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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.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. 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.
- RRS BH-40 LR: Mid-Sized Ballhead (Purchase this as a kit with the shown QR clamp for a discount)
- RRS MPR-73 3/8ths: 73mm MPR 3/8th Threaded Rail
- Nodal Ninja RD16 Rotator (Purchase with Thread Adapter below for discount)
- Nodal Ninja M6 male to 3/8-16 Male Thread Adapter
- RRS PCL-1: Panning Clamp (Purchase this with the RRS MPR-CL II below as a Pano Elements Package for a discount here)
- RRS MPR-CL II: MPR With Integral Clamp (see above for package price discount)
- RRS B5D2-L: L-plate for Canon 5D Mark II