Creating Spherical Panoramas
with the Canon 5D and 15mm
This document describes how I create spherical panoramas with the
Canon 5D and 15mm Fisheye Lens together with Hugin.
The original photos used in this tutorial are available
together with the pto
file for stitching and this file.
Projections: Equirectangular, Sinusoidal, Mercator & Rectilinear
Projections: Transverse Mercator, Miller Cylindrical,
Stereographic: looking up & Stereographic: looking down
Imagine standing at a viewpoint on a fine day and looking all around
the horizon, up to the point above your head and down to your feet -
you are viewing a spherical panorama. The word ``spherical'' comes
from imagining that you are surrounded by a transparent sphere
centred on you head; the scene then seems to be painted onto this
sphere - the spherical panorama.
If this transparent sphere is imagined as the earth with lines of
longitude (numbered from ) and latitude (numbered as
at the equator, at the north pole and
at the south pole) then every point that we see can (like places on
the earth) be assigned a unique latitude and longitude.
The problem of representing a spherical panorama on a flat surface is
the same problem as that of creating maps to represent the surface of
the earth and it is not surprising that many names and concepts have
been taken from one problem to the other. In particular, the idea of a
projection, for example Mercator's projection, is much used. It
is clear that any projection from a sphere to a flat surface must lead
As an example, Figures 1 and
2 show six different projections of the same
spherical panorama. In each case, lines of latitude at
south, (the equator) and north as well as lines
of longitude at , west and east have
been drawn on.
- Equirectangular projection
- . Lines of latitude and longitude
are equally spaced; north corresponds to the top, south to the
bottom. Because there are horizontally, and ,
the image is twice as wide as it is high. Because points
representing the north and south poles are spread over the top and
bottom respectively, there is considerable distortion towards the
top and bottom - note that the tripod mount is spread out over the
entire bottom of the picture.
This projection is an important basic projection as it is easy for a
computer program to extract pixels for any latitude and longitude:
thus it can be used as the basis of panoramic movies: see
for this example and others.
- Sinusoidal projection
- Like the equirectangular projection, this
projects all points from the sphere onto a flat surface. The main
difference is that the north and south poles become points ranter
than lines, so there is less distortion.
- Mercator's projection
- This projection is the most common map of
the world projection. It counteracts the sideways stretch near the
poles by an upward stretch. Although is not possible to show points near
the poles using this projection, it is a good general purpose way of
making a flat panorama from a spherical panorama.
- Transverse Mercator's projection
- This is like Mercator's
projection except that the sphere is put on one side before
projection. It is good for extracting vertical objects when objects
to the side are not important.
- Stereographic projection
- The effect of this projection is
using a fisheye lens. The two examples given correspond to pointing
the lens straight up and straight down.
This article shows how to create and project spherical panoramas using
an ordinary digital camera with a special mount together with some
Equipment and Software
- Canon EOS 5D
- a full frame (35mm) digital camera with 12.8
- Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
- a full-frame fisheye lens.
- Canon Remote Switch TC-80N3
- to avoid vibration. The cheaper
model RS-80N3 would do just as well.
- Panoramic heads
- There are two alternatives that I use:
- Manfrotto 303SPH Virtual Reality Head
adjustable tripod head with ``click'' to position horizontally and
adjustable vertical angle. This is an excellent
robust device but it is heavy - weighing in at about 2kg.
- Nodal Ninja
- a lighter and cheaper alternative - weighing
about 0.5kg. This needs a Manfrotto 120 3/8" to 1/4" tripod
adaptor to work with the next item.
- Manfrotto 438 Ball Camera Leveller
- to level the panoramic head
with needing to adjust tripod legs - built-in level indicator.
- Manfrotto 190MF3 Mag Fiber Tripod
- to hold it all up. Rigid
- Lowepro Compu Trekker AW 34030 backpack
- Carries all the above
and a laptop.
- to stitch the pictures into a panorama.
- for final processing.
In the past, the critical thing here was to have nothing set
automatically so that each picture in the panorama has the same
settings. However, The latest release of hugin includes photometric
adjustment; this means that the camera can be set on Av to
automatically choose the shutter speed (variable aperture would cause
problems with different lens characteristics at each aperture). It is
still worthwhile to use auto exposure bracketing (AEB) give over and
underexposed panoramas for increased dynamic range; see section
6. I use jpegs for simplicity and reduced space;
this gives plenty of range due to three exposures. But use raw if you
- Set the camera mode dial to Av (fixed aperture).
- Use the menu to set AEB (auto exposure bracketing). Set to the
maximum of 2 stops.
- Set ISO to 200 (good value for UK, use 100 for Australia).
- Set white balance to ``daylight''.
- Set aperture to 16 - this gives a good depth of field.
- Use the menu to set the highest quality jpeg.
- Use to menu to ``Save camera settings'' - you can now use the C
mode on the dial whenever you take a panorama.
- Set the lens to MF (manual focus).
- The 5D has a useful ``select folder'' feature. Use the menu to
create a new folder each time you take a panorama.
The critical thing here is to set up the head once and for all such
that the camera rotates about the nodal point to give no parallax.
- Fix the ``Ball Camera Leveller'' to the tripod - it can be left
- Fix the ``Virtual Reality Head'' to the ``Ball Camera
Leveller''. Tighten at least one screw so that it can't move.
- Use the ``Ball Camera Leveller'' to level the ``Virtual Reality
- Follow the Manfrotto or Nodal Ninja instructions to set up the
``Virtual Reality Head'' . Accuracy is important.
- Stick coloured insulation tape to each plate to mark positions;
this saves later recalibration.
- Select the ``n=8'' (45 degrees) rotation angle.
- Remove the camera plate from the head, but leave attached to the camera.
- Remove the head from the leveller - it will fit in the backpack
without folding or disassembly when the vertical rotation is set to
Taking the Pictures
Camera orientation. The firm lines show the four directions
at 30deg up, the dashed lines at 30deg down. The numbers show the
order in which the images are taken
The Eight Pictures: Nominal Exposure.
The Eight Pictures: Over Exposed
The Eight Pictures: Under Exposed
It is possible to cover the panoramic sphere with 8 pictures. I don't
like using zenith and nadir shots as they are difficult to stitch; I
find the 4+4 pattern described below works well. The top row of
pictures are 30degrees up at 0,90,180,270; the bottom row are 30
degrees down at -45,45,135,225. A diagram is given in Figure
3; Figure 4 gives an example set of
Because spherical panoramas must include features in direct sunlight
and shadow as well as the sky, it is not possible to get a satisfactory
exposure to cover the sphere. I use the auto exposure bracketing (see
section 4.1) feature to give me three exposures; this
does give a satisfactory range when the three exposures are combined
(see section 6). Figure 5 is an over
exposed version of Figure 4; Figure 6 is an under
exposed version of Figure 4.
- Choose a location for the tripod. Consider:
- Artistic merit
- Firm footing for the tripod
- Safety - you must be able to walk around the tripod whilst
concentrating on the camera.
- Hiding the sun - ie the camera is in shadow.
- Fix the panoramic head and the camera. Make sure the camera
plate is exactly located to the tape marks.
- Attach the remote switch to the camera.
- Level using the ``Ball Camera Leveller''.
- Set the camera mode dial to C (see section 4.1).
- Make sure the lens is set to MF (manual focus) and focus it to infinity.
- Set the camera pointing up at 30 degrees to the horizontal. Set
the horizontal position at the about zero and pointing towards the
central feature of your panorama.
- Use the remote to take the three bracketed exposures and rotate
the camera though 90 degrees horizontally (2 clicks).
- Repeat to give three further sets of pictures.
- You now have the top row of each of Figures
4- 6 (0.jpg-03.jpg).
- Set the camera pointing down at 30 degrees to the horizontal.
- Set the horizontal position back by 45 degrees (1 click
back). Repeat steps 8 and 9.
- You now have the bottom row of each of Figures
- The 24 pictures should now be in their own folder. Use item
9 of section 4.1 to create a new folder
for the next panorama.
The basic idea is to stitch three panoramas from eight photographs -
one for each exposure level. I prefer to choose my own control points.
I use what I call ``cross-stitching'': each top row photo has
control points to the two adjacent photos in the bottom row.
The three panoramas are then combined in GIMP to take advantage of the
full exposure range.
For those enlightened ones using Linux, the shell-script
some of the preprocessing. The following steps can, however be done by
- Rotate the 24 photos by 90 degrees:
mogrify -rotate -90 *jpg
- Rearrange into 3 sets of 8 in separate directories; one set for
each of the three exposures. Call the files (in order
0.jpg-7.jpg) in each directory; I call the directories
``Exposure_0'', ``Exposure_over'' and ``Exposure_under''.
Stitched Panorama: nominal
Stitched Panorama: over exposed
Stitched Panorama: under exposed
The Final Panoramas: Using GIMP
The Final Panoramas: Using Qtpfsgui
- In the directory corresponding to the nominal exposure, invoke
to create mypano.pto1:
- Click on the second (``Images'') tab and load in the 8 files using the ``Load time series of Images''
- Choose image 0 (for example) as anchor and set the pitch to 30
- Click the ``Camera and lens'' tab. Select ``Full-frame
fisheye''. Click on the first image and press the ``Load exif data''
button. This gives a field of view of about 91.4 degrees.
- Under the same tab, click on the ``Photometric'' tab. Click on
each image and then click on ``Load exif data'' - this loads the
exposure value ``EV'' for each image computed from EXIF data.
- Make sure that the ``Enable rotation'' box is ticked in the
File -> Preferences -> Finetune tab - this is needed for fisheye
- Click the ``Control points'' tab.
- Choose picture 0 and picture 4 and select three well-spaced
control points on non-moving objects. Repeat for:
- 0 and 5
- 1 and 5
- 1 and 6
- 2 and 6
- 2 and 7
- 3 and 7
- 3 and 0
- Click the ``Optimizer'' tab. Select ``incremental from anchor'' and
optimize. Reoptimise using ``positions and barrel distortion''. This
should give quite accurate stitching.
- Click the ``Exposure'' tab. Click on ``Optimize now'', thyis
matches up the EV for each image - it is this feature that allows
the Av mode to be used when taking the images.
- Click the ``Stitcher'' tab. The field of view should be 360x180.
Choose the pixel dimensions of the panorama; up to 11470x5735 is
possible but choose 3000x1500 to start with. Choose bicubic
interpolation. Stitch a tif using enblend. An example, stitched from
Figure 4, is given as Figure
- Copy (or symlink) the pto file to the two other directories and
stitch the under and over exposed panoramas; the control points etc
will be the same! An example, stitched from
Figure 5, is given as Figure
8, and an example, stitched from
Figure 6, is given as Figure
There are at least three possible approaches:
Composing the image
I have had good results from the first and the third approaches; I
prefer the third.
- Load the three panoramas into
separate layers and use layer masks to combine.
- Load the three panoramas into
using File->New from>HDR
Bracketing. To create a 32bit floating point image.
to create a High Dynamic
Range (HDR) image from the three panoramas and tonemap the result to
give a Low Dynamic
Range image such as a jpeg.
This process (with much more sophistication) is implemented in the
- Invoke Gimp with the correctly exposed panorama:
- Use the right mouse button to bring up the menu File->Open as
Layer and load Exposure_under/mypano.tif.
- Right click on the thumbnail for this new layer to bring up Add
layer mask. Choose the ``Grayscale copy of layer'' option.
- Repeat 2 and 3 with
Exposure_over/mypano.tif except that the
``Invert Mask'' box is ticked in the mask menu.
- You should now have a reasonable combined image with detail in
the shadows and no overexposed sections. See Figure
10 as an example.
- The top two layers can be
- adjusting layer opacity,
- adjusting the contrast of each layer mask and
- painting on the layer mask.
- Save the final version as a jpeg.
plugin - this is strongly recommended.
An alternative suitable for batch implementation is given in Appendix
is a nice interface to algorithms for
generating HDR images from multiple exposures and tonemapping the
result. There are 2 preparatory steps:
Now run qtpfsgui and follow the instructions. Figure
uses the Drago tone mapping method with a post-processing gamma=0.7.
- Within each of the three exposure directories (``Exposure_0'',
``Exposure_over'' and ``Exposure_under'').
- Convert the stitched panorama from tiff to jpeg. I use
convert mypano.tif mypano.jpg
- Load the camera EXIF
data into the stitched panorama. I use
exiftool -TagsFromFile 0.jpg --ThumbnailImage --PreviewImage mypano.jpg
- Copy the 3 jpegs into one directory - call them mypano_0.jpg,
mypano_over.jpg and mypano_under.jpg.
As discussed in the Introduction, there are many projections
available to represent a spherical panorama on a flat sheet of
paper. This article just discusses the technical aspects of
projections; aesthetic considerations are left to the reader. One
projection I quite like is given in Figure 12; the
tripod could be easily removed using the clone tool if necessary.
Using Stereographic Projection
Hugin has a nice interactive feature for generating views of
projections which I used for generating all of the pictures here.
It is worth noting that, to achieve the best quality, the final
image should be generated using the original pictures rather than a
previously generated equirectangular projection.
Spherical panoramas provide new opportunities for digital
photography. Apart from the obvious application of generating
``virtual tours'' for estate agents and on-line advertising, I believe
that new artistic opportunities are opened up.
Final thoughts on Projections
The development of perspective was one of the triumphs of the
Renaissance art; and the renunciation of perspective has been the
hallmark of 20th century art. However, perhaps because cameras make it so easy,
perspective is often not a central concern of photographers.
David Hockney, in his book ``That's the way I see it'', has
interesting photo-collages which challenge conventional perspective.
I believe that digital photography and perspective software such as
hugin give us an opportunity to follow Hockney's seminal ``Pearblossom
Hwy'' photo-collage in ``a panoramic assault on Renaissance one-point
I am grateful to Dr Karl Harrison for his excellent
got me off the ground. The developers of Hugin are to be thanked
for there efforts in creating such excellent software.
The following shell script gives exposure blending suitable for batch
use. It uses
Exposure blend using ImageMagick
There are more things I would like to do but haven't yet.
To do list
- Remove chromatic aberration from the original images there is a
- Align the each set of three images - there can be a pixel or
two error. One approach is to use
- Use HDR throughout - see
HDR workflow with
Creating Spherical Panoramas
with the Canon 5D and 15mm
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