Panoramic photography

An example of a panoramic image taken from . The photograph is a segmented panoramic, meaning that it is an assembled collection of numerous overlapping images, as opposed to one continuous . See  for more
An example of a panoramic image taken from The London Eye. The photograph is a segmented panoramic, meaning that it is an assembled collection of numerous overlapping images, as opposed to one continuous exposure. See Panoramic cameras and methods for more

Panoramic photography is a style of photography that aims to create images with an exceptionally wide field of view, but has also erroneously come to refer to any photograph that is cropped to a relatively wide aspect ratio (see Panoramic format) While there is no formal definition for the point at which "wide-angle" leaves off and "panoramic" begins, truly panoramic image are thought to capture a field of view comparable to, or greater than, that of the human eye - about 160° by 75° - and should do so while maintaining detail across the entire picture. The resulting images are panoramic, in that they offer an unobstructed or complete view of an area - often taking the form of a wide strip.

Photo finishers and manufacturers of Advanced Photo System(APS) cameras also use the word "panoramic" to refer to any print format with a wide aspect ratio, not necessarily photos that encompass a large field of view. In fact, a typical APS camera in its panoramic mode, where its zoom lens is at its shortest focal length of around 24 mm, has a field of view of only 65°, which most photographers would classify as merely wide angle (and a moderate wide angle at that). Cameras with a genuine aspect ratio of 2:1 or greater (where the width is 2 times its height) can generally be classified as being "panoramic."



Panoramic photography has a history almost as old as photography itself. After the commercialization of the daguerreotype, photographers would take anywhere from 2 to a dozen photographs and place them together to form a panoramic image (see: Segmented). Some of the most famous early panoramics were assembled this way by George Barnard, a photographer for the Union Army in the American Civil War in the 1860's. His work, revolutionary at the time, provided vast overviews of fortifications and terrain, much valued by engineers, generals, and artists alike. (see Photography and photographers of the American Civil War)

Missing image
A 1851 panoramic showing San Francisco from Rincon Hill by photographer Martin Behrmanx. It is believed that the panorama initially had eleven plates, but the original daguerreotypes no longer exist.

One of the first recorded patents for the an actual panoramic camera was submitted by Joseph Puchberger in Austria in 1843 for a hand-cranked, 150&deg field of view, 8-inch focal length camera that exposed enormous daguerreotypes up to 24-inches long. A more successful and realistic panoramic cameras was assembled the next year by Friedrich von Martens in Germany in 1844. His camera, the Megaskop, added the crucial feature of set gears, which offered a relatively steady panning speed. This in-turn properly exposed the photograph, as unsteady speeds creates an unpleasant unevenness in exposure, called banding.

Missing image
View from the top of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, February, 1864, by George N Barnard

Following the invention of flexible film in 1887 panoramic photography was revolutionized. The invention, initially created by Hannibal Goodwin and later copied and marketed by the Eastman Kodak Company, was a milestone in photography and greatly benefited panoramic photography in particular, spawning a wave of cameras utilizing this new, convenient, and practical method. Soon after dozens of cameras came on the market, many with brand names heavily indicative of their time. Cameras such as the Cylindrograph, Cyclograph, Cycloramic, Wonder Panoramic, Pantascopic, Multiscope, Cyclorama, Panomax, Veriwide, Wiscawide, Ultrawide, Cyclo-Pan, Technorama, Hulcherama, Tecnorama, Globoscope, Al-Vista, Cyclops Wide-Eye [1] (, the I-Pan, V-Pan, X-Pan, and Z-pan are just a few examples of the many panoramic cameras that flooded the market in the subsequent century.

A  advertisement for a short rotation panoramic camera
A 1900 advertisement for a short rotation panoramic camera

One of the most interesting, and most fallible, panoramics created during this period was the Doppel-Sport Panoramic Camera. Created in 1912 by Dr. Julius Neubronner in Kronberg, Germany, the camera was carried by a pigeon. A delayed shutter on the camera was set, the pigeon released, and small photograph was taken. There is no record that Neubronner ever recovered a camera.

Panoramic cameras and methods

Short rotation

Short rotation is a term used to define cameras that have a lens that rotates around the camera's rear nodal point (the optical point from which the focal length is measured) opposite a curved film plane. As the photograph is taken, the lens pivots around its nodal point while, at the same time, a slit exposes the vertical strip of film that is aligned with the axis of the lens. The entire exposure usually takes only a fraction of a second.and the camera's function is similar to that of viewing a scene by turning your head from side to side on a steady level. Also referred to as rotating lens or swing lens, this method often encompasses a very wide angle of view, similar to that of the fisheye lens, but without the extreme distortion of lines which is often seen in extreme wide-angle lenses. Typically, these cameras offer a field of view between 110&deg to 140&deg and an aspect ratio of 2:1 to 4:1. The images produced commonly take up 1.5 to 2.5 times as much space on the negative as the exposure made by traditional 35mm cameras. For instance, the traditional dimensions of an exposure on 35mm film is 35x24mm, while the dimensions produced from a short rotation camera with a 140&deg field of view would be approximately 58x24mm. Therefore rolls of 24-exposure film would only yield around 18 exposures.

Missing image
The open back of a Horizon 202 camera, showing its curved film plane

Unfortunately, short rotation cameras have a number of limitations. They usually only offer a relatively small amount of shutter speeds and have poor focusing ability, with most models focusing at or near infinity. To compensate for this, panoramic photographers desiring to shoot a subject in a closer range must use a small aperture to bring the foreground into focus, limiting the camera's use in low-light situations. For these reasons, cameras of this type are most often used outside, specifically for landscape or kite photography, where there is usually plenty of available light and there is less requirement for short focusing depths.

Short rotation cameras also produce a notable and odd "distortion" of lines. If the horizon, for instance, is placed even slightly off-center, the horizon line will bow slightly in the opposite direction. While this 'distortion' is in fact accurate and correct, it nevertheless looks unusual to the viewer. This is chiefly because the image, which was originally viewed and captured from a sweeping, curved perspective, is now viewed flat. To truly view the resulting image correctly, the viewer would have to produce a sufficiently large print and curve it identically to the curve of the film plane in the camera. Now, with the viewer panning their view, they can view the image most accurately.

Notable cameras of this type include the Widelux, Noblex, and the Horizon.

Full rotation

Rotating panoramic cameras (also referred to as slit scan or scanning cameras) are cameras that are similar to the short rotation cameras, but are capable of 360&deg of rotation or more. A clockwork mechanism rotates the camera continuously and evenly and simultaneously pulls the film through the camera, in such a way that the speed of the film matches the speed with which the image moves across the image plane. Exposure is made through a narrow slit. Using only the central part of the image field produces a very sharp picture whose characteristics are very even from edge to edge. Historically, these cameras were, and still are, widely used for group pictures, particularly of athletic teams.

Notable cameras include the Cirkut, Hulcherama, Roundshot, and Globuscope, all of which are capable of 360&deg of rotation.

Fixed lens

Fixed lens cameras (also known as flatback and wide view) are essentially panoramic cameras that have fixed, stationary lenses and a flat film plane - as opposed to the rotating lenses and curved film planes of short rotation panoramic cameras. These are the most common form of panoramic camera and range from relatively poor quality and inexpensive APS cameras, right up to the professional-grade 6x17 and 6x24cm medium format variety. The key difference between the two is that APS camera's simply crop the normal frame into a panoramic aspect ratio, thereby losing a significant portion of the image, while professional 35mm or medium format fixed lens panoramic cameras make use of the entire height of the film and have a extended film plane, ultimately offering a much wider field of view. Another key benefit is that, due to the fact that the cameras exposes the film instantaneously like traditional cameras do, the cameras can make use of a flash. Flashes would not work consistently with rotational panoramic cameras because the flash, which usually ranges from 1/1000 of a second to 1/50,000 of a second, would only be captured on the part of the image that is being exposed when the flash goes off, not the entire image. In addition to this benefit, these cameras also have very little optical distortion, making them the panoramic camera of choice for architectural photography.

Missing image
A view of the back of the fixed-lense Fuji 617 camera. Notice its flat, large film plane compared to the curved film plane of short and full rotation cameras

In this mode, 90° is about the widest field of view that can be captured with normal sharpness and without gross distortion by a traditional lens and camera using a single, flat piece of film. A 17 mm. lens on a traditional 35mm camera is an example of such a lens. Lenses that capture wider angles—up to 180°—exist, but are commonly known as fisheye lenses and exhibit extreme geometrical distortion and lack of sharpness and brightness at the edges.

Notable cameras are the 35mm Hasselblad X-Pan and the medium format Linhof 612, Horseman 612, and Fuji 617.


Segmented panoramas, also referred to as stitched, is the practice of the joining of multiple conventional photographs with slightly overlapping fields of view so as to create a larger, panoramic image once assembled. In the days before digital photography, countless amateur and professional photographers attempted to create panoramic views in this way and found that the craftsmanship needed to match the images and hide the seams was all but unattainable. However, modern digital cameras and software are capable of stitching multiple images together with relatively good results, and as of 2005 this is probably the most common technique for creating panoramic images.

QuickTime VR and Hugin are two notable pieces of "photo-stitching" software, although a great many exist. The Cinerama motion picture process used three cameras, projectors, and strips of film to achieve a 146° x 55° field of view with spectacular sharpness and detail (and noticeable seams).



External links

  • 1 ( ( - Historical timelines of panoramic photgraphy

nl:Panoramafotografie sl:Panografija


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