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Categorized | Gear, Jason DiMichele

Gear – Nodal Ninja (full review)

Nodal Ninja in action

Nodal Ninja in action

Reviewed by Jason DiMichele

Camera resolution has been a key marketing effort and photographer desire since the first digital camera was introduced. There are many situations where more resolution is required. Some 35mm/mirrorless cameras have up to 50 megapixels but in reality, especially when printing, a difference of 10-20 megapixels isn’t actually that much, considering you need four times the resolution to double your print size. The champs of resolution are medium format sensors. However, the cost of a medium format system is cost prohibitive for most, not to mention the significant weight and bulk added to your camera bag and the loss of versatility smaller camera systems offer. Although resolution isn’t the only aspect of a high-quality image, it’s the most difficult to achieve with a limited budget.

Image stitching is a technique used for creating images with practically unlimited resolution. Using a pano head such as the Nodal Ninja M2 w/RD8 rotator base, you take a number of overlapped (20 to 30 percent) photos that are then stitched in software. For example, if you took 10 photos with a 20-megapixel camera, you would end up with a stitched image containing approximately 140-160 megapixels.

Nodal Ninja M2

Nodal Ninja M2

The purpose of a pano head is to eliminate the effects of parallax. Parallax can be demonstrated by holding your thumb stationary in front of you and alternating one open eye at a time. You’ll see the background shift relative to your thumb. Without a pano head, this issue of parallax will cause issues in scenes with close foreground objects. Using a precision pano head has many advantages. One is that you can use less overlap for each image, creating a more efficient workflow. Another is that you can incorporate advanced pano techniques such as focus stacking.

The M2 and the RD8 rotator are beautifully designed and machined, allowing for a great shooting experience. Made of black anodized aluminum, the M2 is designed with portability in mind. It supports most lenses from wide to super telephoto (up to 3 kg). All knobs lock securely and it uses the industry standard Arca-Swiss compatible quick release system. It can be purchased separately (includes upper rotator) or with a rotator base. The rotator bases have detents, or click-stops, which allow accurate image overlap. The M2 w/RD8 is $699 US. Nodal Ninja offers a variety of pano solutions starting from about $129 US.

The M2 is designed for creating super-resolution images, from hundreds of megapixels to gigapixels. These resolutions are achieved by photographing with longer lenses, usually 100mm and longer, in a multi-row mosaic pattern. A huge benefit of creating panos is the ability to create an un-cropped image with any aspect ratio. For example, for a square composition, shoot a two-column, two-row mosaic instead of cropping a single capture and losing resolution. The detail in super-resolution images is breathtaking.

Calibrating the M2 is fairly straight forward, but read the included instructions to achieve the best results. There are three steps in this process:

• Level your tripod legs and pano head using a leveling head or built-in bubble levels.

• Position the camera on the bottom rail so the middle of the lens is directly over the point of rotation.

• Position the camera on the upper rail until parallax is eliminated when rotating the camera left and right.

You will have to repeat this for each lens or focal length of a zoom lens you use. Once you’ve determined the camera rail positions for the cameras and lenses you’ll use, record them so you don’t have to recalibrate.

To help capture your pano images, the M2 has start and end tabs that you slide to where you want your composition to begin and end. This alleviates having to verify each image on the camera. Once you’ve captured the necessary images you use software to perform the image stitch. There are a number of stitching applications, but I suggest either Kolor’s AutoPano/Giga or PTGui as they have the best image stitching algorithms and features.

222-megapixel image shot using Nodal Ninja M2 w/RD8 Gear/Settings: Panasonic GX8, Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens, ƒ6.3@1/125 sec., ISO 3200

222-megapixel image shot using Nodal Ninja M2 w/RD8
Gear/Settings: Panasonic GX8, Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens, ƒ6.3@1/125 sec., ISO 3200

A bonus of the M2 is that it can also be configured as both a gimbal-type head for your super telephoto lenses. Multi-purposed gear is great, saving money and space in your camera bag. I’ve used many pano heads over the years and can confidently say that the M2 w/RD8 is one of the best available. Its design and build quality in combination with the company and community support are worth the investment.

To read more of this issue please pick up the Fall/Winter 2016 (#39) issue of OPC. Or to never miss an issue please SUBSCRIBE today!

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