I simply loosen the tripod ring locking screw and rotate the camera and lens into portrait orientation, because the camera is mounted with the lenses plate not the L-Plate.
OK, so a relatively short episode to end the year with, but I hope you found that useful. As usual, if you did find this useful and would like to help keep a roof over my head, please by with the B&H Affiliate Links in this post and below. The price is unchanged to you, but it does help to keep the lights on, so using these links is very much appreciated. And to end, I’d like to wish you a safe and peaceful 2021.
Today I’m going to walk you through a few tips for shooting images to later stitch together to create high resolution panorama photographs. We’re going to cover two methods for finding the No Parallax Point which helps with avoiding parallax shift, as well as looking at some easier methods of shooting that also work great.
Today’s episode is actually an adapted version of a topic I cover in detail in my Striking Landscapes eBook from Craft & Vision. Although I’ll try to cover the actual process of stitching the images together on the computer at a later date, if you would like this information sooner rather than later, perhaps consider picking up a copy of this eBook and following along with that, if you don’t already have a copy that is. Otherwise, we’ll get to that in a future episode.
Multiple Ways to Shoot Base Images
For panorama photographs comprised of multiple images stitched together, there are multiple ways to shoot your base images, and infinite levels of intricacy depending on how much work you are prepared to do for the end product. I use a number of methods depending on the situation.
On rare occasions I simply crop a single frame down to create a panoramic aspect ratio image, but that results in a small image, which won’t be optimal for large prints. I have printed single frame crops at 40″ wide though, having blown the image up with onOne Software’s Perfect Resize, so if there are reasons for shooting a single frame and cropping, such as having a lot of moving elements in the scene that would make sticking virtually impossible, then I’ll do that, but like to avoid it when possible.
If I’m running and gunning I will sometimes simply find my scene, flip the camera vertically, and shoot a series of hand-held images. With the stitching software being so good these days, this method is generally fine, and although we’ll go on to talk about much more complicated methods today, depending on the situation, I really don’t mind when this is my only option.
This method also works well when photographing from a rocking ship, like this photograph (below), which was stitched together from a series of frames shot hand-held from the stern of a rocking ship heading down the Beagle Channel in Argentina, on my way to Antarctica. There’s little point in using a tripod from a moving base, and our bodies actually compensate for the rocking quite well as we automatically try to stop ourselves from falling over.
Beagle Channel 2012
Lock Down Exposure
One important thing to remember when shooting for panoramas is that if you shoot in an automatic exposure mode such as Program or Aperture Priority, your resulting images will have various exposure levels, and this makes it very difficult to create a consistent look across the stitched image. For example, the sky might have bands of varying brightness, which obviously looks terrible. To overcome this, it’s generally better to lock your exposure down in Manual mode. If you prefer an automatic exposure mode for your general shooting, get your exposure where you want it to be with your typical shooting style, but then make a mental note of your settings, then go to Manual, and set your camera to those settings.
Take a look at the entire scene you intend to shoot when you do this, and set your exposure for the brightest part of the scene. Although it’s possible to deal with dark shadows later, to give your image the best chance, use the ETTR (Expose to the Right) technique discussed in Episode 381. If you have any specular highlights, you might choose to allow them to overexpose a little, but try not to overexpose much of the image or you will lose detail in those areas.
Shooting from a Tripod
When shooting for stitched panoramas with a little more time, I try to use a tripod. I often use the 70-200 mm lens with a tripod foot, and rotate the camera and lens in the tripod ring to keep the centre of gravity over the rotation axis of the tripod for better balance and to stop the camera from moving sideways as I rotate the camera.
I generally use a Really Right Stuff L-bracket on my cameras, so when I shoot panoramas with a shorter focal length lens like the 24-70mm, I can easily flip the camera on its side as shown in this photo (below). The centre of the lens remains over the rotation axis of the tripod to help stabilise and stop the camera from moving to the side as I rotate the camera.
RRS L-Bracket Orientations
With the camera flipped over as in the right-most example here, it swings a lot as you move the camera for each frame, causing parallax issues that we really want to avoid. Even the first two example can cause parallax issue, but we’ll look at how to overcome that shortly. Of course, the reason that we flip the camera in the first place is because that helps us to avoid the lens distortion that generally creeps in more on the edges of the frame, which become the top and bottom of the images in the vertical orientation, and some of that will be cropped away later anyway. Plus, if you leave your camera in the landscape orientation, your panoramas end up very long and thin, and lower resolution than when you flip the camera vertically and zoom in a little bit.
Levelling the Tripod
To prevent your camera from creeping up or down too much as you pan, try to get your tripod as level as possible. Many tripods have a spirit level at the top of one of the legs, or the platform onto which you attached your tripod head. You can use this to get the tripod level by adjusting the length of each of the legs to compensate for any unevenness in the ground.
To save time when levelling my tripod, I use what’s called a levelling base. These come with a locking mechanism that you can unscrew to loosen the platform at the base of the tripod head, and you can then move it up to 15 degrees in any direction. This enables me to level the tripod head without having the tripod on even ground or painstakingly adjusting the height of each leg.
RRS Leveling Base Tilted Over
Panoramas Using a Ball Head
Since ball heads allow the camera to be moved around freely, you will also need to level your camera before you begin to shoot your series of photographs. Many modern cameras have a digital level built in, which makes it a breeze to level the camera. You don’t need to level the camera on the vertical axis, but ensuring that the camera is horizontally level will stop it from drifting too far up or down as you pan. If you don’t have a digital level built in to your camera, you can also use the small, inexpensive plastic spirit levels that fit into the flash hot shoe.
Errors Due to Parallax
OK, so shooting with a ball head from a levelled tripod will give great results most of the time. This is how I shoot the vast majority of my panorama photographs. But, it can introduce errors when stitching your frames together due to slight shifts in parallax because you are rotating the camera in front of the rotation axis of the tripod.
In this example (below) the images on the left were shot with the camera on a tripod using a ball head. I’ve merged the photos together for the sake of the illustration, but they are two sets of three photos shot with the crane ornaments on the far left, centre and far right of the frame as I rotated the camera. In the three images to the left, you can see that the relationship between the two cranes and the small plaque changes as I pan left to right, with the foreground elements drifting outwards. The set of three images on the right here were shot with a pano-gimbal head and the camera in a position to avoid parallax, and there is no parallax shift as the camera is rotated.
The No-Parallax Point
To understand why this happens, hold a finger up and look at it with one eye, then close that eye and open the other, and the finger will move in relation to the background. This is the parallax between our two eyes (and a well-understood phenomenon), but our camera only has one eye, so why is this such a big deal?
Really Right Stuff Pano-Gimbal Head
Next, hold up a finger and look at it with one eye closed, then move your head from side to side while looking at your finger. As you rotate your head one way, your finger will shift in the opposite direction in relation to the background. This is because your eye, or you lens in this example, is in front of the rotation axis, which right now is your neck.
Now try looking at your finger with one eye closed once again, but this time rotate your head around your eye, instead of from the neck. Your finger and the background will remain stationary as your head rotates around your eye. You just found your eye’s no-parallax point, which is actually the pupil. Your camera is the same. To remove the parallax, you have to rotate the camera around what’s called the no-parallax point, or NPP.
Really Right Stuff Pano-Gimbal Head
To rotate the camera around the NPP, consider something like the PG-02 pano-gimbal from Really Right Stuff. (Note: You also need a Nodal Slide, which is not part of the PG-02 package.) You might recall that this is what I use as my gimbal head when shooting wildlife with long lenses, and with the addition of a Nodal Slide that you can see in this example photo (right) it works very well as a pano-gimbal head to help me to avoid parallax.
It doesn’t remove parallax automatically of course. There are some precise setup steps that you have to follow each time you use it, which include sliding the camera back and forth in the nodal slide to an exact point for each focal length, based on the following tests, which we’ll look at now.
Setting up the Pano-Gimbal
First we need to set up the gimbal head. I’ll use the process for my RRS PG-02 Pano-Gimbal as an example, but this will of course vary depending on the gear you use.
It’s quite large when assembled, so I generally keep it broken down in a LensCoat Really Right Stuff Gimbal Pouch (below) while traveling to a location. The instructions are the same for either setting up the pano-gimbal in the field and setting it up to carry out your tests to find your key no-parallax points.
LensCoat PG-02 Pouch
Before we start, we need the tripod level, using some of the methods we mentioned earlier, then fit the Horizontal Arm of the PG-02 pano-gimbal, and check that it’s level with the built-in spirit-level.
RRS PG-02 with Horizontal Arm
Next, fit the vertical arm and nodal slide that we saw in the earlier example photo. If you have a battery grip on your camera, fit the vertical arm hanging slightly over the end of the horizontal base: there’s enough room for this configuration. Ensure that the camera is aligned with the registration marks on the L-bracket so that you know your camera is horizontally in the middle of the setup.
RRS L-Bracket Registration Marks
The next step is to ensure that the camera is aligned with the rotation axis of the tripod. Point the camera straight down, and looking either through the viewfinder or using Live View zoomed in, focus the lens at the minimum focus distance, then stop the lens down to f/16 or f/22 and press the depth of field preview button. This is usually enough for you to be able to see the registration crosshair in the center of the horizontal panning base. Now adjust the position of the vertical bar on the horizontal bar until the crosshair is in the center of the frame, as you see in this photo (below).
Aligning with the Cross-Hair
Camera Aligned with Cross-Hair
In this photo (above), the white square, digital level and red line are in the camera via Live View, and the white cross and white circle around the digital level’s black circle are the registration crosshair on the pano-gimbal’s horizontal panning base, being viewed via Live View.
To help you to visualise this, here’s a photo of the camera in the Pano-Gimbal head while pointing straight down at the cross-hair in the centre of the horizontal base (right).
Next, we’ll look at two methods for finding the No Parallax Point (NPP) for the key focal lengths of your lens, which will be at certain distances on the nodal slide, which is how we move the camera back and forth. There are two commonly discussed ways to do this: one is more fun, but, in my experience, not quite as accurate as the second method we’ll look at. Let’s do the more fun one first though.
Finding the No-Parallax Point – Method #1
The first method involves looking into your lens with the aperture stopped down, with a bright light (like a window) behind the camera, shining back through the viewfinder and aperture. Basically, when you have the camera at the correct point on the nodal slide, the bright spot that you see in the lens will remain perfectly stationary as you move the camera around.
A Bit of DIY
To check for movement in the bright spot of light, I recommend using a sight if you don’t have a second camera, but if you do have a second camera, set it up on a sturdy tripod pointing at your first camera, and we’ll use photographs of the bright dot to find your no-parallax point. If you have to make a DIY sight, it can be as simple as a rectangle of cardboard with a “V” and a groove cut into it as we see in this photo (below).
NPP Testing With Sight
Just bend the cardboard around, tape it at roughly 90 degrees on either end, and then fix it to the top of a stand such as an old tripod or light stand.
With your camera facing you with the bright light source behind it, set your aperture to f/16 (if it isn’t already there), and for the test, hold down the depth of field preview button while rotating the camera on the pano-gimbal. This can be somewhat difficult to do, here’s a bit of a secret to help with this test. With most DSLR cameras, while holding the depth of field preview button, if you push your lens release button and turn the lens slightly, when you let go, the aperture will stay stopped down, where it needs to be for these tests. Just be sure to click your lens back into place when you’ve finished the tests. If you forget to do this, the lens could work loose and fall out of the mount later, and we don’t want that to happen.
Now to actually find the NPP, rotate the camera to the right then left, and while looking through your sight or shooting test shots with a second camera, check to see if the spot moves left or right. This photo (below) shows what you’ll see if the camera is too far forwards, and needs to be moved backwards in the nodal slide. As a guide, if the spot moves outwards as you swing it to the left or right, the camera is too far forward and needs to be moved backwards on the nodal slide until the spot stays in the exact same place when the camera is swing sideways.
NPP Testing – Camera Too Far Forward
Conversely, if the spot moves inwards, in the opposite direction to these examples as you rotate the camera, the camera is too far back and needs to be moved forwards in the nodal slide.
As we can see in this diagram (below) the spot of light moves this way because it needs to be directly over the rotation axis of the tripod for your camera to be set at the no-parallax point. If your camera is too far forward, the spot is in front of the axis and so it swings outwards, and if the camera is too far back, it’s behind the axis, and so moves inwards with the rotation of the camera.
No Parallax Point Adjustment Diagram
It might take a few adjustments, but you can gradually move the camera back and forth on the nodal slide until the spot of light remains stationary as you rotate the camera from side to side. If fact, once you have the camera at the correct point on the slide, you should be able to move it in any direction, up and down as well as side to side, and the spot of light will remain stationary, as we can see in this animated GIF that I created from nine photographs of the camera in various positions.
Finding the NPP with a Bright Window
You can find your no parallax points relatively easily using the sight method, but I found that photographing the camera as in the examples shown here, and then zoom in on the image in playback mode on the camera’s LCD, then switching between images to check for movement of the bright spot works the best. It’s just easier to see if the spot is moving than when using a sight.
Finding the No-Parallax Point – Method #2
The other method I use to locate my NPP is to put an object like a tripod or a studio light stand about three or four feet in front of my camera. Then, with the camera focused on something in the distance and the aperture stopped down to f/16 or f/22, I shoot two photos. In the first photo, I rotate the camera to the right so the light stand is close to the left edge of the frame, and in the second photo I rotate the camera left with the light stand near the right edge of the frame.
I do my rough alignment, with the camera in Live View mode so that I can see the foreground object moving as I rotate the camera, but then when I think I’m close, I shoot an image at each extreme and then zoom in and check by moving back and forth between the two images on the LCD.
NPP Light Stand Tests
RRS Nodal Slide at 160mm
You might find that you have to adjust and reshoot a few times, but it’s pretty easy to find your no-parallax point after two or three adjustments once you get used to this. This photo (above) is a 100% crop from two test shots.
See how the light stand remained almost completely stationary as I rotated the camera right to left. So this is actually a photograph with the light-stand on the far left of the frame, when the camera is rotated to the right, and on the far right of the frame, when the camera is rotated to the left, and we can see that the camera is at the no parallax point, because there is no parallax shift in these resulting photographs.
Record and Repeat
Of course, you have to record the position at which you have your camera in the Nodal Slide for each focal length, so that you can set your camera at the NPP easily in the field as you shoot for your stitched panoramas.
How you record your measurements will depend on your nodal slide, and although there have been attempts to standardise these measurements to enable easy sharing of data, I generally find it easier to just test myself and note my results, as shared below. Firstly, I always set my camera clamp at 160 mm on my nodal slide, and leave it there (right).
This means that all of my NPP measurements can be jotted down with easy value pairs such as 24 mm = 45.5 mm, 28 mm = 47 mm, 35 mm = 51.5 mm, etc. The first value is the lens focal length, and the second value is the point at which I have the nodal slide attached to the quick release clamp on my vertical arm (below).
RRS Nodal Slide at 48mm
Knowing these measurements means that I don’t have to find my NPP afresh every time I set up the pano-gimbal in the field. I just have to ensure that my camera is directly over the rotation axis of the tripod by pointing it straight down and adjusting, and then set the camera to these measurements on the nodal slide, and I’m good to go.
Keep Your Notes Handy
I find and note the NPP for all focal lengths etched on the lens, as they are easy to return to in the field. I then add my measurements as a note on my computer, which automatically synchs to my iPhone. You could also write it on the back page of a shooting journal, or whatever you have with you in the field. The important thing is to have something like this list with you when you need it.
24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 24 mm: 160-48 mm on nodal slide
24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 28 mm: 160-50 mm on nodal slide
24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 35 mm: 160-55 mm on nodal slide
24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 50 mm: 160-67 mm on nodal slide
24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 70 mm: 160-78 mm on nodal slide
Shoot Your Series of Frames
Whether you are shooting hand-held, on a tripod with a ball head or with a full pano-gimbal setup, once you are ready to shoot, it’s generally best to start at one extreme of your scene, include a little more than you think you’ll need in your final photograph, and start to shoot a series photos moving a half to two thirds of a frame at a time. The overlap is necessary to help Photoshop or other stitching software to line up the images. If you shoot multiple rows of images, ensure that you also have at least a third of the bottom of your image overlapping the top of the previous row, or vice versa.
There are techniques for using the degree engravings on the pano-gimbal or tripod heads when shooting for stitched panoramas, and I’m sure there are benefits to doing this, but I do this by eye most of the time. Note though that it does help to lock down the vertical movement of the tripod head as you move the camera horizontally to stop your frames from drifting up or down.
To finish, here is a series of photos which we used in my example workflow in my Striking Landscapes eBook. The scene captured here is Ashino Lake with a Shinto Gate (Torii) and Mount Fuji in the distance, and was shot with a single line series of images at 135 mm. The edges of each overlapping photograph is highlighted in Photoshop. You can see here too that although I was really careful getting everything level, the images did drift up slightly as I made my series of exposures.
Pano of Mt. Fuji with Photo Edges
In Striking Landscapes we go on to walk you through how to actually stitch these images together in Photoshop, but we won’t get into that today. As I said earlier though, at some point we’ll touch on this, and I’ll probably introduce a new piece of software that I’m using now, as well as recapping on Photoshop as well possibly. Either way, I need a little more time to prepare for that, so we’ll finish here for today, with the techniques necessary for finding your no parallax points, and actually capturing your images for stitched panoramas.
Once again I’m going to reply to a listener question this week, this time a question from listener Fred Kotler about when and how I use my tripods. I thought this would be a good chance to take a look at my current support line-up, and discuss a little about why I have each of them, when I like to use a tripod, and why I sometimes decide to go hand-held or now also use a monopod sometimes.
First let me read out Fred’s message, that spurred today’s episode: “I’m a serious amateur photographer who has always hand held my camera. That meant I could never get decent shots in low light conditions nor could I experiment with long exposure photography. I’ve remedied the problem by purchasing a top quality tripod system from Really Right Stuff and I was hoping that you could devote a podcast episode to how you use your tripod. Under what conditions do you use one and under what conditions do you not.”
Thanks for the question Fred, and congratulations on avoiding a very common mistake right off the bat. Many people buy a cheap crappy tripod to begin, and often use it for a number of years until they realize that it isn’t helping and perhaps even sometimes hindering their photography. I did it with my first tripod some twenty years ago, and I used that tripod for some 12 years before I bought a decent one, with my old Manfrotto. You went straight for the Really Right Stuff, so despite their high price, you’ve probably saved yourself some money buy doing this.
Over the years I’ve managed to gather a little collection of tripods, two of which are not in this photo, but I’ll use this to first walk you through what I currently use, and the reasons why they ended up in my collection. From left to right we have an old Gitzo Tripod fitted with the Wimberley Head, which is a gimbal head that I use for long lenses. Next is a Really Right Stuff Monopod, then two Really Right Stuff tripods, the left one fitted with a BH-55 and the right one fitted with a BH-40 ball head. On the right we have see a 5 Series Gitzo tripod that is fitted with a Manfrotto 519 Fluid Video Head.
Martin’s Camera Support Line-up
The left most tripod is now over 5 years old, and superseded by other models, but it’s a GT3540L. My first Gitzo tripod is actually older than this, and although I still have it, I don’t use it anymore, basically because it was made before Gitzo introduced their Anti Leg Rotation system, so whenever you tighten or loosen the legs, quite often a different leg section would come loose, and you have to hold the second leg section to stop that from rotating. This basically drove me crazy, but the good thing about this first tripod was that I could get the camera to my eye level without extended the fourth leg section. One of my Really Right Stuff tripods also does this though, so basically the old big Gitzo has been shelved.
Actually, the GT3540L that we see here is now pretty much a backup tripod, although it’s still a very capable and steady piece of kit. The reason I replaced it is because one of the legs came loose and I had to send it in for repairs, but this happened just a few weeks before the 5 year warranty expired, and I was due to leave for my Pixels 2 Pigment tour in September 2012 before the repairs would be complete. Secretly I was happy, because I had been hankering after a Really Right Stuff tripod for a while, and this was a good chance to pick one up.
Anyway, the main reason the left Gitzo is in this photo is to support the Wimberley Head which is still very important to my photography. As I explain in my latest Craft & Vision eBook, Sharp Shooter, gimbal heads are extremely useful for supporting long lenses without the need to lock them down in any one position. A well balanced gimbal head will allow you to move the camera around with one finger, and stop wherever you let go of it.
Wimberley Head with 600mm f/4
This is the closest you can get to the freedom of hand-held shooting without actually having to hold the weight of the camera and lens, which is why they are so useful with big heavy lenses like this. I also use a long lens support system from Really Right Stuff to support long lenses and stop them from shuddering from the vibration of the shutter unit. I cover this in Sharp Shooter too, and I’ll be updating you as to whether it’s still necessary to use the long lens support with the new 200-400mm lens once I’ve really had a chance to use it in the field and put a full review together.
Really Right Stuff MC-35 Monopod with MH-02 LR Head
What I do expect to be using more now with the 200-400mm lens, is the Really Right Stuff Monopod. I owned a Manfrotto monopod some eight years or so ago, and used it a fair bit, but after a while it broke, just locked up solid and couldn’t be extended, and I hadn’t used it enough to warrant getting it fixed or buying a new one. I’m expecting that to change with the 200-400mm lens which is a bit too heavy to hand-hold, but won’t always warrant a full tripod or gimbal to support it, especially for fast paced shooting, and also from the boat where we shoot the eagles in Hokkaido. I won’t be able to use a tripod there, but it would be way too heavy to hand-hold for the 2 hours that we shoot from the boat. Monopods are of course also popular with sports photographers who need to support heavy glass but have some of the freedom of hand-holding shooting without the space required for a tripod and gimbal head, which also require more time to move around and level, and time is not usually a luxury sports photographers are afforded.
Really Right Stuff currently only do one carbon fiber monopod, the MC-34, and I bought it with the MH-02 LR head, which allows you to tilt the camera up and down easily, and it can also be easily oriented either parallel or perpendicular to the tilt of the head by unscrewing the Index Lock Knob and rotating the clamp in 90° increments. This is useful if you sometimes use shorter lenses with a camera plate or L-Bracket, as opposed to the longer lenses with a lens plate running parallel to the lens barrel. The MC-34 at full extend gets the camera quite a way above me eye level, so will be fine height wise too. Again, I haven’t really used this much yet, but intend to really start using it with the 200-400mm, and possibly other lenses as well in the near future. I’ll let you know how this goes too in a future episode.
Really Right Stuff Tripods
In September 2012, I released Podcast episode 350, in which I discussed my Really Right Stuff tripod, and the various L-Brackets, plates and tripod heads that I use to support my gear. For more information on the plates and heads etc. do take a look at that blog post and Podcast at https://mbp.ac/350. I’m not going to go into so much detail on that area today, but I do want to recap on some of the points of my TVC-34L tripod, which is the second from the left in the photo, and the TA-3-LB leveling base that I had it fitted with.
In reality, this has become the tripod that I use the Wimberley Head with, for the main reason that I can level the head in just a few seconds with the leveling base, rather than having to adjust the levelness of the head by painstakingly adjusting the height of the bottom section of each leg. Of course, you always shorten a tripod with the thinner bottom leg sections first. Always use the fatter, top leg sections first, as that helps to maintain the rigidity of the tripod.
For my Winter Wonderland Tours this year, I actually just took the RRS TVC-34L tripod and both the BH-55 ball head and the Wimberley Head, and switched between the heads as necessary. The gimbal for the bird photography with the 600mm f/4 lens, and then the BH-55 for all of my landscape work. This works really well, and as I rarely do both at the same time, I no longer take two tripods with me.
Another thing to note here though, as I mentioned earlier, is that the TVC-34L tripod, like my first Gitzo, gets the camera to my eye level without having to extend the fourth leg section. This is important in places like Hokkaido because the snow can sometimes be so deep, that you either need to attach snow feet to your tripod, which I really don’t like to carry around, or allow the feet to sink into the snow. This of course means if the tripod sinks very far, you can end up stooping to see through your viewfinder, and that’s not good if you need to shoot for longer than a few minutes. Having an extra leg section helps to avoid that.
Lose the Center Column
I also don’t like to use a center column with my tripods, and this means if you need to get the camera way up in the air, tilted upwards with you looking up into the viewfinder, you really need a little extra height. I don’t use that center column purely for stability. One pole is less stable than three, so you should always try to calculate your tripod height without figuring in the height of the center column. Having a high tripod also allows you to use step-ladders and shoot over the heads of crowds etc. which is another benefit, especially if you shoot events and have the lens power to still get your shots from behind the crowd.
TVC-34L Tripod with Leveling Base at Ground Level
Another reason I don’t like to use a center column is because it stops you from easily going to ground level. Some manufacturers have tripods with center columns that swing out for easy low level work, but I prefer to keep the camera in the middle of the tripod, and so like to just go really low, as we can see in this photo (above). With my old Gitzo I used to be able to take the center column out and put it in upside down, hanging the camera underneath the tripod for low angles like this, and I quite liked that for macro work, but I found more and more that I just wasn’t doing that, preferring to actually just lie on the floor if I needed to get lower than this, so I didn’t worry about this too much when I bought my Really Right Stuff tripod.
A “Lighter” Alternative
Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head and TA-2-LB Leveling Base
When I was preparing for my Namibia trip, I decided it would be better to take a slightly lighter tripod and head, so I picked up the Really Right Stuff TVC-23 tripod with a TA-2-LB leveling base, and the BH-40 ball head that we can see in this photo (right). You can see from the first photo we looked at that this tripod and head is actually a shade longer than my other RRS Tripod, because the leveling base has to be fitted on top of the TVC-23 tripod, but this combination weighs just 2.3kg (5lbs) as opposed to 3.29kg (7.25lbs) for the TVC-34L with the BH-55 and Leveling Base. That extra kilogram makes a lot of difference when you’re trying to get your overall carry-on weight under 20kg, and it was also nice to have the lighter tripod when walking any distances.
Note too that if I really needed to shave off some weight, and I could live without the leveling base, I could take out, saving an extra 330g (11.6 oz) and the BH-40 actually mounts flush to the top of the Really Right Stuff Versa Series 2 tripods.
The BH-55 ball head has a load capacity of 23kg (50lbs), compared to the BH-40 at 8kg (18lbs), but this means that even the BH-40 would even support my 1D X and the old 600mm, weighing in at a total of 7kg (15.5lbs) are under the maximum load, although I wouldn’t use that combination. Anything up to a 300mm f/2.8 lens and a pro body though would be fine with this combination, and I didn’t have any problems in Namibia at all, even when shooting multi-minute long exposures.
It is always necessary to check the maximum load though. My tripod before my old Gitzo 3540L was a Manfrotto that got my viewfinder just to my eye with all legs fully extended, but not the center pole. I haven’t a clue what capacity it was rated to now, but it stopped supporting my gear when I got my first pro body, the 1Ds Mark III and the 300mm f/2.8 lens. These were just too much for it, so I bought the Gitzo and the Really Right Stuff BH-55, and never looked back.
I’m not going to go into detail on this today, but the fourth tripod in my first photo is a Gitzo 5541LS with a 75mm Bowl Adapter and the Manfrotto 519 Fluid Video Head. This is a beast to carry around, but an essential tool for video shooting, when you need to pan around smoothly. Since I bought this around four years ago now, there have been some interesting fluid heads released from Manfrotto, Gitzo and now also Really Right Stuff, so if I was buying now, I probably wouldn’t have gone for this particular head, just from a weight perspective, but when shooting video, this sort of thing is the way to go.
When Do I Use a Tripod?
So, that’s what I use, with a little information on why and when I use them interwoven, but to more thoroughly answer Fred’s question, let’s talk a little about my general guidelines for when I will use a tripod, and when I don’t.
My general rule of thumb is to use a tripod, unless it doesn’t make sense to do so. What I mean is, my default mode is to use a tripod, but that doesn’t mean I use one all the time, as my definition of “makes sense” is quite flexible. For example, if I go for a walk around a local park alone, I will often use a tripod the entire time, unless I need to get really low, in which case I’ll lie down and either put the camera on the floor, or support it with my left hand and my hand rested on the floor. Otherwise, I use the tripod.
I find that using a tripod makes me think about my photography more. Unless I’m shooting a moving subject, I generally shoot landscapes and flowers etc. in Live View mode. I sometimes start by lining the shot up through the viewfinder, but then switch to Live View, and this helps me to see the world two dimensionally, just as it will be in the final image. I feel it’s easier to fine tune the composition of an image in this way, rather than looking through the viewfinder the entire time, as in there everything is still three dimensional, and it’s easier for our brains to correct things that we don’t notice until we see the image flattened into two dimensions.
I can also zoom in on the viewfinder in Live View, and tweak my focus manually. I actually rarely use the autofocus in Live View, except sometimes to quickly get me focussed on something as I set up the shot, and then it’s always tweaked while zoomed in, in Live View, before I release the shutter.
The slower process also leads me to shoot less. I find that because I’m so happy with what I see when shooting from a tripod, I generally only shoot a handful of frames of each subject, unless I’m waiting for a critical moment, when I might shoot more to increase my chances of capturing that moment, but generally, I shoot less, and that helps to get through your editing process more quickly, and also just feels more like a craft. I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t shoot lots of frames, because I go crazy with birds in flight or wildlife, trying to get the absolute best pose, but when you can slow down, I think it helps your photography.
The Freedom of Hand-Held
I already noted that I use a tripod with a gimbal for very long lenses, and I will be trying the monopod again as I get out with the 200-400mm more, but these two methods are really trying to bring us as close to hand-held photography as possible. Following on from my walk in the park example, if I’m walking with my wife, and it’s supposed to be a walk in the park, not a photography shoot, then I will have a camera with me and shoot what I can, but I rarely even take a tripod on these walks, because it annoys the hell out of her.
It’s the same for what little street photography I do. I just want to be fast on my feet, and have the camera ready to shoot, then just do it, rather than spending the time to set up a tripod, which in most cases would take so long that you’d lose the shot, unless you were to set up and wait for a scene to unfold, but then you’d also draw attention to yourself as well, which you might not want to do.
I have set up a tripod in the city before, to do long exposures. With long exposure shots, be it nature or city photography, you need a very stable tripod. This is one of the reasons I buy such good quality tripods. I’ve seen so many people with flimsy tripods doing multiple second long exposures, then wondering why their images are soft. The camera has to stay perfectly still, or it won’t work, and the only way you can make that happen, is with a good firm tripod. You also need to use a cable release or two second timer to get your hands away from the camera etc. but I’ve covered all that before in a dedicated episode, so we won’t go into that again today.
Wildlife Photography & Panning
I also like to shoot wildlife hand-held, again, when it makes sense. If I’m shooting up to a medium telephoto, which in my books used to be something like my 300mm f/2.8 lens with an Extender, usually a 1.4X giving me a 420mm focal length. I also like to use the 70-200mm f/2.8, sometimes with the Extender, and I’ll pretty much always hand-hold these lenses if the wildlife is moving around, or I need to move around a lot to capture them from the best angle.
If the wildlife is not moving a lot or the light is getting low, this means hand-holding does not make sense any more, so I might go back to the tripod. Of course, I might have waited for the light to get low so that I could use a slowish shutter speed and do some panning, and I always hand hold for panning shots, because the action needs to be from the waste, and not rotating around a tripod, so again, it’s all about whether or not it makes sense to use a tripod.
Tripods in Macro
Again, I’ve done episodes dedicated to this, so just a quick word, but there are times when a tripod is the best way to do macro work. Even as we breath we tend to rock back and forth a little, so for very close macro work, I find it works best to use a tripod, especially if I’m also using a Twin-Lite strobe and additional off camera flashes. I’ve done this hand held and it can be frustrating, and sometimes just not work at all, especially if you are trying to hold an off-camera flash in one hand and shoot with the other.
Focus Stacked Flower
I also always use a tripod when doing focus stacking. Especially for macro work, you don’t want the camera moving around, or Photoshop will have a job on its hands trying to align the images for you, and it sometimes doesn’t even work. Here’s a shot of a spritzed flower that I did a focus stack of to illustrate this technique in my latest ebook Sharp Shooter.
There are times of course when you are trying to capture an insect for example, flying from flower to flower, when you might go hand-held, and with the IS enabled macro lenses available now, it’s certainly an option. Again, it’s all about whether or not it makes sense to use the tripod, and sense is something that is very individual to each of us.
I find that when I’m shooting in a studio, with full blown studio lighting, I prefer to hand hold, even if I’m shooting still life. Firstly, I’m usually shooting at 1/200 or 1/250 of a second, and the flash is much faster than that, so camera shake isn’t really an issue. If I need to really work the framing, I might spend the time to set up a tripod, but I usually like to move around a little more freely, changing angles all the time, working the various nuances that a slightly different angle can create. When shooting people in the studio it’s even more the case. I like to move around a lot, and interact, as well as finding the various angles that really make the shot, so I never shoot people in the studio with a tripod.
Find Your Style
We all shoot differently, so these guidelines are really just a summary of my shooting styles. You might find that using a tripod doesn’t work for you the way it does for me, or you prefer to use a tripod when I don’t. It’s really totally up to you, but if my own guidelines spark any ideas in you, then it’s probably been worth putting this together. The most important thing I think is to shoot as much as you can, and this will help you to define your shooting style for various subject types.
Last week while I was in Cupertino, I was happy to make the time to drive three hours south to visit the Really Right Stuff facilities, which they’d only moved into just a day or so before my visit. While I was there we recorded a brief conversation with Joe Johnson Jr. which I am releasing as this weeks Podcast episode.
Please excuse the poor audio quality. I recorded with a portable digital recorder, and it wasn’t as good as I’d have liked. Please bear with me though as I travel, and that goes for the sporadic release schedule too. Thanks!