Panoramic photography is a technique of photography, using specialized equipment or software, that captures images with elongated fields of view. It is sometimes known as wide format photography. The term has also been applied to a photograph that is cropped to a relatively wide aspect ratio.
While there is no formal division between "wide-angle" and "panoramic" photography, "wide angle" normally refers to a type of lens, but using this lens type does not necessarily make an image a panorama. An image made with an ultra wide angle fisheye lens covering the normal film frame of 1:1.33 is not automatically considered to be a panorama.
An image showing a field of view approximating, or greater than, that of the human eye – about 160° by 75° – may be termed panoramic. This generally means it has an aspect ratio of 2:1 or larger, the image being at least twice as wide as it is high. The resulting images take the form of a wide strip. Some panoramic images have aspect ratios of 4:1 and sometimes 10:1, covering fields of view of up to 360 degrees. Both the aspect ratio and coverage of field are important factors in defining a true panoramic image.
History of Panoramics
One of the first recorded patents for a panoramic camera was submitted by Joseph Puchberger in Austria in 1843 for a hand-cranked, 150° field of view, 8-inch focal length camera that exposed a relatively large Daguerreotype, up to 24 inches (610 mm) long.
A more successful and technically superior panoramic camera was assembled the next year by Friedrich von Martens in Germany in 1844. His camera, the Megaskop, added the crucial feature of set gears which offered a relatively steady panning speed. As a result, the camera properly exposed the photographic plate, avoiding unsteady speeds that can create an unevenness in exposure, called banding. Martens was employed by Lerebours, a photographer/publisher.
It is also possible that Martens camera was perfected before Puchberger patented his camera. Because of the high cost of materials and the technical difficulty of properly exposing the plates, Daguerreotype panoramas, especially those pieced together from several plates (see below) are rare.
An 1851 panoramic showing San Francisco from Rincon Hill by photographer Martin Behrmanx. It is believed that the panorama initially had eleven plates, but the original daguerreotypes no longer exist.
After the advent of wet-plate collodion process, photographers would take anywhere from 2 to a dozen of the ensuing albumen prints and piece them together to form a panoramic image (see: Segmented). This photographic process was technically easier and far less expensive than Daguerreotypes. Some of the most famous early panoramas were assembled this way by George Barnard, a photographer for the Union Army in the American Civil War in the 1860s. His work provided vast overviews of fortifications and terrain, much valued by engineers, generals, and artists alike.
Following the invention of flexible film in 1888, panoramic photography was revolutionised. Dozens of cameras were marketed, many with brand names heavily indicative of their time. Cameras such as the Cylindrograph, Wonder Panoramic, Pantascopic and Cyclo-Pan, are some examples of panoramic cameras.
Center City Philadelphia panorama from 1913.
A 1900 advertisement for a short rotation panoramic camera
Short rotation, rotating lens and swing lens cameras have a lens that rotates around the camera's rear nodal point and use a curved film plane. As the photograph is taken, the lens pivots around its nodal point while a slit exposes a vertical strip of film that is aligned with the axis of the lens. The exposure usually takes a fraction of a second. Typically, these cameras capture a field of view between 110° to 140° and an aspect ratio of 2:1 to 4:1. The images produced occupy between 1.5 and 3 times as much space on the negative as the standard 24 mm x 36 mm 35 mm frame.
Cameras of this type include the Widelux, Noblex, and the Horizon. These have a negative size of approximately 24x58 mm. The Russian "Spaceview FT-2", originally an artillery spotting camera, produced wider negatives, 12 exposures on a 36-exposure 35 mm film.
There are three popular ways of "stitching" virtual tours together.
1.) Rectilinear Stitching. This involves the rotation of a digital camera, typically in the portrait (up and down) position and centered directly over the tripod. As the operator manually rotates the camera clockwise, the camera stops or clicks into a detent such as every 30°. The rotator can be adjusted by changing the position of "detent ring or bolt," into another slot like; 40°, 60°, 90° etc.
If your camera lens supports a wider view, you could select a detent of say 60° which meant you only need to take 6 shots as opposed to 10 shots to capture the same panoramic view. The combination of a precision rotator and a digital camera allows the photographer to take rectangular "slices" of any scene (indoors or outdoors). With a typical point and shoot digital camera, the photographer will snap 8, 10, 12 or 14 slices of a scene. Using specialized "photo stitching" software such as PT Gui, Autopano or some other program the operator then assembles the "slices" into a rectangular one -- typically 4,500 pixels to 6,000 pixels wide. This technique, while extremely time consuming, has remained popular even through today as the required equipment, rotator heads and software are relatively inexpensive to buy and are easy to learn. This type of stitched panoramic view is also called "cylindrical" -- as the resulting stitched panorama allows panning in a complete 360° but offers a limited look up or down of about 50° degrees above or below the horizon line.
2.) Spherical Stitching. This method requires the use of a "fish eye" lens equipped digital SLR camera. The 2-shot fish eye camera system was made popular by IPiX in the mid 1990's and a two-shot rotator head that rotated and locked into 0° and 180° positions only. The camera was an Olympus or Nikon CoolPix camera and the lenses used were the Nikon FC-E8 or FC-E9 fish eye lens. The IPiX 360 camera system enabled photographers to capture a full 360 X 360 floor to ceiling view of any scene with just 4 shots as opposed to the more time consuming 8, 10, or 12-shot rectilinear produced panoramas as in technique #1 above. This type of virtual tour required more expensive virtual tour camera equipment including (for example) a Sigma 8mm f/3.5 lens which allowed photographers to set their rotator heads to 90° and capture a complete virtual tour of any scene in just 4 shots (0°, 90°, 180°, 270°).
3.) Cubical Stitching. This technique was one of the first forms of immersive, floor to ceiling virtual tours and Apple Computer pioneered this with the release of Apple's QuickTime VR in the early 1990's. Free utility software such as Cubic Converter and others allowed photographers to stitch and convert their panoramas into a "cube" like box to achieve a complete 360 X 360 view. Today, this technique is considered rather "old school," and technique #2 (Spherical Stitching) has become more mainstream for producing these types of tours.
While programs such as Adobe Photoshop have new features that allow users to stitch images together, they only support "rectilinear," types of stitching and Photoshop cannot produce them as fast or as accurate as stitching software programs can such as Autodesk Stitcher. This is because there is sophisticated math and camera-lens profiles that are needed to create the desired panorama image which is based on your camera's depth of field (FOV) and the type of lens you used. Camera's such as the Nikon D3 or D700 have a full full frame digital SLR cameras, whereas the Nikon D90 or Canon T2i (Rebel line of Digital EOS cameras) have a smaller sensor. When full frame digital SLR cameras are used with a fish eye lens such as a Sigma 8mm F/3.5, you will see a full circular image. This allows you to shoot 2 or 3 shots per view to create a 360 X 360 stitched panoramic image. When used with a non full frame digital SLR camera like the Nikon D90 or Canon digital Rebel and similar cameras, typically 4-shots are required and the camera is in the portrait position. You will see the left and right sides cropped off each of the 4 images and in each of the four corners, the image is rounded.