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Panoramic Tripod Head Buying Guide

Updated on August 27, 2013

Panofix Panorama Bracket

Panofix Panorama Bracket
Panofix Panorama Bracket

What is it?

For photographers taking a series of photographs and then stitching them together later to create a large panoramic, the goal is to start with a high quality panoramic sequence. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

In panoramic photograph, quality means photographs taken from the camera and len's optical center or nodal point and rotated on that axis so the results don't have any parallax error or distortion.

In other words the background needs to stay in the same position in relationship to the camera. Then when you later stitch the photographs together, the result will be perfectly aligned.

A Panoramic Tripod Head allows you first to take sharp pictures and allow long exposure effects simply by being on a tripod. But these special tripod heads also featuring leveling bubbles and 360o indexers. The more advanced versions allow you to mount the camera in the vertical position for truly large panoramas.

Simple and cheap

If you are going to take panoramas with the camera in the horizontal position you might already have everything you need. My Vantage AT ball head already has leveling bubbles and 360 indicators built in so its ready to go for taking horizontal panoramic sequences.

If you don't have such a tripod head already you can get the very inexpensive Panamatic PMTC-1 Head for less than $20 off of Amazon. This features

  • 360 degree Camera Index Wheel
  • Built-in Level
  • 30 degree Click Stops
  • Mounts to Tripod

So you just need to add this to your tripod and you are good to go for taking horizontal panoramic sequences Keep in mind this is a plastic item that might be fine for Point and Shoot cameras but for DSLR, let's move on to some higher quality offerings.

High Quality Panoramic Tripod Heads

Higher quality panoramic heads allow the camera to remain centered on the tripod in the vertical position and swivel on the center axis. These models also can include bubble levels (not always necessary if your camera includes a built in level or you can add a cheap level to your hot shoe) and rotational indicators that click when you turn the head.

Some models to consider are:

  • Panosaurus 2.0
  • Nodal Ninja 4 with RD-16 II
  • Manfrotto 303SPH MultiRow

These vary in price, build quality, ease of use, setup time and ease of use. Digital Photo recently review these and gave the nod to the Nodal Ninga 4 with bonus points for weight and ease of use. You can get the Ninja 4 with a cheaper base if you need to save some cash.

Robotic Panoramic Gigapixels

Another option is the Gigapan Epic 100 Motorized Head. This motorized head is designed for small camera and photographers looking to create "gigapixel' shots. Extremely large photos made of 10s or 100s of individual photographs.

A larger version, the Epic Pro can handle larger DSLRs.


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