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


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a lot of panos, I’ll remove the ballhead and mount a Nodal Ninja EZ Leveller II with a RD4 rotator on top (the RD4 has been replaced by the RD5).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.


360º pole panoramas: Gearing up for a bird’s eye view

This bird’s eye view of my backyard was shot at a camera height of 10 feet. The elevated perspective is a lot of fun — especially when you look straight down!

I’ve recently been experimenting with shooting 360º panoramas with the camera mounted on a 9 foot Nodal Ninja carbon fiber pole. I already had a Nodal Ninja R1 panohead and D4 rotator. I mounted the R1 on top of the pole with an adapter, and screwed the D4 rotator into the bottom. A footplate was mounted under the rotator for stability, and a bubble level was clamped mid-way up the pole to keep things level.

The entire pole setup weighs under 3 pounds, and collapses down to 3 feet for traveling. Everything works quite smoothly — my only nitpick is that the footplate must be removed to put the pole in the case. The pole came with a wireless remote to fire the camera, but at 9 feet, a standard cable release dangles down to a convenient height to fire manually.

Once I got the pole and accessories assembled, I needed to get the lens and panohead settings dialed in. I’ve been shooting panos with my backup Canon EOS 60D camera. I mounted the Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens, and spent some time experimenting with the optimum focus settings using live view at 10x magnification. Once the depth of field was optimized at f/8, I taped the focus ring down, and mounted the Nodal Ninja lens ring. Next I experimented with shooting at different tilt settings on the R1 head:

  • Tilting 7.5º down covered the ground, but left too big of a gap in the sky. And I’d still need a 5th shot to remove myself from the photo. I could restrict the pano viewer from showing the gap in the sky, but I prefer to have a full 360 degree sphere in case there are interesting clouds up there!
  • Shooting at 2.5º down or 0 degrees left a small hole in the sky and the ground. This setup would either mean patching both the zenith and nadir, or using an adapter and raising/lowering the pole 2 extra times to cover these areas. No thanks.
  • I finally settled on shooting at 5º upward tilt on the R1 — after a lot of experimenting, an 18mm rail setting gave me the best results. Shooting 4 around with an APS-C camera and an 8mm fisheye means you don’t need a zenith shot. Fast moving clouds or changing light are not a problem! To patch the hole in the ground (nadir) and get rid of my shadow, I stepped back a few feet, and took an offset 5th shot to cover the ground. This got stitched in using viewpoint correction in PTGui Pro. This works surprisingly well, and saves a lot of time — especially if the ground is too complex for content aware fill.

The resulting panorama is 10,700 x 5350 pixels, which is a nice balance between resolution and ease of shooting/stitching. I got some great tips on shooting pole panos from Wim Koornneef, and adapted the technique for removing the nadir shadow from Dennis Stover. Shooting 360 panoramas can be complex — I’m really thankful there are some expert panorama photographers out there who are willing to share their techniques. I hope these pole panorama experiments are helpful for anyone who wants to give pole panos a try. I’m looking forward to using this setup at some more scintillating locations!

Epson R3000, Canon Pro9500 Mark II, Canson Rag Photographique

From 2007-2011 I had access to a Lightjet printer at my job. The Lightjet uses a color darkroom process that exposes the paper with RGB lasers, and then runs through color chemistry. The resulting continuous tone prints are very high quality, but the equipment can be hard to calibrate consistently and the paper options are limited. During my last year of enjoying the use of an on-site lab, I was also able to print on a Canon IPF 8100 inkjet printer. I was extremely impressed with the Canon’s dynamic range, consistency of color, and on-the-fly profile conversion. We tested a lot of different media, and decided on primarily using the Canson papers.

Epson R3000 Canon Pro9500 Mark IICanson Rag Photographique 310

Epson R3000 vs. Canon Pro9500 Mark II

After I changed jobs I wanted to get a 13″ inkjet printer for making my standard 12″ x 18″ prints at home. I narrowed the choices down to the Epson R3000 vs. the Canon Pro9500 Mark II. I didn’t consider the Canon Pro9000 Mark II (currently $199 after rebate) because it uses dye-based inks instead of the more archival pigment inks. The Epson R3000 is currently $599 after the $200 rebate (although the rebate was $300 last year). The Canon Pro9500 Mark II is currently $399 after rebate. I ruled out the Epson R2880 because the R3000 was only $50 more at the time that I made my purchase.

Canson has ICC paper profiles available for both printers. I ended up going with the Epson R3000 because I’ve been using Epson printers for years, the droplet size is 2 picoliters to the Canon’s 3 picoliters, the R3000 can work over wifi, and there are generally more paper profiles available for Epson. I can also make small test prints at home on my R3000, and then rent time on an Epson 11880 printer at Rayko Photo in San Francisco (although they also have a Canon IPF 8300).

Canson Rag Photographique 310

Before I discovered Canson paper, I occasionally enjoyed printing on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308. The Hahnemühle features very rich blacks, but the transition from the shadow details into the blacks can block up when printing night photos. And on some images the paper had a bit too much texture for my liking. I did a test print with Gallery Street in Atlanta on the Breathing Color Elegance paper that my friend Troy Paiva uses. The dynamic range looked better than the Hahnemühle, and the colors were superb. However, the Elegance also has a noticeable texture, and I wanted a paper with a smoother surface.

Enter the Canson Rag Photographique 310. The RP 310 has a similar weight and dynamic range as the Elegance, but with a much smoother surface. Plus saying Photographique all of the time is fun. I downloaded the RP 310 ICC profile from Canson’s site, and made some test prints directly from Lightroom. The results have been amazingly close in tone and color to my profiled monitor.

Remember these words of wisdom if your prints match your monitor — don’t touch anything!

I’m currently printing for a show in April (more details on that soon). Stay tuned for a fun, affordable print offer within the next few weeks.

A brief statement on backpacks for hiking with photo gear from the Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection

How many photography backpacks does it take until you find the right one, or does the right one even exist? The Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection (SOWPBP) was formed earlier this week to cope with a particularly daunting task — to find the perfect photography backpack for serious outdoor adventures.

We’re not talking about a walk in the park, or moving your backpack 500 yards from the car. This theoretical backpack must be comfortable enough to wear on a 10-15 mile day hike, or walking around an abandoned mining area for 8 hours in the middle of the night. For comfort, the typical photo backpack can’t hold a candle to an internal frame pack with a proper harness and waistbelt.

Of course it’s possible to use a light and comfortable backpack like the Osprey Stratos 26, and fit a dSLR with two lenses inside using a Mountainsmith Cube or Clik Elite Capsule. But often our photography adventures require carrying more camera gear than this setup will hold, including a reasonably large tripod. The bag must be designed with photographers in mind, not a retrofit.

What makes a perfect photography backpack for serious hiking?

The SOWPBP approaches their work methodically, and a crack team of backpack analysts has gathered their initial research data below. Let’s take a look at the requirements, and the preliminary results.

Here are the selection criteria in order of importance:

  1. Fit and Comfort: The harness and waist belt must be comfortable for someone who is 6’1″. The waist belt must transfer weight to the hips, and the bag must have a comfortable sternum strap. The fit of the bag is #1 on the list for a reason.
  2. Capacity: Enough room for 1-2 camera bodies, 3-4 lenses, accessories, an extra layer, and food. A laptop compartment is not necessary.
  3. Padding & Weight: Enough padding to protect the gear, but not so much that the bag is unnecessarily heavy.
  4. Water: Easy to access while hiking. Ever old school, a hydration bladder is not the Society’s preferred way of carrying water.
  5. Tripod: Ability to carry a large tripod if necessary (Gitzo 3 series).
  6. Rain cover: Effective, easy to attach, and packs out of the way.
  7. Size: Although airline travel isn’t the primary purpose, staying within carry-on restrictions allows extra flexibility (22″ x 14″ x 9″, or 45 cubic inches).
  8. Style: From flashy to mundane, how are the aesthetics?
  9. Straps: Attachment points for accessories.
  10. Stands Up: When you set the bag down, it stands up.
  11. Price: A good bag is worth a little bit more, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Hiking Backpacks for Photography: The Contenders

The backpack list is sorted by brand. The preliminary top picks pictured above are in bold:

  1. Burton Zoom Pack – The Zoom looks to fit the requirements reasonably well. While the capacity is smaller than a Contrejour or Loka, this bag may be worth a look unless you’re tall. The waist belt is apparently at stomach height for anyone 6′ or taller. [12" x 22" x 8", $155]
  2. Calumet BP1500 Large Backpack - Fits many of the requirements, and may be worth a look for those needing to carry a lot of gear. [12" x 22.25" x 9.5, 6.4 pounds, $211]
  3. Clik Elite Contrejour 35- One of two technical climbing/skiing internal frame backpacks on this list, the Contrejour 35 has the proper harness and waist belt of a backpacking bag. There is side access to the camera compartment when you’re wearing the bag. To access the rest of your gear, set the bag down on the front and access the gear through the back (which keeps the part that touches your back clean). Running the Contrejour 35 against the requirements, this bag looks like a serious contender as long as you don’t want to use it as carry-on luggage. [12.8" x 24.8" x 11.5", 4.1 pounds, $305 street]
  4. Clik Elite Venture 35 – The Venture works well for 1-2 bodies, 3 lenses, accessories, an extra layer and food. The waist belt is very comfortable and the harness worked great for me at 6’1″. Tripod carrying is secure, the bag is light, and the price is reasonable. The camera compartment is close to the same size as the Medium ICU in the F-stop Loka. The top compartment is quite roomy — I could fit an extra layer, food, and a panohead with a lot of room left to spare. [24" x 12.2" x 8.6", 3.5 pounds, $239 street]
  5. Crumpler C-List Celebrity (Medium) – A low-key and stylish bag that’s a nice size and looks to have a reasonable waist belt. The tripod carrying system looks good, but the bag is heavy, and does not appear to have a way to carry easily accessible water. [13" x 20" x 10.6", 7.6 pounds, $300]
  6. Dakine Sequence – Haven’t seen a photo of the waist belt, but the styling is nearly a deal breaker unless you’re 20 years old. [11" x 21" x 8", 5 pounds, $140 street]
  7. F-Stop Loka - A technical climbing/skiing pack with an internal frame that fits all of the requirements really well. The Loka features swappable Internal Camera Units (ICU) that makes the bag very flexible when deciding how much camera gear vs. other stuff you need to pack. We’re currently testing this bag and it’s very comfortable. The only downsides are the wait time to get one, and the price. [12" x 22" x 8.5", 4 pounds, $340 with one ICU, rain cover sold separately]
  8. Gura Gear Kiboko 22L - The Kiboko looks like a really well made bag, and the butterfly opening design is attractive for shooting in dirty environments. These bags seem to fit the requirements quite well. However, the way the bag opens looks like a deal breaker because you can’t carry a tripod on the center of the bag, which is a must for long hikes. [14" x 18" x 9", 4 pounds, $380]
  9. Kata Bumblebee 220 PL and Beetle 282 PL – These bags meet most of the requirements pretty well, but are a little bit on the heavy side. The 282 is slightly wider and shallower than the Kata 220, and technically just over carry-on size. The 220 and 282 are listed here just for reference because the 222 PL (below) looks like a better bet. [220 -- 13.4" x 20.5" x 11", 6.5 pounds, $280] [282 -- 14.8" x 20.5" x 10.8", 6.6 pounds, $290].
  10. Kata Bumblebee 222 PL - A little bit wider and deeper than the other Kata bags on the list, and also 1.5 pounds lighter. Perhaps slightly small capacity wise, but the rest of the requirements look pretty good. The gray and white color scheme is bound to get dirty quickly though. The Kata 222 UL is an ultralight variant of this bag that comes in black. The 222 UL can’t carry tripods on the center, which is a good thing because it’s $399. [222 -- 15.2" x 20.5" x 11.8", 5.1 pounds, $260]
  11. Lowepro Vertex 200 AW – The Vertex fits most of the requirements, but is close to 3 pounds heavier than much of the competition. This heavily padded approach is not conducive to backpacking. [12.6" x 18.5" x 10.2", 7.3 pounds, $350]
  12. Lowepro Pro Runner 350 AW – Replacing Lowepro’s CompuTrekker series, the Pro Runner is much lighter than the similarly sized Vertex. This bag and its larger brother the 450 AW look to be contenders if they have a comfortable harness and waist belt, although the 17.9″ height makes me wonder if this bag will work for tall people. [13" x 17.9" x 10.4", 4.7 pounds, $170]
  13. Mountainsmith Parallax – This pack is crazy deep at 15″, sticking out 4-5″ more than any of the other choices here. The photos of the tripod carrying system show strapped under the bag, which does not seem ideal. The size of the harness system does not look good for tall people. [11" x 18" x 15", 5.4 pounds, $130 street]
  14. Naneu K4L - The K4L seems to fit many of the requirements well. We have no experience with this brand, but are curious to see one of these bags in real life. Amazon and B&H are both listed as dealers on their site, but neither has the bag in stock. [14.25" x 21.5" x 9.75, 5.2 pounds, $230]
  15. Tamrac Cyberpack 6 – What is it about Tamrac? Tamrac bags seems retro, but not in a good way. This backpack may be perfectly functional, but we just don’t like how it looks. Maybe you can help explain the je ne sais quoi of Tamrac? [13.5" x 17" x 10.25", 5.8 pounds, $180]
  16. Think Tank Streetwalker Harddrive - A really great design that fits almost all of the requirements. We’ve been using this bag for 2 years on all kinds of adventures. Unfortunately there is one glaring deal breaker for long hikes — the lack of a proper waist belt. Even by using Think Tank’s speed belt system in conjunction with this bag, the waist belt does not transfer much weight to your hips. If hiking is not your concern, this is a great bag in every other respect. [11.5" x 18" x 8.5", 4.5 pounds, $190]

Further Research

Thanks for supporting the Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection’s further research by making your backpack purchase using the links above. We have made inquiries to the manufacturers of the top contenders on the list to request a backpack for rigorous field testing. If you’ve used one of the backpacks on the list for extensive hiking, we’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you know of a bag that fits the requirements that isn’t on the list, please let us know.

iPad 2 for Photographers: Portfolio, Apps, Second Monitor, Tethering

APF iPad Portfolio App

APF iPad Portfolio App

I didn’t really understand the appeal of a tablet until recently. I’ve been an iPhone user for years, and love having email, maps, and apps with me wherever I go. The iPad always seemed like too much of a compromise. I’m not going to process raw files and stitch panoramas on a tablet. That’s a task better left to a laptop. Heck, an 11” MacBook Air has a bigger screen, more computing power and overall flexibility than an iPad, and the 64MB version is only a few hundred dollars more. Yeah, the iPad 2 is a little bit smaller, and just over a pound lighter – but for someone who’s used to hauling around 25 pounds of photo gear, what’s an extra pound? Based on this logic, I put the iPad out of my mind as something I didn’t need.

A Photo Folio iPad Portfolio App

Well, I had a chance to borrow an iPad 2 over the holidays. I use A Photo Folio (APF) as my website provider and last year they updated their photographer’s portfolio app for the iPad. The APF app automatically syncs your entire website to an iPad portfolio. No need to resize anything — just download the APF app and press sync. You can customize the images and layout if you want to, but if your website is dialed, then your iPad portfolio is just as dialed.

APF also includes a nice looking iPad version of my website, but the APF iPad app has bigger images that are already loaded to the iPad — no waiting for images to load, and no internet connection necessary. APF also has another free app that automatically syncs your web galleries to a Facebook fan page.

There are a number of other iPad portfolio apps worth checking out including: FolioBook, Portfolio, Flexfolios, Xtrafolio, and Pad Folio. Most are in the $10-15 range.

The Screen

Once my web galleries were synced to the iPad app, I was blown away by how sharp and detailed everything looked. The 132 ppi screen on the iPad 2 is insane for viewing photos (most computer monitors are between 90-110 ppi). I have rarely seen my images look so consistently good. Only a perfectly executed print with proper lighting does a better job. I’m telling you, my jaw hit the ground after I installed the app and looked at my images.

Get Your Foot in the Door, and Show Them Some Photos

I managed to pick up a used iPad 2 for a good deal. Tucked away in a SwitchEasy Canvas Folio, it’s a pretty small package that’s about the size of a notebook. The iPad actually looks more like a digital photo frame than a laptop. There’s a novel, tactile fun-factor to viewing images on an iPad. Showing people my work is an important part of getting access to interesting locations. The iPad will be a cool way to show people my photos when traveling. Instead of a few 8×10′s in a case, how about an LED backlit interactive touch screen? “The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic!”

iPad Apps

When I searched for iPad apps for photographers, most of the articles were about photo editing apps like Photogene, Filterstorm, and PhotoForge2. I’m not really that interested in shooting and processing photos with the iPad. However, some of my favorite iPhone apps look great in their iPad versions, especially GoSkyWatch and Google Earth. After using an iPhone for years, the iPad’s email interface and keyboard are a pleasure to use, and the performance is snappy. The iPad version of WordPress is also quite nice.

iPad as a Second Monitor

OK – this feature is crazy cool. You can use a $10 app called Air Display to use your iPad as a wireless second monitor. If you work on a laptop, now you can put your Photoshop palettes on the iPad, and see the image full screen on your laptop. Or if you’re running Lightroom, put grid view on your iPad, and touch the photo on the iPad to see the large version on your laptop or desktop. This Julianne Kost video shows 3 different options for using Lightroom on 2 monitors.

iPad as a Backup Device

I almost bought a Hyperdrive last year for backing up images on short trips where I don’t want to haul a laptop. Because I don’t shoot a huge volume of images, the iPad will be able to occasionally double as a backup device. I got the camera connection kit, but haven’t tested to see if my compact flash card reader will work with the USB adapter for loading photos. The other option is to just plug the camera in directly using USB.

iPad Tethering Options

If you’re shooting tethered with Lightroom, plug the camera into your laptop or desktop, and have the iPad be a wireless second monitor using Air Display. This could be used for a client or art director to review images. There are also tripod mounts for the iPad that allow you to review your own shots on the 9.7″ iPad screen instead of on the back of your camera. You can even fire the camera from the iPad.

If you’re shooting with Capture One software, you can use Capture Pilot to view, rate, and tag images on an iPad. The app is free, but you need the $400 software to make it work. For an extra $15 you can control your camera from the iPad.

The other common iPad tethering option is to use an Eye-Fi SD memory card and a $16 app called ShutterSnitch. This combination wirelessly transmits photos from your camera to the iPad. For cameras with dual card slots, save your RAW files to one memory card, and save jpegs to an Eye-Fi card that sends to your iPad. Unfortunately there is not currently a compact flash Eye-Fi card available.

What are Your Favorite iPad Apps?

Next time you see me, ask to see my iPad portfolio – but don’t blame me if you end up wanting your own! Buying a refurbished iPad is a way to take a little bit of the sting out of the price. If you’re already using another portfolio app on your iPad, let me know which one you’re using and how it’s working out. And if there are any other must have iPad apps (Atari’s Greatest Hits?), I’d definitely like to hear about them!