Archive for the 'Digital' Category

Panoramic Photography

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

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I have been experimenting with panoramic photography for the last few weeks and I wanted to share some of the things I have learned and offer some tips for anyone wanting to learn how to take panoramic photos. This isn’t a comprehensive panorama tutorial, but it should cover the basics and point you in the direction of panoramic websites where you can learn more.

stereo_test_fused_300.jpgPanoramic photography can be breathtaking. Even really wide angle lenses can’t come close to showing the range of view that you can get with a true panorama. The shot at the top of this page shows a 360 degree panoramic shot. Another method is to take a 360 degree shot by 180 degrees that results in a complete view of your surroundings. Once you have a 360×180 image there are some really interesting things you can do with them. For example, the shot to the right demonstrates a stereographic projection that is created from a panorama. Anther applications for a panorama include Quicktime VR’s which allow you to scroll up, down, and around the image as if you were standing in that spot. So how do you create panoramic photos?

Step 1: Taking the Photos

The first thing you need to know about panoramic photography is that it usually involves taking multiple photos and “stitching” them together into a single shot. While there are expensive cameras with swinging lenses, most panorama photos are made with ordinary cameras. You take lots of photos until you have taken a photo of your complete surroundings. Rather than just going crazy shooting photos in every direction it is a good idea to use a system that will make it easy to assemble the photos later.

In order to improve your chances of having images that will work optimally for stitching together you should definitely consider purchasing a high quality tripod. It is possible to hand hold your camera, but this really increases your chances of having images that don’t stitch together nicely. A normal tripod should work well for single row 360 degree shots. If you are taking multiple row, 360×180 shots you should consider purchasing a panoramic head.

A panoramic tripod head will allow you to move your camera in specific increments until you have completed the full 360. Each photo you take should overlap the shot you took previously. The overlap is important because this redundant data is what the software will use to stitch the photos together later. With my Panasonic Lumix LX3 (which has a pretty wide lens) I can capture a 360×180 degree image by taking 38 photos. That translates into 3 rows of 12 images and a photo for the ground and another photo of the sky straight above. I use the markings on my tripod to know how to turn the camera 30 degrees.

A panoramic tripod head can be an expensive investment. The Nodal Ninja tripod heads get great praise, but they are cost hundreds of dollars. A cheaper option is the Panosaurus that costs about $80. If you are the do-it-yourself type like me, you can build your own. I had some old tripod parts lying around so I decided to build my own panoramic tripod head.

The photo below shows my DIY panoramic tripod head.

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This looks intimidating, but once you understand how a panoramic head works it isn’t that bad. The purpose of the head is to position your camera so that the “nodal point” of the camera stays in the same place no matter which direction the camera is pointing. What is a nodal point you ask? You can read the technical definition on wikipedia, but in general terms, this is the point of the camera lens that your camera will rotate around to produce images that aren’t distorted. If you simply rotate a normal tripod the nodal point will be different for each shot causing distortion. You can find the nodal point of your lens following the tutorial here. Don’t obsess over this, because as long as you are close you should be in good shape. Most likely, the nodal point of your camera is towards the front of the lens. There is a good thread on Flickr where you can see a bunch of DIY panoramic tripod heads that should give you some inspiration.

Step 2: Stitching the Photos Together

Once you have the photos taken it is time to create the panorama. Stitching multiple photos together presents some challenges. First of all you need some software. I use Hugin because it is free and has some advanced features. I haven’t used any of the other panorama photo stitcher software options out there, but search the internet and you should be able to see some of the other options out there.

Before you commit to learning Hugin, I should warn you that it wasn’t very easy to get it working for me. I am on a Mac running Snow Leopard and it took some work getting it installed and running. I ended up using MacPorts to help install the autopano-sift-c software required to run Hugin.

Once I had Hugin installed, learning Hugin presented its own challenges. I am the kind of person that jumps right into software without much training, so if you follow some tutorials online you might pick it up quicker than I did. Check out the Hugin Flickr group for additional info.

I hope this post was enough to get you interested in panoramic photography. There are plenty of great resources online if you are looking for more information. My advice would be to join Flickr and plug in to the many groups and passionate users creating panoramic images. There are lots of tutorials on Flickr and most people are more than willing to help out other photographers. Good luck!

6 Non-Traditional ways to use a Panasonic Lumix LX3

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

As you probably know I love pinhole cameras, antiques, hacked and modified cameras, and pretty much anything except for flawless image making devices. I like the chaos and the chance of photography. That’s where the excitement is for me. I am not interested in perfectly exposed, perfectly boring photos. So it may come as a surprise to you that the newest camera in my collection is a digital point-and-shoot. I recently purchased a Panasonic Lumix LX3 and I really love it.

There are plenty of articles online praising the technical prowess of this camera praising it as a point-and-shoot that can compete with an SLR. The only other camera that might give the LX a run for its money is the Canon G10. So rather than rehash the technical specs of the Panasonic Lumix LX3 I thought I would throw out some ideas that might get you thinking how to “hack” this camera to create non-traditional digital photos. If you have some ideas of your own, please add them in the comments.

1. Long Exposures Switch the Panasonic Lumix LX3 over to manual mode and you can control the shutter speed. Try it at night, or in situations where a long exposure can give you unexpected results.

2. Multiple Exposures The Panasonic Lumix LX3 allows you to create multiple exposures in camera. You have to scroll through some menus to get to this setting, but it can give you some really fun and interesting results.

3. Street photography The LX3 is small and quiet so it is a great camera for street photography. Some times I like to “shoot from the hip” and take photos by just pointing the camera in someone’s general direction and snapping a shot. Every once in a while this technique can create some real gems.

4. Manual Focus You paid good money for the fancy focusing technology of the Panasonic Lumix LX3, but why not turn it off? The manual focus of this camera is another way to get back to basics with your camera. Or add some creative blur to your shots.

5. Macro It’s amazing how much things change when you get really close to them. The macro ability of the Panasonic LX3 is pretty impressive and opens a whole new world of possibilities.

6. Black and white I find that unless color really adds something to a photo, I typically prefer the image in black and white. Why not save yourself the trouble of converting to black and white in Photoshop later and shoot in black and white mode. Another advantage of shooting in b&w is that it puts you in a different mind set. I feel like I am looking at the world differently when I have black and white film in my camera.

I hope you found these ideas inspiring. As always, follow me on Flickr if you are curious about what my latest work.

Here are some of the auctions for Panasonic Lumix LX3 cameras and accessories on Ebay that you might be interested in:

Sony Ericsson w810i

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

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The Hanft family finally joined the rest of the world and got cell phones. I guess I should say I joined the rest of the world since Betsy has had a cell phone for years now. I did my research before making my purchase and wanted to get a good camera phone. I decided on the Sony Ericsson w810i. In addition to one of the best mp3 players on the market, this phone has (by cell phone standards) a terrific camera built in.

At two megapixels, the Sony Ericsson w810i may be at the low end of the camera market, but it is at the high end of the phone market. Two megapixels translates to about a 5×7 print at 300dpi, and you could probably stretch it to 8×10 if you really needed a big print. As you can imagine, you have to accept some limitations with a camera in a phone, but I have to say that I was impressed beyond my low expectations. In low light it was somewhat grainy, but still acceptable. In macro situations in performs wonderfully. The lens is a bit too wide so you have to get in close if you want your subject to fill the frame.

The camera is actully pretty full of features. It has auto focus, a self-portrait mirror, a light, self-timer, macro mode, effects (black and white, sepia, negative, solarize), white balance, different shutter sounds, and white balance. It has video mode for small video. It uses a removable memory card. I use a 4gb card (mainly for music storage) so there is plenty of room for photos. You can even change the shutter sound if you want a different click.

One fun feature of this camera is panoramic mode. Unlike the crappy cropping panoramic cameras of the past, this feature actually requires you to take three photos and the camera will stitch them together for you. Here is a quick example:

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This is my basement, and the camera is hand held in this low light situation. You can see the slight double image at the one third mark next to the camera case due to me not lining up the second shot with the camera’s preview of the first image. You can click on the image above for a full resolution version. I didn’t correct anything, so this gives you an idea of what you will get straight out of the phone.

The biggest benefit of having this camera phone is that you always have a camera with you. The picture quality of most phone cameras is almost worthless, so if you plan on using the photos taken on your camera, get something decent. Right now the Sony Ericsson w810i is one of the best on the market.

Here are some of the auctions on Ebay for Sony Ericsson s810i that you might be interested in:

Canon EOS 5D

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

Canon_EOS_5D.jpg The Canon EOS 5D: the digital camera you have been dreaming about. No, I am not fortunate to own one of these, but the company I work for does and I have been playing with it for the last few weeks. Wow. This is the most expensive camera I have ever used, and probably the best. If you can afford this piece of equipment, I highly recommend it. Amazon sells the body for $3,000 and the 24-105mm lens for another $1,200. Unfortunately that is just the beginning and you start to see that this camera can easily become a money pit. You will most likely need accessories. For example, it doesn’t have a built-in flash, so an external flash is probably a good idea. At 12.8 megapixels, storage quickly becomes an issue, too. The camera is so fast even at the highest setting that a 2gb card gets filled very fast. In addition to a couple large compact flash cards, you will probably need an external harddrive for your computer. Even 200gb will get filled faster than you would expect. You should probably upgrade your version of Photoshop. An extra lens or two wouldn’t hurt. The battery pack is pretty cool. It never ends. However, if you have the money, this is an amazing camera.

Ebay is a great place to shop for the Canon EOS 5D. Here’s what is on Ebay right now:

Philips Keychain Digital Camera

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

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I got Philips’ keychain digital camera for Christmas. I think it cost about $20, and surely was a tempting stocking stuffer last Christmas. While it may be a nice little camera for my collection, I can’t say it is a great performer. Here are some of my criticism of the keychain camera…

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Nikon Coolpix Cameras

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

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Coolpix cameras are a great product line. I bought my Nikon Coolpix 5000 back when 5 megapixels was really a big deal. More recently, I picked up a used Coolpix 990 that I use almost exclusively for timelapse photography. I know it is terribly late to do a product review of these seemingly outdated cameras, but you might be surprised how much life these cameras have if you get a little creative…

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Digital Pinhole Camera, Part 3

Thursday, April 7th, 2005

I am finally getting around to explaining how I built my digital pinhole camera. If you have ever made a pinhole camera, you recognize that there are major drawbacks to traditional pinhole photography. Fortunately, our hybrid digital pinhole camera isn’t limited by the traditional obstacles that make pinhole photography impractical. For example, with our digital pinhole camera, it is easy to get full color images. There isn’t any processing or light sensitive materials. There isn’t any fumbling around in the dark trying to load your camera. You can take as many photos as your memory card will allow, and best of all, you get instant results. Let’s get started…

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