A TOP reader named Scott had this to say the other day when the Pentax 645D announcement came out:
I shot medium-format film until I got a shift lens for my 24x36 digital. Now a Canon 21mp "full frame" can be had for $2,000 [sic—actually $2500] and any of the four focal-length tilt-shift lenses can be had for less than that, many considerably less. How does that help? Well, my 24x36 sensor can be used as a 24x36, a 24x60, a 48x36, and a 36x36 square, all with a shifted shot made of two perfectly, and automatically, alignable images. Not perfect in all situations, but more than workable for my MF inclinations—still life and landscapes.
That option is a quiet one. It doesn't get talked about a whole lot. But with the cheapest medium-format digital camera causing a small sensation at a "mere" $10,000, it might be worthwhile to make more of a pother about this way of working.
Scott talks about using shift lenses with the camera on a tripod for perfect perspective, but of course in many instances you don't even need to do that. The now-common stitching options available in a number of image editors do well with side-by-side shots of distant and semi-distant non-moving subjects, even when shot handheld.
I shot several multi-segment panoramics with the Sony A900 while I had it. My Photoshop skills are not adequate to do what I want to do with the best of those, although I keep meaning to find and hire someone who could do the "merge" successfully—but, at five 24-MP vertical frames across, it's safe to say the resulting picture would beat most single-capture large-sensor camera files for size and enlargeability.
As Scott says, there's nothing that says you have to create panoramas when merging several files; why not merge, say, three vertical shots to give yourself a normal aspect ratio but a wider angle of view than is native to your lens? Why not stitch two horizontals, one above the other, and crop it to make a square?
This is a pano (forgive me, I've used this as an illustration before—I just don't have many merged files to show) but the point is that it's bigger than most digital medium-format files. It was created from six or seven (I think) vertical 14-MP files, and the original is 63 MP, bigger by half than the 645D's single files. I think it would be right-sized at about 40 inches wide, which (by coincidence) happens to work out to just about 360 ppi. No upsizing needed.
This is gorgeous big, by the way. I really should get it printed.
Light action camera
Personally I think it would be entertaining to figure out how to do action shots this way—you'd just need to figure out how to compose a picture of two or more frames that have all the action in just one of the frames. Could be fun.
Of course, making multiple-shot stitched images isn't quite the same as having a single-shot large-sensor camera—but then, it's a lot cheaper. And there are limitations to every tool, same as it ever was. But it's available to everybody who can afford a copy of Photoshop Elements. Nothing to scoff at.
Call it pseudo medium format—the poor man's (and woman's) Leica S2, or Hasselblad H4D, or Pentax 645D.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jonathan Irwin: "Ryan Brenizer, a New York City wedding photographer, and well known to many on flickr, is one photographer who has truly mastered the handheld panorama trick in my opinion. Just thought I'd give him a shout out! The link is to a blog article he wrote on the subject (which has been dubbed by some people on flickr as the 'Brenizer method') and has links to some of his photographs using it."
Featured Comment by beau: I've been stitching to increase image size for about five years now. Just a basic DSLR and after 40 or so shots merged, I have images that are around 40x60 inches at native resolution. Of course, what I shoot lends itself to the process. But it's a lot of fun. For those interested, I've looked into several programs when Photoshop started to choke on large stitches and my winner is PTGui.
"Also, for best results, especially if you have anything near the camera, you might want to look into a spherical pano tripod head. A cheap, but workable one is the Panosaurus."
Featured Comment by Marc Lankhorst: "Using my 24mm T/S lens (shifted up) and stitching by hand in a different way. Twenty-five pictures side by side. Took me several days of editing to remove all the perspective artefacts due to the different PoV of each picture...."
Featured Comment by oronet commander: "Stitching isn't the friend of megapixels seekers only. In fact, when one is carrying a single lens as I do with my Leica M8+28 mm, stitching is handy to widen your view angle when confronted with stationary subjects. As everything is manual (well, don't use A mode), that camera is a stitcher's dream: just shoot carefully all your field and wait for the computer. If there are people inside, try to keep them in one frame only. Aspect ratio is not a problem; I've got some square ones. I know it sounds limited, but it's surprising how many pictures I have taken in that way. If anyone is curious, take a look at some pictures I've taken when riding my bike (in this case they're strict panoramas)."
Mike replies: Yes, absolutely, this is a benefit. A single lens can "stand in" for other, wider lenses in many cases. I'm surprised I didn't think of stitching options the last time I did an interior shot in cramped quarters...I've done it before, but it just didn't occur to me last time. I thought I needed a wider lens, and in reality I probably didn't. I must remember to remember that next time.
Featured Comment by Louis McCullagh: "I do personal tours and training for photographers visiting Northern Ireland. I took 16 landscape images on my wife's compact and stitched them together by way of demonstration of the concept and also the beauty of Northern Ireland. The image is considerably reduced in size and quality for viewing on the web."
Featured Comment by latent_image: "Applying Sony's new '3D sweep panorama' to action looks like a viable option to me. To go in an entirely different direction, Joel Meyerowitz—working with an 8x10 view camera—anticipated the 'problem' of figures in stitched action appearing in more than one location in his photograph 'An Afternoon at the Beach, 1983,' which appeared in his book A Summer's Day. The photo can be seen here, though in a somewhat small size."
Mike replies: Ah, I'd completely forgotten that! Thanks. I have the book, too. An early antecedent of panoramic stitching. (I have to confess I thought it was a bit of a dog-trick at the time, though.)
Somewhere I have a class photo of my seventh-grade trip to Washington, D.C., taken with a Widelux-type camera. One girl was asked to run from one end of the group to the other so that she appears twice in the picture. I gather this was a standard "feature" added to such pictures by the photographers who did them—to make the pictures more of a conversation piece. In ours, the girl tripped as she ran, and she can be seen as a faint ghostlike image where she paused when she got up again.
Featured Comment by Ryan Brenizer: "Wow, thanks for the shout-out, Jonathan! I've been a long-time TOP reader, and yes, I've been doing this a lot, specifically with wide-open fast primes to get looks that are pretty much impossible otherwise. Shooting with a 6x6 frame is great, but imagine shooting a 6x6 with a 135mm ƒ/2 mounted on it. That's the basic gist of what I've been getting up to for a few years."