UPDATE : A summary of all this website’s reviews of the Sony NEX-5n and NEX-7 is now available.
As part of my ongoing review of the Sony NEX-5N, this post describes the various possibilities offered by that lovely little camera for making panoramas without resorting to expensive dedicated cameras or to elaborate stitching software.
Panoramas out of the box work better with this camera than with any point & shoot I have used. But it is not without blemishes. Here follows some of the fortes and blemishes of the (very amusing) mode. Note: Be sure to click on the thumbnails for larger picture to appreciate the true qualities and issues.
All the panoramas in this post were created with the Zeiss ZM Biogon 25/2.8, a truely fabulous lens.
WOT? That’s no pano, I hear you lament. T’is too. The NEX-5N offers several modes offering 4 different aspects ratios. You can scan horizontally to produce very wide panos or vertically (which is also horizontal if you hold the camera to frame vertically ;)) which gives you the short ratios I prefer. The file strait out the box is JPEG and 3872 x 2160. It is also very clan and easily good enough for an excellent 16 inch wide print.
Other available sizes are as follow:
- Wide Horz: 12416 x 1856 (23M)
- Wide Vert: 2160 x 5536 (12M)
- Standard Horz: 8192 x 1856 (15M)
- Standard Vert: 2160 x 3872 (8.4M)
I do regret that these sizes are not a bit bigger. Considering how many 16Mpix pictures are taken during a single panorama, it’s disappointing that the final file is so small. Who wouldn’t want to print a 40″ beauty strait out of the box, now ?
For me, these 3 pictures represent the ideal conditions for using the panorama mode with the NEX-5N: Close up with plenty of detail to align individual pictures and with very little subject movement. With a low distortion lens such as the Zeiss ZM Biogon 25/2.8, the results seem good enough for architectural work. The final picture gives you an agle that would almost require a fish-eye and would be difficult to keep sp orthogonal. One final example:
In this picture, one of the problems you are likely to encounter is apparent at the top. The flags move in between successive shots and the resulting pano. Taken to an extreme and done on purpose, the effect can be quite amusing. Here I asked my son to walk across the scene as I took the picture.
So, unless you feel like chopping aunt Edna into thin slices like this, it’s best to avoid moving subjects in your panos (true of all cameras).
Another limitation is that the exposure seems to be determined by what the camera sees in the first picture it takes. This can lead to under/over exposure if the first part of the image is brighter / darker than the rest. In the example below, I had to darken the left side and birghten the right side significantly to obtain a decent result. Out of the box, the picture looked like a fancy graduated filter (most of you reading a review of a SOny NEX-5N are probably too young to understand what I’m talking about ;))
A similar situation arose in the next picture, but wasn’t as problematic as I wanted to keep the tree dark. It was probably less visible as well because of the branches that continue all the way to the right of the frame. One of my favourite panoramas (actually the same tree in Subiaco park in Perth).
Astute observers will have notices a different aspect ratio in the last two pictures. These use the wide vertical, easily good for 20 inch prints, at 2160 x 5536 (very sharp) pixels. Another superb rendition at this format depicts one of Perth’s colonial buildings dehing what I think are WA (Western Australia)’s most beautiful trees: the Moreton Bay fig tree.
Click this link for a google street view of this tree. The midday light was very harsh and contrasty and this image required a big push in fill light in LightRoom. This shows just how good files from the NEX-5N really are, as this one shows no sign of breaking up.
Another example of very (very) tough lighting conditions well handled by the little Sony follows:
Although not the most interesting of pictures, it shows how shooting directly into the sun can still lead to decent tone. Considering this is a JPEG file, it really is good.
Two others of the same spot illustrate a previously mentioned point: no moving elements in the picture, or else …
Note how the water looks like a chess board above and below
Also note the different white balances in the two frames. If you’re shooting individual frames to assemble later in Photoshop or other software,you’ll make your life a lot easier by not using auto white balance, auto exposure or auto focus. Determine the best setting of all three paramaters and keep them constant. If this is not possible, bracket like cray. It will fill up your card faster than fashionistas on sales days, but automated software knows how to handle the various files and the end result will be well worth the effort.
Now let’s go to the beach for two more limitations you must be aware of. This is another of my favourite panoramas and it makes me cringe to thinkg that I did not shoot individual frames to produce a larger version. Arhhhh! It is a picture of one of the numerous beaches that dot the coast line in South Western Australia (frankly one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen anywhere on the globe!).
It looks pretty good to me, but for commercial work, I would have prefered not to cut the bottom of the rocks. One thing to remember is to give yourself plenty of space as the NEX-5N doesn’t use the full width of individual frames and what shows up during the capture of the panorama doesn’t necessarily in the final file!
Another, more troublesome problem is that the sky is not uniform and the horizon not entirely strait. While the former problem could be corrected in Photoshop, it would be much more difficult to correct the second problem. Besides, if you’re going to need software manipulation, you’re way better off shooting individual frames. Both issues are more readily evident in the next two pictures:
The rule for avoiding this is simple. Provide the camera with ample foreground information to stitch individual frames accurately. An empty view such as the one above is a recipe for disaster. Since it’s also a recipe for a very boring picture, we’re in luck
A last one from Hamelin Bay, showing the dangers of moving elements once more. My daughter, off to the right has been given the Alien treatment here
So, to sum up:
- Avoid moving elements in the scene
- Allow for plenty of extra space. It’s easier to crop than to reconstruct
- Provide plenty of details of frame anchoring (clouds in the sky, foreground info)
- Keep the camera strait (a proper head & tripod help a lot, but if you’re shooting in-camera panos, you’re probably not using a tripod)
This is the result, in the right conditions:
Trees are a good subject for vertical panos, too. Specially when they grow to 80 meters
Cant’ resist a last one. That forest is a truely incredible place to be. Walk just 200 meters from the road and you will find yourself surrounded by these giants that bounce light off one anoter and immerged in the sounds of hissing cicadas, laughing kookaburas, screetching lorikeets. Within minues, you will loose all sense of scale and feel back in the age of dinosaurs. A really incredible place.
On to another subject. As mentioned in the first paragraphs, in camera panoramas lend themselves well to architectural photography (with the usual caveats of moving subjects …). Here are a few samples to prove that point.
You’ll immediately notice the only limitation I found for that use: cylindrical projection in Photoshop or Autopano pro would produce strait lines in the roof (at the expense of angle and resolution), the NEX-5N goes for spherical. If that’s not an issue, the results certainly rock. Here are three more samples from inside a very tight space in one of the garden suites at Gilgara Retreat, Margaret River, WA. Lovely place, if you’re staying in the area.
A few final samples, starting in Mandurah, a city built around an inlet, one hour South of Perth and home to Dolphins, Pelicans and Ice Cream shops. In recent years, the (once fantastic) city has been over developped and half of the new developments are for sale and empty. If you’re looking for a nice play to stay, look no further, prices have been slashed in half (each blue square is a “for sale” sign).
And now, a bit of Hong Kong. Nothing new to learn from these images, but since I took them, I might as well show them
So, is the in-camera panorama mode worth it? Let me repeat it is by far the best I have used on any camera. And for photo books and medium sized prints, the results can be splendid. But, as with so many aspects of this camera, the incredible image quality is sometimes let down by little niggles that prevent use for the most demanding work. So you’re not likely to see pros rely on the feature just yet For realters, architects and hobbyists, it’s an absolute hoot!
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Be seeing you !