Mating Really Right Stuff And Nodal Ninja Panoramic Gear

Panoramic Gear:

I’ve been a huge fan of Really Right Stuff’s (RRS) gear for many years and have had their quick-release Arca-Swiss style camera plates and clamps on nearly ever camera I’ve owned. The one thing that was always missing from their catalog, however, was an detent-indexed rotator, used for, among other things, shooting stitched single-row panoramic images. This is my solution to that missing piece.

Note: Click on any of the images for a larger version; a manufacturers’ link to each item described is provided at the bottom of the post. Detailed technical specifications can be found at each of these links.

Panoramic Gear

The Full Really Right Stuff/Nodal Ninja Rig.

First off, an indexed rotator allows you select how many degrees you can rotate the camera before a detent engages. This way, you can shoot the correct number of images and there will be the correct amount of overlap making the stitching in the software go smoothly. RRS makes a great degreed rotator, the PCL-1: Panning Clamp. And as with most of their gear, the design, machining, and finish are the best in the business. However, with my aging eyes and the fact that I’m often in light levels that are low, it became very difficult to see the very small degree marking. And, it is very error-prone process as you are aligning the rotation of each frame visually… in low light with aging eyes… not optimal.

Panoramic Gear

Really! Right! Stuff!

Years ago when I first shot panos (1999-2000; On film no less!), a company called Kaidan offered many different indexed camera mounting solutions. I had three or four of their setups. You would set your degree of rotation required and then focus on the image you were creating, rotating camera and feeling the click stops at the necessary index points. But RSS does not make a detent-indexed rotator. I’ve talked with them on several occasions and they’ve made proto-types, but nothing has gone into production. So, I started investigating options and came across Nodal Ninja’s (Fanotec’s) line of rotators, which are typically used with their own panoramic rigs. Their RD16 stood out immediately. It had the fineness of rotational incrementation that I desired and appeared to be designed well with good machining and a durable finish. It is also supplied with a number of silicon plugs, so that the detent holes one currently isn’t using can be plugged, keeping dirt and debris out of the mechanism. Nice touch.

Panoramic Gear

Turn, Baby, Turn!

When the RD16 arrived I was happy to find that it is just what I was after. It doesn’t quite have the machining and finish qualities of RRS gear, but is close and mechanically feels excellent. Without further ado, here is each individual part and how they fit together.

Panoramic Gear

Exploded View Of The Individual Parts.

 

Panoramic Gear

BH-40 LR: Mid-Sized Ballhead.

 

Panoramic Gear

RRS MPR-73 3/8ths: 73mm MPR 3/8th Threaded Plate.

 

Panoramic Gear

Nodal Ninja RD16 Rotator. Gray Plugs Keep Dirt Out Of The Mechanism.

 

Panoramic Gear

Nodal Ninja M6 male to 3/8-16 Male Thread Adapter.

 

Panoramic Gear

RRS PCL-1: Panning Clamp. Rotation On This Clamp Is Silky Smooth. Typical RRS.

 

Panoramic Gear

RRS MPR-CL II: MPR With Integral Clamp. AKA: A Rail.

 

Panoramic Gear

RRS B5D2-L: L-plate for Canon 5D Mark II.

 

Assembling The Rotator Unit:

The RD16 has a 6mm threaded hole in the center of the top surface. It also has a recessed area around that hole for a lock washer. The washer is conical, and typically in this situation, the screw is tightened down onto the convex side. The recessed area is deeper than the washer is thick, so when it is all tightened, the washer is below the top surface of the rotator and will not interfere with whatever is screwed down onto the M6 to 3/8-16 Thread Adapter. In this case, the RRS PCL-1.

Panoramic Gear

Tighten it down securely, don’t be shy.

 

Panoramic Gear

Ready for the RRS MPR-73 Plate.

 

Panoramic Gear

Center the RRS MPR-73 Plate On The Base Of The Rotator And Tighten The 3/8-16 Screw Securely.

 

Panoramic Gear

Screw The RRS PCL-1 Onto The Thread Adapter And Fix It Securely. I Call This Assembly The Panoramic “Unit.”

 

Panoramic Gear

Unit Installed Into Ballhead’s Clamp. Rail, L-Plate, And Camera Installed Into The Unit.

 

What works great about this set-up, is that the tripod can be out of level, and you can correct for that with the ballhead. In the picture below, you can see that the tripod is considerably out of level, but the ballhead levels the rotator and PCL-1 clamp. The camera can be rotated 360° with either the RSS clamp or the rotator, and everything stays leveled. It is very fast in use: After leveling the Unit, I rotate the camera with the PCL-1 to my start positions, lock it, and then rotate the camera through the RD16′s detented positions. Any fine adjustments to the rotational position of the camera is easily done with the PCL-1.

Panoramic Gear

Let’s Try A Little Harder To Get That Tripod Leveled Next Time…

 

Panoramic Gear

The Panoramic Unit Plus Rail.

If you happen to want to take a non-panoramic shot, you just loosen the clamp on the rail, remove the camera, take out the Unit leaving the rail in place, and clamp the camera right back into the ballhead.

Panoramic Gear

Camera Mounted Directly Into Ballhead Clamp.

 

Or, if for some reason the camera has to stay level, just take out the rail and insert the camera back into the PCL-1.

Panoramic Gear

Camera Mounted Directly Into The Unit.

 

Panoramic Gear

Setting Up In Lumpini Park, Bangkok, Thailand.

 

Panoramic Gear

A Wider View.

 

Panoramic Gear

Night Pano, Gotta Love It. Canon 5D MkII, 45mm T/S Lens.

 

The combination of Really Right Stuff’s quick release system and of Nodal Ninja’s RD16 rotator make for a very nice combination indeed. It’s rapidly set up out of the camera bag, is rock solid, and moves some of the focus paid on mechanical operation to the creative endeavor. And a vital point for me personally is customer support. RRS has it in spades. They have always been fast and accurate with technical information that I’ve inquired about. I can only think of one time I’ve had a problem with a piece of their gear (a defective L-Plate screw) and that was resolved with a new screw shipped that day, no waiting, solve the problem now. That’s what I’m really paying for. I’ve only interacted with Nodal Ninja’s customer service once, but likewise, it was fast and accurate. For me that counts a great deal.

If you are looking for good panoramic equipment, I can recommend both of these companies enthusiastically.

Links To Items:

Note: This kit list is for a Canon 5D MkII camera. The L-Plate and possibly the MPR Rail will be different if you use a different Canon or a Nikon, etc., camera. 

Disclaimer: I’m not associated with either of these companies, other than as a satisfied user. All trademarks, product names, and company names and logos appearing on jonwitsell.com are the property of their respective owners.

Thanks for reading!

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Panoramic Gear.

This entry was posted in Panoramic Photography, Technical and tagged , , , .
  • Charles

    Why do you need the PCL-1, why not just put a regular (aka cheaper and lighter) clamp there instead? After all, all it does is to hold the MPR-rail, you’re not using the swiveling at all.

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hi Charles!

      I had originally planned on just using a plain QR clamp, but as I wrote here:

      “The camera can be rotated 360° with either the RSS clamp or the rotator, and everything stays leveled. It is very fast in use: After leveling the Unit, I rotate the camera with the PCL-1 to my start positions, lock it, and then rotate the camera through the RD16′s detented positions. Any fine adjustments to the rotational position of the camera is easily done with the PCL-1.”

      Having a leveled free-moving rotator just makes using the set-up a dream. If I’m off a bit (in between detents), I can just rotate the camera rapidly with that. If I rotate at the base of the ballhead, I’m out of level. And, I already own the PCL-1, so it was just a matter of ordering the RD16 with the thread adapter. I’m really glad I did it this way. It is super fast and It just works.

      Jon

  • Adam

    You are making too much trouble to achieve panning your camera. This will clear all of your hassle.

    http://www.sunwayfoto.com/html/products/201106/238.html

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      No, Sunwayfoto is stealing RRS designs. So, I won’t support a company that makes inferior copies. And I’ve been making panoramas since 1999, long before Sunway was copying other companies designs.

      • http://www.facebook.com/panoasia Pano Asia

        Some people just wanna act smart.

        • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

          True, true.

  • Joe

    I personally think this setup is fantastic for panoramas. I already had most of the RRS equipment with the exception of the MPR-73 plate, so all that I needed was the Nodal Ninja equipment and the MPR-73. I use either a RRS BH-55 ball head with a QR clamp, or an Acratech ball head with a RRS QR clamp, depending on which tripod I happen to be using at the moment. The set up that is described here makes shooting panoramas amazingly simple, as I don’t ever need to remove the tripod head, and don’t need a separate leveling base to get the rig leveled properly, not to mention that I can shoot at night without having to fuss with a flashlight to see the index settings. Thanks Jon for sharing this information…great job!

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hey Joe!
      Thank you for the kind words. Shooting with this set-up is a breeze isn’t it? And the fact that it is modular and lets you rapidly change set-ups is a real bonus. If you have time, would you mind sending me some snaps of your set-ups? It would be cool to do a post on other users’ kits. Thanks for commenting!

  • Steve

    This is good information for all of the pano photographers who bash RRS for not offering click stops. Products from different manufacturers can be combined to give them what they want and need. I have been doing this for years with much success. There are some pictures of my multi-row RRS/NN combination here: http://www.stevedanielsphoto.com/panoramic.htm.

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hey Steve,

      Thanks for the link. I use the ballhead to level from the rotator up, but sometimes I wish for the ability to fine tune with a thumbscrew leveler. I think I might have to look into one… :)

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jon

  • jmfloraphoto

    Thanks for the explanation and pics. This is precisely the information I needed. Well done!

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hi!

      Thanks, I’m glad the info was of use to you.

      Jon

  • Tim Lo Monaco

    Hi Jon, Just read your post about mating the NN with your RRS setup. I

    must say it is genius! I think that you may have solved my predicament

    but I had a question about your setup…I have a NN4, with RD 16 and

    Ezleveler. I also have an old manfrotto ballhead. I want to go as

    minimalist as possible, ie on a hike and be able to do both good panos

    with the NN and have the freedom to have a “regular tripod” for non

    pano situations, (like macro photography). Essentially would I be able

    to buy a RRS Ballhead with a plate for my Nikon body and also purchase

    an extra plate that would attach to the EZ-leveler or the RD16 (I may

    not even need the ezleveller anymore if I can just use the ballhead to

    fine tune leveling, right?) That way I could just carry a single

    tripod with a single ballhead and keep the NN in a bigger pocket of my

    bag, instead of having to remove the ballhead and mount the NN

    directly to the tripod when I switched back from panos to regular

    shots? Part of my question is, why do you need the PCL-1 for, since

    the RD 16 does the incremental movements already. Also, forgive my

    ignorance in the subject, but what purpose does the L plate serve? Is

    it only to make a portrait-oriented picture more stable, rather than

    moving the ballhead to allow portrait orientation? Thanks for any

    thoughts and for your post!

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hi Tim,

      Yep, you got it. Super convenient. I just pop off the RD16/PCL-1/QR Plate/Nodal Rail “unit” and can put the camera/L-Plate right into the clamp on the ballhead. The “unit” and the rail go into the camera bag and I can do other types of photography. Or, I can put the Nodal Slider/L-Plate/Camera into the ballhead clamp and use the Nodal Rail like a macro slider, or just to slide the camera forward/rearward to change the perspective. I really like the set up.

      Yes, this is only for single row panoramas. I print, so that is what I shoot. However! I am thinking of adding the capability of shooting multi-row. Please take a look at Steve Daniels’ set up here:

      http://www.stevedanielsphoto.com/panoramic.htm

      You don’t want to take the ballhead on and off—it isn’t really designed for that, and it is a hassle compared to just popping the gear in and out with QR plates.

      I’m glad I could be of help! If I haven’t answered anything or you need clarification, just let me know.

      Jon

  • Tim Lo Monaco

    Hi Jon,

    Just realized, you use a RRS rail, so you have the L-plate for your

    camera body so you can switch attach it to that rail in portrait mode,

    then if you take the whole “pano mount” off you can just put your body

    on your ballhead and use like a “regular” tripod setup, correct?

    Also, this setup would apply for single-row panos only? I like the

    versatility in mult-rows for gigapixel images, but think now I could

    still use your setup as far as getting the RRS plate for the RD16 so I

    can easily switch from pano-stitching setup by only having to change

    my body-plate back and forth, since the NN4 has it’s own plate

    (nonetheless, that is much easier than having to remove the ballhead

    all together if all I had to do was switch the camera plates).

    Sorry if this is rambling, I hope my questions make sense. It’s

    encouraging to see that I’m not the only one whose been in this

    situation and it takes creative people like yourself to develop the

    “go-to” system that balances function and practicality! I had to take

    advantage of the moment to pick your brain.

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hi Tim,

      Yep, you got it. Super convenient. I just pop off the RD16/PCL-1/QR Plate/Nodal Rail “unit” and can put the camera/L-Plate right into the clamp on the ballhead. The “unit” and the rail go into the camera bag and I can do other types of photography. Or, I can put the Nodal Slider/L-Plate/Camera into the ballhead clamp and use the Nodal Rail like a macro slider, or just to slide the camera forward/rearward to change the perspective. I really like the set up.

      Yes, this is only for single row panoramas. I print, so that is what I shoot. However! I am thinking of adding the capability of shooting multi-row. Please take a look at Steve Daniels’ set up here:

      http://www.stevedanielsphoto.com/panoramic.htm

      You don’t want to take the ballhead on and off—it isn’t really designed for that, and it is a hassle compared to just popping the gear in and out with QR plates.

      I’m glad I could be of help! If I haven’t answered anything or you need clarification, just let me know.

      Jon

  • Joe Reifer

    Hi Jon – Your article inspired me to make my own RRS/Nodal Ninja Lego creation. The PCL-1 is on the bottom, but the concept and versatility is similar. Just wanted to say thanks!
    http://www.joereifer.com/words/2013/09/28/mixing-nodal-ninja-and-really-right-stuff-gear-for-shooting-360-panoramas/

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hey Joe,
      Glad the article helped out. Your image of the Legos is so appropriate! Now if only all camera gear fit together so easily…

      Jon

  • Brett

    I’m looking for a good solution with great quality but also not having to spend anything more than what is necessary. I love where you went with this, thinking outside of the box and using items from both brands. I have the BH-40 which I love but with my new tripod it is too big so I will be parting with that and I have seemed to have lost my RRS PLC-1(Hoping it shows up). After seeing this, I was thinking about doing the same thing but using an Arca Swiss adapter at the bottom of the rotator and using an Arca Swiss clamp on top of the rotator to cut down on cost and on weight. If that will work, I would probably sell the PLC-1 because of the extra weight it would add. I have been very happy with all of my RRS gear and before today I never heard of Nodal Ninja but they seem to have a great reputation as well.

    • http://www.jonwitsell.com/blog Jon Witsell

      Hi Brett,

      Thanks for the comment. I personally like having the PCL-1 in the mix, but it is by no means absolutely necessary. That’s sounds like it will work, having a QR plate on the bottom of the rotator and a clamp on the top for your pano rail. Send me a picture when you get it done, I’d like to see it!

      Jon