Sweep panorama technique

Although Photoshop stitching is more effective for critical work, the sweep panorama feature recently added to many high-end cameras is convenient, and it can produce decent results.

The only issue I’ve had with it is that while the instructions are straight forward, “hold the button and sweep across the scene”, the success rate for high-quality panos generated in-camera is relatively low without developing some less than obvious refinements in technique.

It is relatively easy to get a nice landscape panorama by trial-and-error. Here is the first one I created in camera instead of through post-processing that seemed worth the effort.

I managed to go from a miserable 10-20% success rate early on, to approximately a 50% hit rate with only a few minor adjustments.

Apparently, the limits of memory size or processing power make it necessary for at least the Fuji X20, if not other cameras with this feature, to not save the original files that are used to create your composite image. Although it seems understandable that saving many RAW files on-the-fly could be an issue, it would be nice if at least the individual JPEGs were saved so that a poor photo-merge could be retried in post-processing.

Here is an example where the imperfections due to perspective shift and poor stitching in camera could be fixed in post with a little extra effort.

Here are the top 3 lessons I have learned so far for sweep panoramas (mostly the hard way, by realizing I had an unrecoverable picture when it was too late).

  1. The best pivot point to use is the central axis of the focal plane, not your body
  2. The closer the objects imaged, the more likely you will get visible stitching artifacts
  3. Try sweeping with the camera held with the longer frame edge vertical to increase resolution along the short edge of the panorama, this gives you a higher resolution image for larger prints

Here is an example of sweeping the whole camera instead of pivoting it around the focal plane axis to minimize perspective change throughout the movement. It demonstrates how having a subject too close to the camera results in more noticeable stitching artifact. The edge of the table is seen from multiple close up perspectives as the camera was translated slightly instead of spun on its axis. Maybe the sweep panorama should be renamed the spin panorama?

Even though indoor shots of moving people are nearly impossible to capture perfectly with this method, a good sweep in tight quarters is possible with a little work.

I hope this helps others avoid the mistakes I made early on.


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