The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

Modern Panorama Technology - The Broader View
Felix Russo
Program date: November 19, 2008

Felix Russo
Felix Russo

PhotoEd W08
PhotoEd W08

 Cirkut Camera


Kodak Panorama camera
Moving Lens

Jennifer Wolfraim
Jennifer Wolfraim

Chad Coombs
Chad Coombs

Holga Camera
Holga Camera

Mark Koecher Morningside Church
Mark Koecher

Cardinal Points of a lens
Nodal Point

Nikon Shift lens
Shift Lens


Fuji G617

Photoshop stitching options

Panoramaist Dundas Square

GigaPan Imager
GigaPan Imager

Program chairman Felix Russo is editor and publisher of PhotoEd magazine. Tonight he shared some of his research for the winter edition of PhotoEd featuring panorama photography. Felix describes the various means of creating panoramas from the special cameras and accessories offered over the years to modern image stitching software and specialized robots. He finished with a hands-on demonstration of the GigaPan Imager which automatically takes a series of overlapping images to create high resolution panoramas.

Editor Bob Lansdale generously contributed this historical background to the tools of panorama photography: Panoramic imaging can be dated back to the earliest days of the Daguerreian era when two or more images of a scene were assembled, end-to-end, and framed to form a sweeping panorama of a city view. In 1843 Austrians Wenzel Prokesch and Josef Puchberger patented the “Ellipsen” camera to use a curved plate to receive the continuous sweeping image using a swivelling lens at the front. But Frederic Vincent Martens of Paris is praised as the founding father of panoramic photography for producing a simplified camera of the same order even though the patent was granted in 1845. Inventors applied their genius to achieve greater sweep in their coverage with cameras that traversed parallel to a long plate. It was Canadian John Connon of Elora, Ontario who invented (1887) the first camera to record 360 degrees of the horizon on a long roll of film. In 1904 William James Johnston, born in Canada near Kingston, Ontario, was the key patentee for the successful Cirkut camera. He went bankrupt and sold his patent. It was Eastman Kodak (Folmer & Schwing Division) who garnered the success. Kodak also produced the hand-held Panoram camera with its horizontally swinging lens.

Good panoramas require patience and a sturdy tripod. Panoramas started with photographers printing two or three negatives together in the darkroom to make a wide print. Later on, special panorama cameras where invented - the Cirkut camera, banquet cameras, cameras that rotated and moved the film, cameras with moving lenses that scan a scene, etc. Digital cameras led the way to Quicktime VR images where the viewer controls the view over 360 degrees. The future will bring even more technical innovation, allowing us to make photographs and images that are impossible to create today.

Felix began his talk with some examples of panoramic photographs. Jennifer Wolfraim is a recent Ryerson graduate. Her panoramas are made with digital reconstruction to add montages creating the photograph as she pictures it in her mind. Chad Coombs, a photographer from Saskatchewan, takes panoramas on medium format B&W film using the simple and inexpensive Holga camera with no digital manipulation. The Holga allows the film to be advanced any desired amount between shots creating long panoramas with overlapping imagery. With careful planning, the series of shots can give a surreal, dream-like feeling as shown in his pictures of New york City. Mark Koecher takes QuickTime VR panoramas. Koecher’s panorama taken inside Morningside Church shows off the technique.

AN ORDINARY CAMERA can be used with a bracket that allows the camera to be rotated about the nodal point of its lens. This can be a special bracket or an ordinary flash gun bracket. Use a bubble level to make sure the camera is level before you begin shooting. Use manual settings on the camera for distance, exposure, focus and white balance. If the camera is set to auto, the shots may vary as the camera pans across different parts of the scene. The images must overlap enough to allow good stitching without waste - 30% is about right (50% is a waste, while 10% has too little data for stitching). Carefully taken hand-held images can also be stitched into good panoramas using modern software. Visit the 360Texas site for a good description of nodal points and why they are important in the success of your panorama. Check the Wikipedia entry on Cardinal point (optics) as well - there are different opinions on the correct point of rotation for panoramic photography.

A SHIFT LENS is a lens is normally used to correct perspective distortion in 35mm architectural photography - much like the drop front on a view camera. Shifting the lens sideways to take two shots gives perfect, easily stitched alignment since the camera doesn’t move. The only overlap is a small band in the middle of the image giving close to a 2:1 panorama. Fast moving objects may show up in both left and right images. See the Wikipedia entry on the Perspective control lens for further information.

PANORAMIC TRIPOD HEADS are used with an ordinary camera. The special heads range in price from several hundred to more than a thousand dollars. They accurately level the camera, centre the point of rotation over the nodal point or entrance pupil of the camera lens, and aid in correctly overlapping each shot. The Wikipedia entry for the Panoramic tripod head has a list of links to numerous commercial heads as well a link to "Penny-Pinching Pete's Cheapo Panoramic Nodal Samurai" instructions to make a panoramic head.

SPECIAL PANORAMIC FILM CAMERAS have been around for many years. Today, you might find a Russian-made Horizont or newer Horizon, both made by Krasnogorsk (KMZ. The images have some distortion, but the camera is relatively inexpensive. On the high end, there is the pricey G617 Fuji which Felix recommends you rent from a professional camera shop - choose a holiday weekend and some shops will charge only one day’s rent for the long weekend.

STITCHING SOFTWARE is used to stitch together a sequence of images a panorama. The popular Photoshop CS3 and CS4 have special tools to do almost fully automatic stitching and blending of the images. The stitched image can be cropped to restore straight edges or left “as-is”.

QUICKTIME VR is viewed with a free cross-platform movie and audio player from Apple. QuickTime Virtual Reality movies are 360 degree panoramas. The viewer sees the photograph as if he is inside the image. To make a QuickTime VR movie, a number of overlapping images are stitched together in the QuickTime VR software. When you view the result, you can move any direction within the panorama and even zoom in and out. Visit Apple or Wikipedia to get further information about QuickTime VR. Visit the Apple QuickTime VR site for in-depth instructions on making QuickTime VR movies and here for information on the tools needed.

Tony Makepiece has information and examples of QuickTime VR on his panoramaist web site. His movies show the Four Seasons Opera Centre - the geometry looks terrific, Toronto’s Distillery District, the Yonge-Dundas Square, etc. A number of his QuickTime VR movies were taken at dusk to capture the great colour of early evening and simultaneously the lights of the streets and buildings.

GIGAPAN is the newest and most interesting panorama technology. Felix brought along the GigaPan Imager used to make the gigantic photo mosaic images shown on the GigaPan web site. The robot technology comes from the very successful NASA Rover mission that landed small robots on Mars. The Mars robots took digital images of the surroundings and sent them back to earth where they were stitched together to make huge panoramic photographs.

Now Carnegie Mellon University has a program that is presently in beta testing. Individuals can purchase a specialGigaPan Imager movement GigaPan Imager for $300US plus shipping from Gigapan Systems. The GigaPan Imager accepts a number of point and shoot cameras (DSLRS are too heavy). The device is mounted on a tripod and a camera is placed in its gimbals. The camera is set to its maximum optical focal length, and all settings are placed on manual to avoid variations in the resulting photograph - no flash, post-views, or RAW files either. Flash memory must be at least 2 Gb and the batteries must be fresh. A setup sequence prepares the GigaPan Imager to take a series of overlapping images by scanning a scene from top to bottom and left to right. The device calculates the number of images and amount of overlap. The photographer can check the painted area - overscan to ensure you get the desired scene - after set up and before starting the imaging. Once the GigaPan Imager starts, it must be left alone to finish the series of shots (there is the option of pausing the procedure). The device takes 100 to 300 images that are stitched with special public domain software and uploaded to the GigaPan web site. While it takes a few minutes to capture the hundreds of images, they create a huge stitched image (60 to 700 megapixels) with incredible detail. The animated GIF above shows the first few positions and runs more than 100x the actual speed of the GigaPan Imager.

The images are hosted on the web site, where visitors can zoom and pan the huge images, leave comments, or even post snap-shots of interesting things discovered in an image. The image can be linked to Google maps to show exactly where it was taken. One of the images Felix chose to illustrate his talk was that of the Golden Temple in India.

After his presentation, Felix took the GigaPan photograph shown below of the members who were able to stay back for the half hour or so it took to set up and shoot. The image is now up on the Gigapan website. For this photograph, the robot calculated 260 images - about 750 megs of images. When started, the robot systematically went through shooting the images in sequence, 10 shots top to bottom in 26 columns from left to right. This took roughly ten minutes - allowing Felix to join the group before the camera reached his chair, and allowed Wayne Gilbert to be shown at both sides of the finished image.

So there it is - panoramas are still a favourite photograph format. And today, digital technology allows us to create and view the panorama in ways not possible in the era of film and mechanical cameras. For more information, pick up a copy of the Winter 2008 edition of PhotoEd at Chapters - only $6. If you cannot locate a copy, contact Felix.

For a definition of panoramas and a pre-photographic example, visit October speaker Paul Burns’s 1750-1799 web page and scroll down to the articles “1787 Robert Barker” and “1792 Robert Barker”. For more, continue on to his 1885-1889 web page and scroll down to his article on the “Second Earliest Film”. You will see a short movie of traffic on the Leeds bridge in England. Scroll down a bit further to the VR Leeds logo and a link there will take you to a modern day QuickTime VR movie of the Leeds bridge.

There is even an International Association of Panoramic Photographers - visit their web site to learn more and to contact other panoramic enthusiasts.

PHSC GigaPan Portrait

This page was designed in Dreamweaver CS4 on an iMac running OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Images on this page are from various sources. The animation was taken with a Sony F828 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Flash CS4, Adobe Bridge CS4, and Photoshop CS4. Presentation images are ©2008 by Felix Russo and may not be used without his permission. The thumbnails and enlarged images not from Mr Russo or the PHSC are from the following sources and may be under copyright: Cirkut -, Banquet -, Moving Lens -, Jennifer Wolfraim - (dead link, retrieved from Google cache), Chad Coombs -, Holga Camera - Mark Wheeler from Wikipedia article under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 (thumbnail), (large image), Nodal Point - Bob Mellish from Wikipedia article under GNU Free Documentation License, Mark Koecher -, Shift Lens - copyright Jeff Dean from Wikipedia article, Horizont -, G617 -, Photoshop - copyright Adobe and taken with a screengrab from CS4, Panoramist - Contents of this page and all other images are ©2008 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Bob Carter

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