I have been interested in making a motorized head for my panoramic photography since I first read about Cirkut cameras. The idea that you could set up an apparatus, push start, and generate a panorama was intriguing to me. I will admit however, that I am adverse to film, and prefer digital solutions. I looked into cameras made from old scanners, and even tried to make one, but ran into driver problems. I am also cheap. The Seitz Roundshot D3 is awesome, but at more than $30,000 it is way out of my league.
Finally I found an outlet for my interest. I have been keenly following a project on the AutopanoPro forums for about a year now. At first most of the information was in French, but soon enough the English speakers caught wind of it too. Orion, the American telescope company, has a motorized tracker that can be adapted for panoramic photography. The TeleTrack head, sold under the Merlin brand in Europe, costs around $250 USD. With some additional hardware, and a free program developed to control it, you can build an automated panoramic clicking machine. In this article I will describe how I built my unit, and hopefully provide some guidance and resources so you can, too.
- The DIY Gigapan Alternative
- Project Outline
- Hacking the Orion
- Configuring the Nokia Tablet
- TeleTrack in Operation: Initial thoughts
In a nutshell, this project takes an off the shelf telescope mount, adds a bluetooth interface and a tablet controller, and downloadable software to create a motorized head that can take a series of photos automagically while you stand tens of feet way. Here we go: web portal, Gigapan hoped to create a strong user base creating gigapixel panoramas that could be explored by anyone. Many of us were intrigued, and signed up to be beta testers of the new device. I wasn’t chosen, but I followed along as the first images flowed into the website. By using a pyramidic image scheme like Zoomify or Silverlight, the Gigapan images are loaded into your browser in small enough chunks that the huge files are not unwieldy. The viewer on the site allows you to zoom in and in and in, with detail increasing as you drill down.
I have to admit that I have not been using my manual panoramic head much since I discovered AutopanoPro (APP). Usually I find myself out and about somewhere and see an image that could be a little wider, so I set things up and take a series of handheld shots. Most of the time it works. (See this article for some or our tips on shooting handheld panoramas.) Still, I have had a couple of occasions where an automated head would have been nice, like that time when I tried to take a panorama of the view of Nelson from the Grampians behind town. I needed to bracket, and ended up with 300 images which didn’t stitch well as the sky and ocean shots provided nothing for control point creation. I don’t have indents on my manual set up, so the columns were not exactly lined up either. Besides, a robotic head is cool. Its ROBOTIC! It amazes children and adults alike. You set up one of these things on a busy city street and while you won’t attract too many women, you will attract lots of other technophiles. (I am looking forward to meeting many such people as I use my new toy.)
Ok, so I was shut out of the Gigapan beta. Then I heard about the Orion/Merlin TeleTrack setup. And then I realized that the Gigapan was not ready for SLR use anyway. Here are some advantages of this alternative:
- Electronic camera triggering (versus the mechanical trigger on the Gigapan)
- Built for heavier cameras and telescopes
- Wireless software control
- Affordable (so is the Gigapan)
- Community developed, you can influence the design
- Not yet available as a turn key, out of the box solution
- Slow moving
- Heavier and larger than the Gigapan
- Community developed, so there is less documentation and support