There are three units to choose from: The Epic, Epic100 and Epic Pro
Essentially the same thing, but ranged for weight and size of the photographic gear. The Epic is meant for use on point and shoot cameras. Most of the features but much lighter in actual weight and geared and motored for light, point-&-shoot cameras.
The big brother, Epic100 (My unit) is made for small SLR’s and larger Point-&-Shoot cameras, and the dual arm Epic Pro is the daddy of the range. Dual arms, arca swiss type adapter plates (standard dovetail mounting plates) to move lenses to nodal points, etc, etc… That is the unit most people will go for. The Epic Pro also triggers the camera through a remote trigger cable (standard cables for all major camera brands) where the Epic and Epic100 has a separate trigger servo unit. An arm the extends to literally press the button down to take an image.
Why did I take the Epic100 then? Simple really… I needed something that will function well with my Fuji X100. A Large sensor camera with excellent low light ability and a very sharp fixed focal length lens. But the Fuji has a standard push pull cable release cable (not electronic) so I had to get the larger unit with the servo arm. Also, it has standard penlight batteries instead of the Lithium battery unit, so while traveling, one less charger and cable to carry around.
So, How do they operate?
The first thing that happens when you have mounted the unit and switched it on, it asks you if it can calibrate the unit with your camera. That basically means it will ask you to align the horizon to the top of the frame and then to the bottom. from there it will work out your field of view and overlaps. Easy as that for the smaller cameras!
From there you basically have to decide what is your bottom left hand corner, and your top right hand corner and that is it. The Gigapan will show you how many rows and columns will be shot, ask you for a preview, and then start shooting. If everything else was set up right, there should be no further problems. Mine was perfect out of the box on it’s standard setting but you might want to tweak yours depending on your camera. Items you can adjust is how long it will wait between shots, a delay before it starts the sequence, multiple shutter releases per point (great for HDR’s!) There are also some “expert mode” options (like changing the sequence/direction of the frames) or the checklist before shooting starts.
Speaking of checklist, when you start a panorama, it the Gigapan is set up to ask you a few questions, which includes: Did you switch off the AF? Did you switch of Auto Exposure and WB? etc, etc. Very handy, especially in the beginning. If, later, it starts to work on your nerves, then just turn it off. I am leaving mine on for now!
I need to be very clear about these units. Just like buying a Nikon D4 will not make you a super wildlife photographer, neither will a Gigapan make you a monster Landscape or panoramic image creator! The tools just make your life easier, That is all!
The learning curve on creating decent panoramic images is quite steep, but when you start to get the hang of the system it’s quite a rush! Also, it is my experience that different software works better for different solutions. The bundled (download only) software that comes with the Gigapan, Stitch, is great for very straight forward creations. I have personally found that something like PTGui is a much better and controllable imaging solution. I did not buy the pro version (that can process HDR as part of your pano) and have been very happy with my results. However, note that the software also takes quite a while to learn to use well, with hundreds of options. Take your time…
I shot a few, very quick and nasty pano’s for this review to see how everything works, and one thing became quickly apparent: Processing Power and Disk Space is definitely something to have oodles of! A simple 25 images pano at 12mp stitched required only about 400-500mb of disk space for the source files, but about 4gb for the scratch file. Ramping up the creations to a nice 109 image pano, pushed the scratch size over 12gb. Stitching 109 images also took over 30 minutes to complete. A slower computer can do the job, but expect slow response and longer waiting times between actions.
The Gigapan Epic100 uses standard AA (penlight) batteries. I didn’t want to use lithium or alkaline batteries in mine (I don’t expect I will be able to do hundreds of shots on a single set, so the cost of non-rechargeable batteries would become a factor) but that means that if you use rechargeable batteries (like GP ReCyco or Powerex Imedion) your batteries will report a lower voltage. They run at 1.2v instead of 1.5v and the 6 batteries combined gives a 7.2v reading instead of 9v.
After the very first pano, the unit gave me a battery warning. Interestingly enough. A fully charged set of 6 batteries reported 8v at the beginning. My experience was 8v on first pano, 7.4v after two sets, 7.1v after 6 sets. Only after 13 sets did the charge drop to 7v. In the end, I did 19 complete panos. The unit switched itself off on number 20 (before starting number 20, the reading was 6.3v on the internal battery meter) The nice thing about the unit was that when I replaced the batteries with a fresh set, I could complete my current run (the unit starts up with that as an option) – My test sets were 360 degree panoramic sets of 109 images each.
So… Am I happy with the unit. Yep, will definitely use it. I think I would have been happier with the Gigapan Pro though, but might end up getting a Canon G1x for the Epic100 and stick to the smaller lighter combo unit that fits into a single backpack.
8,000 x 11,000px stitch.
Top trees are actually a straight up shot, aprox 110 degrees Field of View (or 8mm equivalent on a APS-C sensor).
18,000 x 7,000px panoramic stitch (131 megapixel image)
To see some image from photographers that actually know what they are doing, look at the ODP Galleries and specifically at Frits Hoogendijk
Starscape Copyright Fritz Hoogendijk