B&H Travel Series: How to Shoot 360-Degree Panoramas

B&H Photo just published an article that I wrote on How to Shoot 360-Degree Panoramas. This 360 pano article is part of the B&H Travel Series. I cover everything from iPhone panorama apps to professional panoramic heads. Thanks to night photographer and B&H marketing guru Gabriel Biderman for this opportunity to inspire more people to shoot 360s. Enjoy!

B&H Travel Series: How to Shoot 360-Degree Panoramas

Boron Air Force Station 360 Night Panorama

Boron AFS Night Panorama
The Mojave Desert…in July? Yes! During last week’s full supermoon I spent 2 nights shooting 360 panoramas at the abandoned Boron Air Force Station. Boron AFS was built in the 1952 as part of the Air Defense Command radar network. After being decommissioned in 1975, Boron was used as a Federal prison from 1979-2000. The radome is still operated by the FAA.

Temperatures were 100º in the daytime, and in the 80′s at night. The monsoon season brought fantastic clouds both nights. I was shooting with the Canon EOS 6D, and used the built-in GPS feature to record the location of each panorama. Setting the GPS to record positioning at 2 minute intervals seemed to have barely any affect on battery life. A screenshot of the Lightroom maps module for the shoot is below. The GPS coordinates also get picked up by Pano2VR, which will save a lot of time when building a virtual tour.

You clicked the image at the top and looked at the 360 pano already, right?

Update: There are now 9 panoramas in the night tour of Boron AFS. I’m still adding panos, and hope to have a tour with 25-30 panos and a map when everything is done.

Boron AFS - Lightroom GPS Coordinates

Boron AFS – Lightroom GPS Coordinates

Sony a7R vs. Canon EOS 6D: Long Exposure Noise Tests, HDR Bracketing, Panoramas and More

I’ve wanted to try the Sony a7R ever since I read Fred Miranda’s review on using the a7R with Canon lenses. In addition to a sizable jump in resolution over the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III, the a7R’s 36 megapixel full frame sensor reportedly has better dynamic range.

The ability to lift the shadow details in underexposed a7R files is really impressive. Not having an optical low pass filter also makes these files quite sharp straight out of the camera. The a7R’s sensor has offset gapless micro-lenses to help with wide angle corner performance.

Would these benefits improve image quality, resolution, and workflow for my type of shooting? What were the trade offs? I rented a Sony a7R and Metabones Canon to Sony adapter from LensRentals.com to find out.

360 Panoramas: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

I often shoot 360 panoramas in 4 shots on the EOS 6D with a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens. The final file is 10,500 x 5250 (55 megapixels). The same lens and shooting pattern on the Sony a7R results in 14,000 x 7,000 (98 megapixels). This resolution gain allows more zooming online, and bigger prints. The 6D would require 6 shots around, 1 up, and 1 down to achieve this resolution.

The a7R files look sharper out of the camera, and wide angle lens edge performance is just as sharp at the edges as the 6D, if not better. The ability to lift shadow detail without a noise penalty is really impressive.

HDR Bracketing: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

For those of you who shoot HDR, it’s important to note that the a7R’s exposure bracketing options are more limited than on Canon.

Canon EOS 6D: Versatile HDR bracketing options
Set your own exposure level increment in 0.3 stop intervals.
Decide whether you want 2, 3, 5 or 7 shots.

Sony a7R: Fixed/Limited HDR bracketing options
0.3 stops/3 shots – 0.3 stops/5 shots
0.5 stops/3 shots – 0.5 stops/5 shots
0.7 stops/3 shots – 0.7 stops/5 shots
1.0 stop/3 shots – 2.0 stops/3 shots – 3.0 stops/3 shots

Most of the time, a 3 shot bracket at 2 stop intervals is enough for what I shoot. Occasionally I’ll shoot a 5 shot bracket every 2 stops with the 6D. That’s not an option on the a7R. Considering the added dynamic range of the a7R, perhaps the 3 shot 3.0EV bracketing would work OK though.

Conclusion: Despite the bracketing limitations, the a7R’s extra sharpness, resolution, and dynamic range would be a big plus for the 360 panorama shooting that I do.

Long Exposure Noise: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

For night photography, having a camera that can produce clean files without the need to run long exposure noise reduction (LENR) is really helpful.  When LENR is turned on in most cameras, noise reduction runs after your exposure finishes.

If your shot is 5 minutes, the camera runs noise reduction for an additional 5 minutes before you can shoot again. During that 5 minutes that camera takes a dark frame that is used to subtract noise and hot pixels from your photo. This process is great for image quality, but can significantly cut into your productivity and battery life.

I know from experience that the Canon EOS 6D is clean in the 6-8 minute exposure range without using LENR (as long as the weather is cold). I was curious to see how the Sony a7R stacked up for night photography. I ran the cameras through a series of tests with long exposure noise reduction (LENR) turned off. The body cap was on. The ambient temperature was 66 degrees. The ISO was set to 100 on both cameras.

Noise Test Results: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

For exposures of 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes, both cameras produced clean files. There was little to no performance compromise for leaving LENR turned off in both cameras.

3 minutes: The 6D still looks good. The a7R is just starting to show faint traces of noise and hot pixels. Nothing objectionable.

4 minutes: The 6D is just starting to show a few signs of noise and hot pixels. The a7R has a bit more noise now.

6 minutes: The 6D is still fine at 6 minutes. The Sony a7R has noticeably more hot pixels by this point. Enough to where you’ll spend a few minutes with each file cloning them out.

8 minutes: The 6D still is still good. The a7R has reached the breaking point, with additional hot pixels.

10 minutes: The 6D has a bit more noise now. You’ll need to clone a few hot pixels, but it’s still usable. a7R = nope.

15 minutes: The 6D is past my comfort level for noise at this point. The a7R has galaxies full of hot pixels.

Conclusion: The 6D is good for long exposures up to 8 minutes without LENR.  The a7R is good up to 4-5 minutes. This gives the 6D the advantage for shooting long star trails in one shot, and for doing star trail stacking using less shots. If you’ve read this far, maybe you’d like to download the RAW files [160MB zip file].

Turning on Long Exposure Noise Reduction

I also ran some tests with Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) turned on in the camera. Both cameras were perfectly clean on 5 minute, 8 minute, and 10 minute exposures.

15 minute exposure: The 6D still looks great. The a7R file shows a few hints of noise.

30 minutes: The 6D shows some luminance noise that will benefit from additional noise reduction in post, but is still usable. The Sony battery died during the 30 minutes that noise reduction was running. The file was still saved on the memory card, but without any noise reduction.

Other Considerations

Battery Life: Canon is the clear winner here. Both cameras started the tests with a fully charged battery. The Sony battery died during the 30 minute exposure test. The Canon battery still had 40% capacity left at the end.

When the Sony a7R LCD screen is active, it does not turn off all of the way. Even when the screen appears blank, it’s still slightly lit up and using battery life. Switching to the EVF may not help, and also makes reviewing images a pain. Advantage: Canon

Timer Remotes: There are a wide number of timer remotes available for shooting long exposures on Canon. Sony doesn’t have a remote with a built-in timer, only an expensive manual option. There are only a few third party remote options for Sony, and I’m not aware of anyone who makes a wired remote with a timer. Advantage: Canon

Focusing: I haven’t tested the a7R under full moon conditions, but did find Sony’s focus peaking feature to be an excellent tool for daytime landscape shooting. Canon’s AF is better for faster moving subjects. I don’t use AF very much, so this is not really an issue.

Lenses: Canon DSLR’s have a wide range of high quality lenses available. You can also use Olympus OM or Nikon lenses on an adapter. Native full frame Sony lens options are much more limited, but Sony’s E mount will take a wide variety of lenses with an adapter. If you want to keep autofocus, the adapters can be expensive and AF slow. For landscapes this isn’t a problem. For wide angle lenses, having a quality adapter is important to maintaining sharpness across the frame. Advantage: Canon

Size and Weight: The a7R is 5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9 inches and weighs 14 ounces. The 6D is 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 inches and weighs 27 ounces. The 5D Mark III is 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches and 30 ounces. Saving a pound in your gear bag is nice. Advantage: Sony

Build Quality and UI: No problems for me here with either camera, other than needing to test the a7R to make sure there are no light leaks during long exposures. The Canon has a slight edge in UI, but the Sony is pretty intuitive.

File Size: The 6D’s CR2 files are about 20 MB each. The Sony a7R ARW files are about 37 MB. Memory cards and hard drives are inexpensive. The a7R RAW files are referred to as “visually lossless” but they do throw away some data to keep the file size down. I have seen one example file where the quality of a star trail shot was affected by the Sony’s lossy file type. Something to keep an eye on. Advantage: Canon

Shutter Shake: Much has been written about the a7R’s shutter design causing soft photos with long lenses at shutter speeds between 1/30 and 1/125. Luckily, I don’t even own any long lenses.

Price: The a7R lists for $2300, but can be bought new for as low as $1865. Make sure to budget $150-400 for an adapter if you’re planning to use Canon lenses on the a7R. This brings the Sony in around $500 cheaper than a 5D Mark III, or $500 more than a 6D.

Final Thoughts: While the a7R has a few notable quirks for the types of shooting that I do, the benefits seem to outweigh the demerits. I’ve added a Sony a7R to my camera bag alongside my Canon gear. I will primarily use the a7R for shooting 360 panoramas. It will be interesting to see what Canon has up their sleeves with the rumored 7D and 5D Mark III replacements.

Words: In America photographers are outcasts

For in America photographers are outcasts. No one understands us. No one worries much.  I can’t think of one non-photographer friend who has a sense of what I do, and I suspect that may be true for others. There’s no place for us except within a narrow community of other photographers, gallerists, and misfits where we grovel for crumbs of attention in a steady downward spiral of mutual nonsupport. I feel that all the photographers in America could go away tomorrow (except the working pros who have a prescribed societal function) and no one would notice. it would be like the winos dissolving. Or the life coaches. Or Pinterest. Maybe that’s why American photography has such a strong tradition, because it’s a de facto outsider art.

Blake Andrews, B: Art of Noise

San Francisco Adventure: Walking the Embarcadero to Goldsworthy’s Tree Fall and Wood Line

Embarcadero to the Goldsworthy Art in the Presididio - a 12.5 mile urban hike

Embarcadero to the Goldsworthy Art in the Presididio – a 12.5 mile urban hike

Let’s walk from the Ferry Building to the Andy Goldsworthy art installations in the Presidio. It’s a sunny June Saturday morning, 70 degrees with a slight breeze. Click any of the panoramas below for an interactive version shot with a Ricoh Theta 360 camera.

We take BART to Embarcadero, and thread our way through the art vendors and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Outside the Exploratorium, we do a little bit of skateboarding:360 panorama skateboarding outside the Exploratorium

Along the piers, a hundred cruise ship passengers wait for taxi cabs. We run the gauntlet of tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf. We do not eat soup in a bread bowl. Here is a scale model of Alcatraz:

Alcatraz scale model along the Embarcadero

After watching tourists on rental bikes struggle up the hill at Black Point, we reach Fort Mason. We load up our backpacks with some books at the SFPL Readers Bookstore, and then get takeout food at Greens. Also, we learned how to spot UFOs:

UFOs and how to see them

We walked through the Marina Green and Yacht Harbor.  Jogging, cycling, and volleyball ensued. We arrived at the crowded beach where a dog was digging a large hole:

Dog Digging GIF

Curious about the new approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, we left the beach path and walked on Old Mason Street, crossed under the freeway, up past the pet cemetery, San Francisco National Cemetery, and down to the Main Post of Fort Mason.

The Andy Goldsworthy piece Tree Fall is in a small, unsigned building in the square of the Main Post of Fort Mason. From a distance, it looks like a bathroom building. We sat down inside and contemplated the art:

Tree Fall diptych

Continuing through the neighborhood, we walked to the Lovers’ Lane Trail, and found the Andy Goldsworthy installation Wood Line. A young Indian fellow who was up along the road above the trail asked what I was photographing. I showed him the Wood Line and after a short walk he exclaimed: “Wow, it’s HEAVY!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The area on the map at the top of this post where we double back is where the Wood Line is. We walked it both ways. Here’s the view from the top:

Andy Goldsworthy: Wood Line - photo by Joe Reifer

Andy Goldsworthy: Wood Line – photo by Joe Reifer

If you’re in the area, Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire is also worth a visit. Exiting the Presidio, we walked through Pacific Heights, and down to Civic Center BART for the journey home. San Francisco is yours to experience. Put on those walking shoes and roar!

San Francisco Lion Panorama

 

 

Night photography, abandoned places, desert ruins, 360 panoramas, and artistic inspiration