Really Right Stuff Panoramic Head

One of the many great things that digital photography has added to our arsenal as photographers, is the ability to construct images in many new ways that open the doors for depth and detail never before possible.

Earlier this year I was reading an article about photographer Jack Dykinga taking multiple images with a tilt-shift lens and merging those images together to create a photo that was more akin to large format photography. The image that caught my attention was featured a few months back in National Geographic and was of a field with mountains in the distance that had this amazing look to it. It certainly caught my eye, and at first I couldn’t figure out exactly what was so different about it. The image had amazing depth to it and after reading the caption on how it was put together, it made sense.

As the quality and resolution continue to evolve with Digital SLRs, it’s allowed for new methods of creation and we are certainly approaching new frontiers with 35mm cameras. We have a ton of data.

I was inspired by Mr. Dykinga’s photograph and decided to try a little different approach to see if I could achieve similar results. I don’t own a tilt-shift lens and debated about picking one up, but I also had been toying with idea of messing around with panoramic images for a while and decided to try a different route and pick up a dedicated panoramic head that would not only let me do panoramic images, but also take muti-row shots with similar aspects to Mr. Dykinga’s method.

For those of you who are new to panoramic photography, it’s easy enough to snap a handful of images from left to right and stitch them together in many of the different editing programs out there and get a fairly decent image. If you want to get more precise, you get a tripod, level both the tripod and tripod head, use a longer focal length lens, shoot the photos vertically, and overlap them 20%-30%. That will get you some nice pano shots and can make for some great compositions.

If you want to up your panoramic game you can step it up and start doing some multi-row shots. This is where you take a series of shots from left to right on the top row and right to left on the bottom, and splice them together in Photoshop or like program. You end up with multiple rows stitched together seamlessly. Of course there are a lot of other factors you have to take into consideration when shooting not only single-row panoramas, but multi-row panoramas as well. Like shooting in manual mode only, not using a polarizing filter, no auto white balance, etc.

So I thought, why not try a multi-row panoramic approach similar in concept to what can be done with the tilt-shift lens. I figured using the Canon 5d mkII (21mp) that I am using, it certainly has the upper end of the resolution and with a 6-8 image multi-row shot, I could essentially create a really frickin big image!

But my whole goal was really to gain some depth and detail. So it took some experimenting. The first thing I needed was a panoramic head that would allow me to take multi-row shots with precision. Really Right Stuff had all the reviews going for them and after doing some research it looked they were the ones to go with. Now with anything Really Right Stuff makes, it ain’t exactly cheap, but it’s no doubt some of the highest quality equipment around. Their machined parts are matched with precision and durability and I have to say, I love their stuff.

The panoramic head I went with is the Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package. This gives you everything; you can do both single and multi-row panoramas with complete accuracy. The leveling base that attaches to your tripod head allows you to level the panoramic head within seconds compared to the frustrating and agonizing minutes that are usually experienced trying get the tripod legs and head where they should be with conventional levels. This makes things quick and simple. The rest is figuring out your nodal point of your lens, which the RRS tutorial on panoramas explains very well. Matter of fact for anyone interested in learning more about how to take panoramic images, the RRS tutorial is fantastic.

The rest is experimenting with your compositions and finding what works for you. I am still playing around with my new toy, but it’s now one piece of equipment I usually don’t leave home without. In addition it has also opened up new doors to the creativity of composition, resolution, and the overall “feel” of the image.

Oh also, file size-they’re huge! This one of St. Mary Lake was a 10 image multi-row. My PSD file is 1.65gb. Yikes! So if you’re running that old dog of a computer, you may opt to upgrade your ram and hard drive if you start processing a lot of these files. A couple months back I took a 24 image multi-row image and it took my Mac Pro Dual Quad Core machine over an hour to process and stitch the image!

So the Really Right Stuff Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package is worth every penny (approx. 80,000 of them) and I rarely leave home without it now. Hope that’s helpful to anyone deciding on which panoramic head to go with and for those looking to experiment with mimicking larger format photography.

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  1. shawn koppenhoefer January 15, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    Hello, and thank-you for sharing your thoughts!

    I am now thinking of buying into this solution. Do you think that first going with the RRS Pano Elements package is a bad deal and the only way to go is directly with the Ultima Pro deal?

    Also,.. despite owning RRS stuff already, what’s wrong with the Nodal Ninja way of doing things.


  2. admin January 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Hi Shawn,
    If you’re looking to do single row panos, I think that the RRS Elements is great. I shortly upgraded after owning the Elements, because I became interested in doing multi-row panos. It is expensive, but I don’t regret one bit purchasing it. It’s a valuable piece of equipment to have. Not familiar with the Nodal Ninja, but I’m sure the RRS Pano head is not the only way to get things done.

  3. Faisal` . December 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm #


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this pano package. I have been thinking to get this setup for my pano work. Although I have done huge multirow panos hand held with quite success, I think eliminating the guesswork and the hassle of waiting for the camera buffer to respond between hundreds of shots dictates using this precision equipment.

    My question is, how can I use this pano head with my markins Q20 ball head? Will I have to take off the ball head from the tripod in order to use it or can it be mounted on the ball head somehow?

    One more thing, I never used a leveling base, I don’t understand the idea of using a leveling base with a ball head; you could always make your camera leveled using the ball head. Does it leave any need for using a leveling base? How?

    Thanks in advance.

    BR/Faisal` .

  4. admin December 27, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    Yes, it will work fine with a Markins Ballhead. If you are not using a leveling base, you need to level your tripod legs and your Ballhead which can be time consuming. As an alternative a leveling base attaches on your Ballhead and rotates as well as having a bubble level. So all you need to do is level the leveling base and you’re set to go. Much faster than the alternative and well worth the money. Hope that helps.

  5. Greg Butler April 24, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    I ordered mine yesterday. Also, the new Photoshop CS6 has a great new feature: the adaptive wide angle filter. It really saves the day for panoramics that have distortion problems.

  6. Todd Walker May 25, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    Saw these posts and wanted to jump in with some questions (and hopefully answers!!).

    I just ordered the Pano Elements Package (with an L-plate) yesterday from RRS. I only plan to shoot Single Row. But, literally after I placed the order it dawned on me: I use rectangular filters (Singh-Ray, 4×6″) for my landscapes panoramics, especially for the sunsets, and I’m not so sure there will physically be enough room to do so with this setup!!

    If not I may have to go with the Omni package…not to shoot multi-panos, but just to elevate the camera higher so I can use my filters. Will inform.


  7. admin May 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Thanks Todd

  8. Robert Garthwait March 9, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    Getting in to panos and am seriously considering this head as my first. Curious what lens you find yourself using most with it? Currently I have a 5dmrkIII with a 100-400, 16-35, 100macro, 17-40, 16-35, and a 70-200. Also are you using any NDs or polarizers shooting multi-row?


  9. Jason Savage March 10, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

    Hi Robert, I seemed to use around a 50mm focal length the most. Although it can depend on the particular scene and also if you’re doing multi-row. I used my 70-200, a 50mm and my 24-70 the most with this head. It’s a great tool and very well made. I’ve put together some huge files using the multi-row. Hope that helps, thanks!

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