Mixing Nodal Ninja and Really Right Stuff Gear for Shooting 360 Panoramas

legos

I’ve used a variety of Nodal Ninja and RRS pano equipment over the last 6 years. I started with a Nodal Ninja 3 for shooting 360s, and also acquired a used RRS PCL-1 rotator and nodal slide for shooting single-row landscape panoramas. My 360 pano gear has evolved into 2 main setups:

  1. Really Right Stuff PG-02 Omni-Pivot head with 192 FAS nodal slide – for use on a tripod
  2. Nodal Ninja R1 ring mount panohead - for use with a Nodal Ninja carbon fiber pano pole

Panning Clamp, Ballhead Rotator, or Click-Stop Rotator

My main tripod is a Gitzo 3-series with a Markins ballhead — I’ve replaced the top clamp with the RRS PCL-1 panning clamp. I can quickly level the axis of rotation with the ballhead, and then rotate the PCL-1 for shooting panos. This setup is very strong and smooth, but is missing click-stops for high volume 360 work.

My secondary/travel tripod is a Gitzo 1-series with an Arca Swiss p0 ballhead. This setup offers the same flexibility as my main tripod, but without the handy laser etched degree indicators of the PCL-1. This works OK for the occasional 4-around pano, but isn’t ideal.

For high volume pano shooting, a click-stop rotator is a must. Shooting is much faster, and the precise positioning is great for using a stitching template in PTGui Pro. If I’m going to shoot a lot of panos, I’ll remove the ballhead and mount a Nodal Ninja EZ Leveller II with a RD4 rotator on top (the RD4 has been replaced by the RD5). I used a M6 male to 3/8″ male adapter to install an  Arca Swiss style clamp on top of the rotator.

Mixing Nodal Ninja and RRS Pano Gear: Setup 1

Sometimes I won’t know if I want to shoot panos until I get to a location. Swapping out heads with my current setup can be a pain, so I was looking for more flexibility. I found a great article by Jon Witsell on using Nodal Ninja and RRS equipment together, and started digging around in my parts bin.

Arca Swiss clamp, Nodal Ninja RD4 rotator, RRS TH-DVTL-55 plate

Arca Swiss clamp, Nodal Ninja RD4 rotator, RRS TH-DVTL-55 plate

I added a RRS TH-DVTL-55 plate to the bottom of my Nodal Ninja rotator. The 3/8″-16 screw that came with the RRS dovetail plate was slightly too long. I sawed off one thread, added some Loctite 242, and secured the plate.

The RRS TH-DVTL-55 plate makes a Nodal Ninja rotator Arca Swiss compatible

The RRS TH-DVTL-55 plate makes a Nodal Ninja rotator Arca Swiss compatible

Now I can quickly switch to a click-stop rotator for shooting panos. The TH-DVTL-55 plate is a perfect fit for the PCL-1 panning clamp, which makes centering a breeze. The PCL-1 panning clamp can be also used to adjust the starting position of the pano. The knob on the PCL-1 can be aligned with one of the tripod legs, which is one less obstruction when stitching the nadir shot.

Nodal Ninja click-stop rotator on arca swiss clamp

Nodal Ninja click-stop rotator on arca swiss clamp

Mixing Nodal Ninja and RRS Pano Gear: Setup 2

The RRS pano head is smooth and sturdy, but also a bit heavy. Sometimes I want to use my Nodal Ninja R1 for packing light. I normally use the R1 on a pole with the Quick Mount Mini adapter. I had a RRS MPR-73 rail lying around, and bought an extra Quick Mount plate. The R1 head can be mounted directly to the MPR-73, and the screws sit inside the rail as an anti-twist mechanism. There is a very slight amount of play, but I had a better idea.

Anti-twist screws from Nodal Ninja R1 head mounted directly on a RRS MPR-73 rail

Anti-twist screws from Nodal Ninja R1 head mounted directly on a RRS MPR-73 rail

I also had a Nodal Ninja R1/R10 nadir adapter lying around. Using two 3/8″-16 to 1/4″-20 reducer bushings, I mounted the MPR-73 on the nadir adapter, and the quick mount plate on top. You can also get the MPR-73 rail with a 3/8″ screw.

RRS MPR-73 rail on Nodal Ninja R1/R10 nadir adapter

RRS MPR-73 rail on Nodal Ninja R1/R10 nadir adapter

Everything was installed with Loctite 242, and fit perfectly. The whole thing weighs 1 pound and barely takes up any room in my bag.

Nodal Ninja R1/R10 nadir adapter, RRS MPR-73 plate, Quick Mount Mini, and R1 head

Nodal Ninja R1/R10 nadir adapter, RRS MPR-73 plate, Quick Mount Mini, and R1 head

Installation note: While you can mount the quick mount plate on a 3/8″ stud (that would go in the empty hole on the nadir adapter above), it’s better to mount the plate as shown above. That way the anti-twist screws can be used to keep everything in alignment. The anti-twist screws also work when I swap the R1 over to my carbon pano pole.

Nodal Ninja R1 head on nadir adapter with RRS MPR-73 rail

Nodal Ninja R1 head on nadir adapter with RRS MPR-73 rail

Here’s the Arca Swiss compatible R1 mounted on a ballhead. Just level the head, and use the PCL-1 to rotate. I usually shoot 4-shots around with the R1, so not having click-stops isn’t too annoying.

I hope these ideas come in handy for those of you who are trying to mix Nodal Ninja and Really Right Stuff gear.

 

360 Night Panorama: Abandoned Houses in Desert Center

Abandoned Houses in Desert Center

Abandoned Houses in Desert Center

This 360 degree night panorama of the abandoned houses in Desert Center, California, was shot under a full moon. Use your mouse to explore the interactive version below. The red dot will take you to a 360 pano of the dead palm trees just to the west of these houses. There’s also a 360 HDR night pano of the old abandoned gas station just down the road.

Dead Palm Trees at Desert Center: 360 Night Panorama

360 night panorama of dead palm trees at Desert Center

360 night panorama of dead palm trees at Desert Center

These dead palm trees alongside Highway 10 in Desert Center were planted in 1990 by Stanley Ragsdale. He said he always wanted a “tree-ring circus.” Stanley died in 1999, and it’s amazing the trees are still standing after 14 years without being watered. Desert Magazine has an excellent story about Stanley’s father, who was known as Desert Steve Ragsdale. Desert Steve founded Desert Center in 1921. Use your mouse to have a look around the interactive version below — the button on the bottom right will take you full screen.

Technical Details: Canon EOS 60D with 8-15mm f/4L fisheye at 9mm. The optimal lens setting would have been 10mm but I bumped the lens ring. 6 shots around, 1 up, and 1 down. Each exposure was 60 seconds at f/8, ISO 800. I used a Really Right Stuff PG-02 pano head on a Nodal Ninja rotator.

Stitching the panorama was difficult due to the fast moving clouds. I used the masking feature in PTGui Pro to optimize the blend areas. The layered files were exported, and blended in Photoshop. The standard blending engine in PTGui doesn’t do a good job with sand and gravel. Using Photoshop or Smartblend to blend the images creates a crisper ground area. The interactive version was created in Pano2VR.