Made Good #1 – Panorama Rig
Posted by Tom Benedict on 24/09/2012
I can actually say that in the past tense now: I made good. I finished that panorama rig I was building. I even had a chance to take it out and put it through its paces. In short, I’m stoked!
As you can see, it’s set up to take a variety of cameras. On the left is my Canon T2i, currently my KAP and ground workhorse. In the middle is my Canon A650IS, my KAP workhorse for many years. And on the right is a new combination featuring my cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy S2.
The real trick with this rig is the controller. It’s a Pololu Robotics Micro Maestro servo controller. It costs just under 20 USD and will drive up to six servos through a pre-canned program, or you can use some of the I/O pins as inputs and have the program respond in true robotic fashion. This rig is set up to use two of three servos, depending on which camera is installed in the rig.
In the first mode of operation the pan axis is plugged into Channel 0. This channel is set to rotate the rig at a fixed speed of 5RPM. It’s for use in conjunction with cameras that feature an intervalometer. Set the intervalometer to 1 second per photo, set the rig to spinning, and you have a very capable burst autoKAP setup. This is how the Samsung Galaxy S2 was set up.
In the second mode of operation the pan axis is plugged into Channel 1 and a shutter cable is plugged into Channel 3. The pan axis is set to make twelve smooth moves per full rotation of the pan axis, tripping the shutter after each move. Because the moves are smoothed (ramped acceleration and deceleration for each move), there’s practically no settling time at the end of a move. It simply stops. It’s a little slower than burst autoKAP, but there’s less camera motion in this mode. This is how the Canon T2i and A650 were set up.
To test this I ran all three cameras up into the air and gave them a whirl.
The Galaxy S2 performed, but right now I’m using a free intervalometer program that limits the camera’s resolution to 640×480. Considering it’s an 8MP camera, this is pretty cheesy. But now that I’ve seen it work, I’m more inclined to shell out the money for a real application.
The A650 IS performed like a champ:
This was done about two and a half hours before sunset using six photos. Nice shadows, but no real challenge on light. The A650 has optics that are quite good, even by today’s standards. At 12MP it has plenty of pixels to work with. And while smaller than most high-end compact cameras, the detector in the A650 is still larger than many on the market today. This gives it reasonably good noise characteristics for a compact.
The T2i performed equally well:
This was done over an hour after the A650 IS panorama using five photos. It was done well into the golden hour, when the shadows start to get long and the light takes on a warmer hue. The original for this came out at just over 13k pixels wide. I scaled it down several times before uploading it to Flickr. The original is quite sharp.
But what I really wanted to see was how late in the day I could still make a panorama. I’ve had a goal of making a true post-sunset panorama of a city skyline. I think (I THINK!) I may finally have a setup that will let me pull this off.
This was also a five photo panorama. Unfortunately I had my ISO clamped at 100, so it’s darker than I’d like. I bumped this up by a stop in Photoshop – enough to bring out some detail, but not enough to make it not look dark. It’s also not as sharp as I’d like, but letting the ISO float a little more should help with that as well. Obviously more experimentation is required.
Regardless, I think this rig is a hands-down win for me. It’ll take every camera I own, including my cell phone. It’ll make excellent aerial panoramas. And it’s small enough to fit in my kite bag along with my A650 so I can leave my full KAP bag at home on those days where the full RC-KAP video rig is just too much.
Now on to the damped pendulum suspension!