Getting Started with GigaPanning: Equipment

I’m frequently asked what sort of GigaPan equipment I use and would recommend. Until recently I hadn’t actually used the full range of GigaPan products, so my answer was somewhat biased toward those I had used. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to use the top of the line Epic Pro model for a few weeks, I feel better prepared to make some general recommendations.

The GigaPan Robot

There are three basic GigaPan robot models currently available: the base model Epic ($299), the Epic 100 ($449), and the Epic Pro ($895). Each of these models will be right for someone at some stage of their GigaPanning career. The choice you make will depend on a number of factors, but most particularly which type of camera you intend to use with the GigaPan. I’ll go over some use cases for each, but if you already know what camera you want to use for GigaPanning, you might want to skip directly to the camera compatibility list that GigaPan Systems maintains.

Edi & Berti on the GigaPan Beta Robot
When I first got started GigaPanning in 2007 I used the GigaPan Beta model (at right) – no longer available, but essentially the equivalent of the modern Epic – with a hacked together tray extender that emulated what eventually became available in the Epic 100. In the spring of 2009 I got a first generation Epic 100 and in late 2010 I got a second generation Epic 100. The Epic 100’s have been my workhorses for much of my GigaPanning career, but I recently got an Epic Pro and I forsee that it will become my workhorse for many months or years to come.

The base Epic model GigaPan robot is a great entry level unit for someone who’s just starting with GigaPanning. It works with many basic point and shoot cameras, but is too lightweight to handle most intermediate and larger DSLRs. Basically I think of the Epic as a great model for introducing folks to GigaPanning; a great model to have around for folks who are limited to lower end point and shoot cameras. I really wish these were sold in big box stores alongside the point and shoot cameras. A lot of folks who are just getting started in photography could get so much more out of their point and shoots paired with a GigaPan Epic. If you know somebody who wants to dabble in GigaPanning, I’ve always felt the base Epic model would make a great holiday gift. Maybe Santa will be nice to you if you put it on your wish list…

For those who are looking to get into scientific GigaPanning (which I imagine is more of my readers), I’d highly recommend skipping over the basic Epic model and getting started with the Epic 100. The Epic 100 will accommodate a wide range of cameras up to and including the Canon T2i/T3i DSLRs with lenses up to about 300mm. (Sorry Nikon and other camera fans, I’m only familiar with the Canon camera lines.) Bigger DSLRs (and especially bigger lenses) will require the Epic Pro, but from a sheer “bang for the buck” standpoint, I don’t think you can beat the value of the Epic 100 paired with a camera in this class. The second generation model (the model currently sold) has stronger gearing than the first generation model – a welcome improvement. The Epic 100 is going to be much lighter and less bulky than the Epic Pro if you have to carry it any distance, though it won’t be as sturdy especially on windy days or when using longer lenses. Under more optimal conditions however, it works like a champ and I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have gear that requires the Epic Pro.

The Epic Pro, of course, is the top of the line GigaPan robot. If money is no object and you have a camera capable of using an electronic shutter release, this is the one to buy. The Epic Pro is going to accommodate the larger DSLRs and the big lenses, and provides a sturdy platform for those massive panoramas from a windswept mountain peak (provided you don’t have to hike it up there along with all your camping gear). The Epic Pro also offers the most sturdy platform for hacks such as dual cameras for shooting 3D anaglyph GigaPans (though that can be achieved less elegantly with the other models, too). Keep in mind, though, that the Epic Pro doesn’t have a physical shutter button “finger” like the other two models do, so if your camera isn’t capable of electronic shutter release you’ll have to provide your own finger (thus defeating the purpose of having the robot do all the repetitive work for you). I suspect that most folks who spend a lot of time and effort GigaPanning will eventually want to work with an Epic Pro. Once you’ve got the camera gear that demands it you’ll probably also be ready to take advantage of some of the features like time-lapse GigaPanning (and more to come) that its more advanced firmware is capable of. If the bulkiness and price don’t cause you to balk, there’s really not much reason why the Pro shouldn’t be your go-to model for just about any GigaPanning project.

Cameras for GigaPanning

My GigaPanning experience is entirely with Canon cameras, thus I’ll limit myself to those with which I have experience. Many other cameras will work well with the GigaPan robots, and I encourage you to look through the Stitcher Notes on the website to see results from other cameras.

My first GigaPanning camera was a Canon S5 IS. This remains a very versatile camera, capable of both 12x optical zoom (432mm equivalent) and good macro work, at an 8 megapixel image size. In fact, though I’ve moved on to other Canon models for most of my large scale panoramic work, this is still the camera I use (along with a 1.5x teleconverter and a Canon 58mm Close-Up lens 250D) for macro work (e.g., Giant Forest Granodiorite). My next GigaPanning camera was the Canon SX10 IS, the successor to the S5. The Canon SX10 IS was a real workhorse for me. Although it doesn’t have the same versatility on the macro side as the S5, it has much better zoom (20x optical; 560mm equivalent) and a 10 megapixels image size. I shot some epic GigaPans with this camera (e.g., Mount St. Helens & Spirit Lake) and would generally be happy to recommend its successors (currently the Canon SX40 HS) but they all do seem to have an exposure flaw shooting blue sky vs. clouds at the horizon (best seen in this GigaPan of Monument Valley) that cannot be easily corrected.

More recently, I’ve switched over to shooting most of my GigaPans with the 18 megapixel Canon T2i (current model is the Canon T3i). Paired with a Canon EF 70-300mm zoom lens, the improvement in my GigaPans over the Canon SX10 IS is best seen in these two GigaPans of Robbers Roost in the Southern Sierra Nevada Range, both shot at full zoom. To appreciate the difference in quality, zoom all the way in to the same spot on both.

Zoom In and Compare Detail

Top: Canon SX10 IS, Bottom: Canon T2i

These were both shot on an Epic 100 robot, so the only difference (besides lighting) is the camera/lens combination. Obviously, at the limit of zoom it makes a significant difference.

Additional Equipment

Choosing a GigaPan robot and camera is clearly an important starting point, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a bunch of the other equipment I use in GigaPanning. In the interest of brevity, I’ll just offer a brief bulleted list:

That should be enough to get you started.