My review of the Gigapan  

In the panorama field, hardware is also part of the success. You can discuss here about it: camera, computer, pano head, anything
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My review of the Gigapan

by bradtem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:23 am

It's not a very happy one, though of course it still only calls itself a beta product.

http://ideas.4brad.com/not-entirely-fair-review-gigapan-imager

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by Paul » Wed Dec 10, 2008 9:32 am

bradtem wrote:Not that it hurts, but I want to make the unit light, portable and cheap.

As the Merlin is a slow device you should take a close look to Phil Warners Panoduino, just google "Panoduino".
Paul

close, but no cigar ... ... ...

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by bradtem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 9:52 am

Looks fun. The pro models should try to emulate a design similar to this. While I like one you can take apart for travel, an "L" shape is usually not too hard to pack into a suitcase of backback, or even camera bag.

While I can't buy his DIY unit, someday I might be able to I suppose. I see that he's just scrounged a wired cable release (these are damned overpriced) for shutter trigger. Much better than servo but not nearly so nice as USB, or even infrared (which many cameras do, including the 5D finally.) As I write, USB trigger allows you to do things quickly. You would just put the camera on at any focal length and let it take a test picture (or first picture) and learn the focal length from the exif, and thus know what interval to space the photos. This would allow an interface of setting the focal length, setting one corner, moving to the other corner and pressing "go." For single row, I could just put it at the left and press "go", stopping it when I want to or letting it stop after doing 360.

When I shoot manually, I can be doing more than one shot per second, and I want an automatic panohead to do even better.

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by klausesser » Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:59 pm

bradtem wrote:Looks fun. The pro models should try to emulate a design similar to this. While I like one you can take apart for travel, an "L" shape is usually not too hard to pack into a suitcase of backback, or even camera bag.

While I can't buy his DIY unit, someday I might be able to I suppose. I see that he's just scrounged a wired cable release (these are damned overpriced) for shutter trigger. Much better than servo but not nearly so nice as USB, or even infrared (which many cameras do, including the 5D finally.) As I write, USB trigger allows you to do things quickly. You would just put the camera on at any focal length and let it take a test picture (or first picture) and learn the focal length from the exif, and thus know what interval to space the photos. This would allow an interface of setting the focal length, setting one corner, moving to the other corner and pressing "go." For single row, I could just put it at the left and press "go", stopping it when I want to or letting it stop after doing 360.

When I shoot manually, I can be doing more than one shot per second, and I want an automatic panohead to do even better.

The ONLY shortcome of the Merlin is - if thet´s essential - it´s speed. On the other hand it´s precise, reliable and cheap - even when you add the price of a used N770 or N800. I bought my N800 for 180.-€ last summer - N770 should go for around 100.-€. Add the Bluetooth-device and adapter for around 60.-£ and you have a very good working panohead.
The biggest advantage - besides the price - is PapyWizard which is under constant developement and gets improved nearly day by day. And is open source.

There are faster, stronger heads - i tried most of them.
The Seitz is a rather expensive just ONE-axis head - which has hard times moving a 1DsMkIII fitted wit a 200mm.
The panomachine works the same way and is the same way expensive.
The Rodeon by Dr. Clauss is a very good device - fast, strong, precise and takes heavy loads. But it costs about 3500.-€
The PixOrb is a monster - its worls very fine, fast, precise and takes heavy camera/lens combinations. But teh last price wich comes to my mind is something around 6000.-$. And you surely wouldn´t like to travel with that gadged .

The Gigapan WAS a nice start of a device - but it´s design lacks consequence. It´s a toy in my eyes - "not fish nor flesh" as we say here. No DSLR and no precise NPP adjustments - using a software-surrounding which is some years behind in terms of quality. And this device in fact isn´t cheaper than a Merlin - even adding the costs of a Nokia and the BT-feature to the Merlin´s price.

A lot of users here has gathered experiences with the Merlin - ask them about.

It´s the same story as it always is: pay much money and get a perfect device - or pay less money and take a compromise. Related to the price-difference of a Rodeon and a Merlin i easily prefer to wait some seconds longer while shooting . . :rolleyes:

best, Klaus
Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance. Coco Chanel

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by bradtem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 9:45 pm

Well, you would be surprised how cheap powerful, fast, accurate servos have gotten of late in the robotics field. The only thing keeping these mounts expensive is the fact that they sell in low volumes. Pappywizard seems fine. As I note I suspect the best thing would be to code it in j2me using bluetooth, so that almost any phone or PDA could be the controller, but of course I can suggest all I want, it's somebody else's code. The merlin is $250 but add the Nokia and it's more than the $300 gigapan.

There are some kits sold for kite aerial photography in the $100 range that can also do the job, and hold heavier cameras too. No computers or UI though, just taking shots at a fixed interval (with shutter servo.)

Maybe I am missing something but I remain confused as to why we see the shutter servo everywhere. Yes, it can press any camera's button but otherwise it's a loser.

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by mediavets » Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:22 pm

bradtem wrote:Well, you would be surprised how cheap powerful, fast, accurate servos have gotten of late in the robotics field. The only thing keeping these mounts expensive is the fact that they sell in low volumes......................

...............Maybe I am missing something but I remain confused as to why we see the shutter servo everywhere. Yes, it can press any camera's button but otherwise it's a loser.

Didn't you answer you own question? A product sold in low volume cannot be sold at an acceptable price if almost every one is a one-off - there is AFAIK no common comms protocol or command syntax between brands for controlling the internal functions of digital cameras - hence the shutter release servo mechanism which is generic.
Last edited by mediavets on Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Andrew Stephens
Many different Nodal Ninja and Agnos pano heads. Merlin/Panogear mount with Papywizard on Nokia Internet tablets.
Nikon D5100 and D40, Sigma 8mm f3.5 FE, Nikon 10.5mm FE, 35mm, 50mm, 18-55mm, 70-210mm. Promote control.

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by bradtem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:29 pm

I don't expect there to be a common protocol. You just have to know the major protocols. I doubt there were more than a tiny number of IR protocols. A library like libgphoto2 already speaks all the known USB protocols I think. For USB control you don't need UI as the camera will identify itself when plugged into USB. For IR you need a UI to shuffle through the different control protocols, or you try them all until the camera takes a picture and the user stops you, like in TV setup.

Now I have learned just this minute that many cameras have been taking out IR control (the 5D just added it) and some have taken out USB shutter control. That just sucks. So the right thing is to make the shutter servo a plug-in, screw-in, option that is only used by people who don't have a camera that can do remote release.

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by klausesser » Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:52 pm

bradtem wrote:Now I have learned just this minute that many cameras have been taking out IR control (the 5D just added it) and some have taken out USB shutter control. That just sucks. So the right thing is to make the shutter servo a plug-in, screw-in, option that is only used by people who don't have a camera that can do remote release.

maybe i´m misunderstanding - but the most comfortable way seems to me to plug one cable´s end into the Merlin and the other end into the remote-release jack of the camera. And let the Merlin - controlled by PapyWizard via BT or USB - release the shutter . . .

best, Klaus
Last edited by klausesser on Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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by mediavets » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:03 pm

bradtem wrote:I don't expect there to be a common protocol. You just have to know the major protocols. I doubt there were more than a tiny number of IR protocols. A library like libgphoto2 already speaks all the known USB protocols I think. For USB control you don't need UI as the camera will identify itself when plugged into USB. For IR you need a UI to shuffle through the different control protocols, or you try them all until the camera takes a picture and the user stops you, like in TV setup.

Now I have learned just this minute that many cameras have been taking out IR control (the 5D just added it) and some have taken out USB shutter control. That just sucks. So the right thing is to make the shutter servo a plug-in, screw-in, option that is only used by people who don't have a camera that can do remote release.

I understood there was an option to remove the shutter servo and use an electronic release (via IR or other wise with third party 'bits' ) on the Giganpan Imager?

USB control would appear to require all the 'smarts' to be in the head - whereas with Merlin/Papywizard most of the 'smarts' are in the wirelessly connected controller (eg. Nokia tablet) and the head is relatively 'dumb'.
Last edited by mediavets on Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Andrew Stephens
Many different Nodal Ninja and Agnos pano heads. Merlin/Panogear mount with Papywizard on Nokia Internet tablets.
Nikon D5100 and D40, Sigma 8mm f3.5 FE, Nikon 10.5mm FE, 35mm, 50mm, 18-55mm, 70-210mm. Promote control.

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by bradtem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:04 pm

Well, the advantage of IR is you don't have to plug anything in, making it easier to mount and unmount the camera. Is there a cheap source of those Canon remote control plugs?

But the huge advantage of USB, as I point out in the review, is that you learn a ton of other stuff. You get an ACK that the photo was taken. You learn the camera model, aspect ratio, orientation and focal length, allowing you to know what angles to turn the camera without the user having to do anything. On some cameras you can set modes or warn that they aren't set (like manual exposure, manual white balance, low ISO during the day etc.) I presume you can also tell how quickly it is writing shots to flash in case you are getting ahead.

With USB you have the ability to stick the camera on the mount, and say "Make me a pano" without telling it anything else, except the boundaries of a non-360 or non-sphere pano.

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by mediavets » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:43 pm

Which compact cameras offer that much control over the camera and information from the camera via USB?
Andrew Stephens
Many different Nodal Ninja and Agnos pano heads. Merlin/Panogear mount with Papywizard on Nokia Internet tablets.
Nikon D5100 and D40, Sigma 8mm f3.5 FE, Nikon 10.5mm FE, 35mm, 50mm, 18-55mm, 70-210mm. Promote control.

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by bradtem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:47 pm

Just about every camera offers the information (just take a picture and suck it in to read the exif, discarding the picture itself) about its current settings, if it offers the ability to take a picture. Even if it doesn't the user could take the first picture, however if you can't snap pictures over USB you are indeed doomed. Even if you use IR or servo or cable, having USB would still be handy as a means for the unit to learn what camera is on it at what focal length, orientation and aspect ratio.

The ability to control settings is sadly limited from what I understand, that's more for high-end. And if you are serious about your panos you probably want a high end. For example, the Canon 20D which can be picked up for $250 plus the 50mm f/1.8 for $80 would blow away any compact camera on image quality, though not on portability.

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by klausesser » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:49 am

bradtem wrote:Well, you would be surprised how cheap powerful, fast, accurate servos have gotten of late in the robotics field.

fine. go and build a panohead out of them :P

best, Klaus
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by fma38 » Thu Dec 11, 2008 7:54 am

The problem is to find the library to control the camera from usb port. You have to ask Nikon (register and so), don't know for Canon, and not much chance for others. There is a free project, gphoto2, which can trigger a lot of cameras through usb, but controls are limited (for example, for my Canon 20D, it is not possible to change the exposure correction).

About the gigapan servo shutter trigger, there are some little circuits which can be plugged like a servo and give a simple contact. Then you can trigger what you want.

About a servo-based panohead, see:

http://www.autopano.net/forum/t4914-new-servos-for-gigapixel-photography

I will post news about Phil's servo-based head...
Frédéric

Canon 20D + 17-40/f4 L USM + 70-200/f4 L USM + 50/f1.4 USM
Merlin/Orion panohead + Papywizard on Nokia N800 and HP TC-1100

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by bradtem » Thu Dec 11, 2008 10:49 am

Yes, I have seen some of these and they are intriguing. But I wanted to try the gigapan because in theory they would worry about making it work. So it's not on my todo list to build this by hand right now. So it's fair to do a review of the mass-produced one and suggest how it could be improved.

As noted, for a mass produced product the best approach, I think, is to try to USB control, but if the user doesn't have a camera that you can control that way (or via infrared) then offer a shutter-servo as an add-on. My criticism of the gigapan was that the shutter servo seemed to forbid more cameras than going with USB would have, but that might not be true in that they may know something about the cameras they expect people to use. The gigapan (and most other motorized heads) is vastly larger than a super-compact P&S, so it seems odd to make it only work with them. (It does work with the new compact G series Canon but not the older ones which are too big due to their grip.)


The gphoto2 library claims support for over 1000 cameras, most cameras of the major brands (including nikon and canon of course.) However, it is not able to trigger the shutter in all of these, unfortunately. As I was suggesting, the idea (but expensive) course for those cameras is to have a servo/cable release/IR to trigger the shutter, and a USB connection to read the EXIF from the first photo taken, to learn the field of view of the lens. While you can't change settings on many of the cameras, you can read the settings, and put up a warning "You may have forgotten to set manual white balance" and similar. (It could still keep shooting after showing the warning if you want to ignore it.)

The USB should also be able to let the head know the image has been stored to flash, in order to learn how to pace shots on the camera.

Now I agree that having enough CPU in the head to read exif may go beyond the specs of a device, though that's not so much CPU these days.

And in the end, I suspect somebody buying a mount and camera with panos in mind would just look to get a camera that can do usb or IR trigger. It would be more reliable, and it makes the camera easier to mount and remove from the pano head.

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by fma38 » Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:12 am

USB connection is not a CPU problem, but a developpement problem. You will have to use a lot of toolkits arround, with different spcifications and so. Such design will increase the final price of the panohead.

Using USB could be a good solution if you make a complete usage of it: download pictures, do intelligent exposure bracketing, automatically import pictures in APP.... That would require a laptop or so, and is far from the gigapan concept. But I agree it would be nice. I will try to propose such approach in v2 of Papywizard ;)
Frédéric

Canon 20D + 17-40/f4 L USM + 70-200/f4 L USM + 50/f1.4 USM
Merlin/Orion panohead + Papywizard on Nokia N800 and HP TC-1100

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by GURL » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:37 pm

Using an USB connection to drive the camera from a computer have a larger scope than panorama only!

For example I wonder whether or not, like cars, new cameras at the last step of production lines or when they need servicing can be pluged to a computer for tests and diagnostics.

"Tethered photography" is something "pro photographers" seem to practice, especially when installing and taking care of the subject before shooting is long and expensive: they want to be sure that the post-processed images are perfect before "undoing" the subject. Most camera manufacturers respond to that by selling suitable applications for their top of the line cameras ...only!

Beside that, controlling a digital camera from a laptop is or would be usefull for:
- macro-photography
- animal wild-life photography
- astro-photography
- pole or aerial photography
- many kinds of scientific applications.

This actually corresponds to any situation where - fore some reason - the photographer being behind the viewfinder is difficult or impossible. Whether yaw and pich changes (plus zooming and focusing) would be useful in those sitations is probable. Small and light cameras having a wide range of removable lenses, no miror nor prism but an electronic viewfinder could help, provided they are not viewed and designed as beginners cameras only...
Georges

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by mediavets » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:40 pm

bradtem wrote:My criticism of the gigapan was that the shutter servo seemed to forbid more cameras than going with USB would have, but that might not be true in that they may know something about the cameras they expect people to use. The gigapan (and most other motorized heads) is vastly larger than a super-compact P&S, so it seems odd to make it only work with them. (It does work with the new compact G series Canon but not the older ones which are too big due to their grip.)

I imagine they expected a mass market/consumer style robotic head would be used by people with 'typical' inexpensive point-n-shoot pocketable compact cameras (which typically seem to have product life cycle of less than 12 months) if/when it truly became a mass market product.

Of course it isn't a mass market product right now. Instead it was taken up by the more 'experimental' pano and robotics enthusiasts and they don't typically use 'run of the mill' cameras. So users have been 'hacking' the Gigapan Imager, for example to mount DSLRs, to adapt to an electronic shutter release system, and so on in an effort to oversome what they see as the limitations of the system.

That's fair enough but it isn't the type of use that the designers originally had in mind when considering a device suitable for a mass/consumer market.

The short product life cycle of consumer pocketable point-n-shoots makes it difficult to design in camera/brand specific control features - so their solution had to be rather generic - hence the mechancial shutter servo.

Yes the current Gigapan Imager has its limitations (the battery mounting/connecting seems to be a particularly horrid weak point) - and I'm sure I would find them very annoying too - but I feel that they put quite a lot of thought into making an integrated, complete and useable system - robotic head, stitching software and web hosting service for panos - for an unsophisticated mass market at an acceptable price.

The resulting panos may often be photographically and aesthetically uninspiring and lack image quality but that's not really the point - which I believe was more in the nature of an experiment in mass market participation in the creation, publishing and sharing of hi-res panos using low cost easy to use photographic equipment , or am I mistaken?

From that standpoint I think they can be considered to have had a very considerable success. I expect they have sold many more robotic pano heads, and enabled the creation, publishing and sharing of more hi-res panos, than all the other pano hardware and software makers put together.

But I still don't want one, at least not one of the current generation (Merlin+Papywizard+APP suits me fine). A Gigapan Imager V2 might be another matter.
Last edited by mediavets on Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Andrew Stephens
Many different Nodal Ninja and Agnos pano heads. Merlin/Panogear mount with Papywizard on Nokia Internet tablets.
Nikon D5100 and D40, Sigma 8mm f3.5 FE, Nikon 10.5mm FE, 35mm, 50mm, 18-55mm, 70-210mm. Promote control.

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by Apapane » Mon Dec 15, 2008 8:16 pm

mediavets wrote:Of course it isn't a mass market product right now. Instead it was taken up by the more 'experimental' pano and robotics enthusiasts and they don't typically use 'run of the mill' cameras. So users have been 'hacking' the Gigapan Imager, for example to mount DSLRs, to adapt to an electronic shutter release system, and so on in an effort to oversome what they see as the limitations of the system.

That's fair enough but it isn't the type of use that the designers originally had in mind when considering a device suitable for a mass/consumer market.

The short product life cycle of consumer pocketable point-n-shoots makes it difficult to design in camera/brand specific control features - so their solution had to be rather generic - hence the mechancial shutter servo.

Yes the current Gigapan Imager has its limitations (the battery mounting/connecting seems to be a particularly horrid weak point) - and I'm sure I would find them very annoying too - but I feel that they put quite a lot of thought into making an integrated, complete and useable system - robotic head, stitching software and web hosting service for panos - for an unsophisticated mass market at an acceptable price.

The resulting panos may often be photographically and aesthetically uninspiring and lack image quality but that's not really the point - which I believe was more in the nature of an experiment in mass market participation in the creation, publishing and sharing of hi-res panos using low cost easy to use photographic equipment , or am I mistaken?

From that standpoint I think they can be considered to have had a very considerable success. I expect they have sold many more robotic pano heads, and enabled the creation, publishing and sharing of more hi-res panos, than all the other pano hardware and software makers put together.

But I still don't want one, at least not one of the current generation (Merlin+Papywizard+APP suits me fine). A Gigapan Imager V2 might be another matter.

To better understand the reasoning behind the development of the GigaPan, please go to: http://gigapan.org/about.php Then click the link to the Global Connection Project. From many of the comments on this forum, I can't tell that anyone has actually visited the GigaPan web site, and read through it thoroughly, let alone having actually used one successfully (Andrew & Aeris, you're absolved here!). I realise, too, that most members of the APPro Forum reside in Europe, where import duties and shipping costs may make it more difficult to obtain a GigaPan, just as my living in Honolulu makes it more difficult for me to get a Merlin (shipping out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean is very expensive). Besides, I want a self contained unit.

I have been using the GigaPan since July 2007, first as an initial Beta tester, now as a Fine Outreach for Science (fofs) grant recipient, a program sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and funded by the Fine Family Foundation of Pittsburgh. This program puts the GigaPan unit into the hands of scientists who use the robot in their field work. The first group of scientists to recieve the GigaPan include ecologists(primarily botanists-like me), anthropologists, archaeologists, and geologists. Our work, with the tag fofs, can be viewed on http://gigapan.org.

The GigaPan unit certainly has its limitations. Movement in the subject plane can be very distracting, or it can be viewed as part of the process (I won't try to make a panorama of the sometimes 6+ meter winter waves at Waimea Bay or the Banzai Pipeline, though). There are still problems with alignment of sharp edges, flagpoles, etc. The shutter release arm can work better, but I've solved the problem of the arm slipping off of the shutter button by putting double sided tape on the camera shutter button (I have a GigaPan-dedicated Canon S5-IS). Speed is not that critical for the work that I do, so I don't worry much about it. I have, though, timed the unit at about 2.5 seconds between shots at its fastest.
The stitcher, with the ability to stitch 1500+ frames, has no pre-rendering tools. That's where APPro-Giga comes into play. Once APPro-Giga V2 is completed (with the ability to align frames like the GigaPan stitcher can, while including all of the marvelous prerendering tools it already has, plus the new tools under development) it will be a great addition to any panorama photographer's toolkit.

BTW, gigapan.org allows anyone to post to the site, as long as you get a site account, and the panorama is larger than .05 gigapixels. Many of the smaller panoramas (less than 0.1 gigapixels) shown on gigapan.org are NOT taken with the GigaPan unit, but primarily are hand held or tripod assisted shots taken by beginners, or others just wanting a quick documentation of where they have been. Participation by all of you who frequent this forum would certainly be most welcome by gigapan.org.

And yes, GigaPan Systems, the Portland, Oregon, USA, company licensed to produce the GigaPan unit, is developing a DSLR version. They have not yet set a release date.

Aloha for now,
Richard

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by bradtem » Mon Dec 15, 2008 9:03 pm

Well, as my review says, I've been very much wanting a gigapan (decently priced motorized pano head) for many years, and wondered, since the servos are not expensive, why all the motorized pano heads had to cost north of $1000. The main reason seemed to be the quantity in which they are made.

There are a few segments of the panorama market. The first and perhaps most lucrative segment that was first attacked was the VR tour market, largely real estate agents, but also some hotels etc. This market has money to spend, wants the panos to be quick and easy, and does not need a great deal of resolution. Their targets don't move but parallax is a big issue.

Then there are the hi-res "vista" photographers, who do both urban and landscape work. They sometimes do indoors too, but not so much for tours. I would group these into pro and prosumer. I think the "consumer" level is small because casual photography now is done with cameras in the $200-$300 range, and it's a push to have people buy a panohead that is more expensive than their camera or tripod.

For pro (I'm semipro, in that people buy and licence my panos but it is not my living) the DSLR is the likely target, though a quality compact camera could be a choice for a dedicated camera. Serious hobbyists (prosumers) also are mostly in the DSLR area. They will often have a subcompact camera (like an IXUS) because it is nice and portable, but it's not the main camera.

You might convince folks, especially the serious hobbyists, to buy a dedicated mid-price camera to go with their mount. In this case you could pick the class of camera and design the mount around that class. Ie. pick a class with USB and non-servo shutter, and make the mount small and light around it.

I returned the Gigapan because it was clear that even with the small camera in it, this was a device only for car photography. And I do a lot of car based photography, but that's too much of a limitation. I have a carbon fiber tripod that can be trekked around with, and a kiwi panohead that packs down small enough to fit in my camera bag (or not be very heavy or unweildy on the end of my tripod.) I have arca style clamps on my panohead, tripod heads and cameras so it can all be put together quickly and easily.

Admittedly one thing about APP that is a big bonus is that it does a decent job on handheld panos if you shoot them with care. This lets you go pano shooting without your tripod and pano head. But if you're on a trek where you begrudge a tripod you certainly aren't bringing a gigapan.


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