Tuesday, October 15, 2013

EOS-M as a Travel Camera

Image Quality on the Road

I'm addicted to stitching. For me only a view camera matches the image quality I can achieve by stitching images together with a panohead.

When I travel though, a DSLR and panohead can be a hassle. My Nikon D300 and panohead have a combined weight of more than 7 pounds. If the size and weight weren't enough I have yet to pass through airport security anywhere that I didn't have to pull all my gear out and explain what this strange device is.

I have yearned for the equivalent of a field camera in the panohead world. Something lightweight and portable with all the image quality I have come to demand. Giving this some serious consideration I realized a few things about my current gear and the way I use it. 

D300 and Universal Panohead


My Nikon D300 offers fantastic flexibility but I rarely tap into more than a few of its features. Most of its power simply goes unused for the type of shooting I do. The features that are most important to me are: 

  • Full Manual Exposure Control
  • Automatic Bracketed Exposures
  • Interchangeable Lenses
  • Histogram and Preview
  • RAW Image Capture
  • Live View for critical focusing
  • Mirror Lockup

For a travel camera I had been contemplating a camera like the Nikon 7800 or Canon G16 as they offer reasonable image quality and a great feature set in a compact format. I have also considered the many mirorless cameras on the market. My hesitation has generally been the smaller sensor sizes of these cameras.

Recently the Canon EOS-M had a major price drop. This is a Mirorless Interchangeable Lens System Camera with a full APS-C sensor. With the exception of mirror lockup this camera offers all the features I require. It has the added advantage that with a very inexpensive adapter it can use all of my manual Nikon lenses. 


Universal Panohead Features and Specifications
  • Full 360 degree rotation in Horizontal and Vertical axes.
  • Camera Offset adjustable from 0 to 100mm
  • No Parallax Point Offset adjustable from 40 to 110mm
  • Precision Roller and Thrust Bearings
  • Weight 3lbs 13oz

Even though my universal panohead is completely adjustable, I find that the only adjustment I make is moving the camera along the rail for the No Parallax Points of different focal length lenses. There are only 4 different settings that I use for the different focal lengths that I have. I use it with only one camera so the horizontal rail (adjusts for the center of the lens offset from the base of the camera) stays at the same setting all the time. For each focal length lens I use there is only one horizontal rotation increment and one vertical increment to cover that angle of view.

I used this narrower set of requirements to design a lighter weight, purpose-built panohead for use with only one camera with only a few focal lengths. Reducing the universality of the panohead allowed me to design and fabricate a unit that is very light, compact and quick to use. 

Compared to a fully universal panohead this unit has:

  • Fixed Horizontal Offset (specific to the EOS-M)
  • Reduced Horizontal Rotation (covers 180 degrees)
  • Reduced Vertical Rotation (covers 180 degrees)
  • Fixed Rotation Points (set with a locating pin)
  • Simple Ground Shafts with Sleeve Bearings
  • Material is Bamboo
  • Disassembles without tools for packing
  • Total Weight is less than 1lb (10.75oz)

EOS-M with Bamboo Panohead


In my view camera days, using a field camera generally meant living with some compromises. I was always trading off flexibility for weight and portability. There are a few inconveniences or things that I had to give up for this setup as well. The EOS-M does not have a wired remote. Not a big deal but it does mean using either the Infrared remote (designed to be used in front of the camera) or the 2 second shutter delay. 

Size Comparison


Don't misunderstand, I am not replacing my universal head with this new travel head. When size and weight don't matter my universal head will always be my first choice. It's a rock solid performer and a joy to use. When throwing my gear into a suitcase for a work related trip the EOS-M and my bamboo head provide the essentials for photographing on the road.

If this sort of thing interests you, please stay tuned. I am preparing a full write up on the design and construction of this panohead. I will publish the guide as a PDF and provide a link from this blog. 

You can also read my other articles about building a panorama head at www.scotthendershot.com