I have started this topic in the hope of soliciting reports and opinions from other Merlin/Papywizard users.
What are the good points?
What are the not so good points?
How do you use it?
For what sort of panos you shoot?
How it works alongside APP?
Anything that might inform, entertain and/or assist other users......
For those who have just come across this topic this is what we are are talking about....
I know some people have made custom motorised pano heads from scratch, others are considering making their own controllers for the Merlin/Orion motorised astro telescope mount for use as a pano photography head, but is it worth it doing it yourself?
The Merlin/Orion two-axis motorised mount for astro telescopes, including a tripod and hand controller, costs GBP 149. With simple and inexpensive modifications it can be used as a motorised pano head controlled by the free Papywizard software.
The Papywizard software running on a Nokia Internet Tablet will give you a 'ready made' wireless handheld pocketable controller. The Nokia 770 Tablet which runs the Maemo OS (a version of Linux) sports a bright, 4-inch 800x480 touchscreen colour display, has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, and can be picked up secondhand on eBay relatively cheaply, typically for GBP 50-70. I doubt anyone could make something at home to match it at this price.
Beyond that all you need is the Tronisoft 4201 RS232-TTL module - solder 4-5 connections to add two resistors, one link and a 4-conductor RJ11 cable and you're done. The Tronisoft RS232-TTL adapter takes its power from the 8xAA batteries that power the Merlin head, by way of the RJ11 cable used to connect it to the Merlin head. Add an RS232-Bluetooth adapter that can be powered on pin-9 - such as the Tronisoft BTLink. And away you go. Together this lot will cost about GBP 40.
No modification of the internal electronics, or external connectors, of the Merlin/Orion head are required. The RS232-TTL adapter simply plugs in where the standard hand controller would plug in.
The Merlin head has a connector to which can be attached a shutter release cable/device which is automatically triggered as appropriate by the Paywizard software. Direct cable connection or IR shutter release triggers can be used. the Merlin head is supplied with a shutter release cable for low end (Rebel series) Canon DSLRs. I am using a gentled-JUMP IR shutter trigger with this standard cable with my Nikon D40. That setup will work with many other cameras.
A software - rather than firmware - based controller offers many advantages. It is much easier to update and add features. The software is written in Python, is available as source code, and runs many platforms - Linux/PC, Windows, Nokia Tablets, and could run on Apple Mac though no-one has tried it yet, offers many alternative setups. The software is free.
The next version of the Autopano Pro panorama stitching software, due in December 2008, will have built-in support for the Gigapan Imager and Merlin/Paywizard robt heads. The still more advanced Autopano Giga will also support the RodeonVR and Pixorb robot heads.
This support will assist in the placement of images that lack matching features - clear sky shots for example - that typically currently makes stitching giga pixel panoramic images quite difficult.
The standard dovetail mount on the Merlin/Orion makes it difficult/impossible to set the camera/lens at a correct NPP in many instances - although it is fine for my Nikon D40. But it is possible to replace the dovetail mount/crown, to facilitate the correct placement of NPP, quite easily. Drawings are available for a replacement crown which could be made by most machine shops.
If you are using the system for gigapixel imaging of distant scenes with nothing within say 100m of the camera then correct NPP doesn't matter anyway.
Merlin/Orion motorised head:http://www.opticalvision.co.uk/binoculars/tripods/acuter_merlin_multi-function_mount_and_tripod
Nokia Internet Tablets - 700, N800, N810:http://europe.nokia.com/A4145104http://europe.nokia.com/link?cid=PLAIN_TEXT_508837http://europe.nokia.com/link?cid=PLAIN_TEXT_508842
Tronisoft 4201 RS232-TLL module:http://www.tronisoft.com/4201.php
Tronisoft BTLink RS232-Bluetooth adapter:http://www.tronisoft.com/2749.php
gentled-JUMP IR shutter release device:http://www.gentles.ltd.uk/gentled/options.htm