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What are panoramic images ?

According to Wikipedia ... Panoramic photography is a technique of photography, using specialized equipment or software, that captures images with elongated fields of view. It is sometimes known as wide format photography. The term has also been applied to a photograph that is cropped to a relatively wide aspect ratio. This generally means it has an aspect ratio of 2:1 or larger, the image being at least twice as wide as it is high.

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To the right is an image that has a 3:1 aspect ratio ... meaning it is three times wider than it is tall. This is a "panoramic shaped" image.

Let's look at three different ways a panoramic shaped photograph can be created.

The first way is to take 5 or 6 side-by-side photographs of a scene (allowing for about a 20% overlap on each side) and assemble or "stitch" them together using a program like Adobe Photoshop (or with specialized software programs designed just for this purpose like PTGui Pro or Autopano Giga). This technique works quite well for scenes that don't have a lot of motion going on. The limiting factor for making a large 8x24 foot mural from a "stitched panoramic" would be the overall quality of camera and lens used to create the individual image components. A panoramic image assembled using five images created on a medium format digital camera is going to have a lot more resolution and detail than a panoramic image stitched together with images from a small "point and shoot" camera. The better the quality of the individual images ... the better the quality of the "stitched" panoramic for making a large wall mural. (Like using good chocolate when baking a chocolate cake.)

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The second way is to use a specialized panoramic camera. I use a Fuji professional 6x17cm panorama camera for scenes that have motion going on .. like a wave washing onto the beach. I find that trying to create this type of image by "stitching" together 5 or 6 images that were taken a second or two apart to be quite difficult. Subjects like moving waves just don't line up right when assembling a panorama from multiple images.. The 6x17 film camera allows me to capture the entire panoramic image with a single "click" of the shutter.

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A 6x17 panoramic film camera produces a film transparency that is 6x17cm ( 2 1/4 x 6 3/4 inches) in size. You can see below how a 6x17cm transparency compares in size with a standard 35mm transparency. We find that a 6x17cm transparency can be scanned to a 425 MB digital file before the film grain starts to become a factor. (that is slightly over 140 megapixels)

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The third way is by simply cropping a standard 35mm format image into a panoramic shape utilizing a portion of the original photograph. You can see that the image on the right does crop well as a panoramic shaped photograph. And it would look great on your computer screen, on a web page, or as a 10x30 inch photograph on your wall. However, if we were to enlarge this cropped 35mm format image enough to print a 8x24 foot wall mural ... I think you would find the large mural would look soft and fuzzy. (this is a good quality for kittens, but not for large wall murals)

The problem is, the original 35mm format image is a considerably smaller digital file to begin with. Then we are only utilizing about 1/2 of that original digital file when we crop it into a panoramic shaped image. For example, if our original photograph was created using a 12 MP digital camera, we would actually be using less than a 6 MP digital file to make a 8x24 foot mural.

There are specialized software programs like Genuine Fractals that can be used to enlarge or "rez up" digital files. However, there are limits to how many pixels can be added to an image before it becomes soft and pixelated.

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How do we create our panoramic images ?

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I use both the first and second techniques to create our panoramic images.

To capture a high resolution panoramic image in one exposure (using specialized panoramic film cameras) is still my first choice when photographing subjects that have fluid or moving elements.

When I come a scene that has limited motion going on, I often photograph a series of six to twenty vertical digital images and later stitch them together back in the studio.

Especially for wide vistas where I may be able to create a MegaPan (an image with 5:1, 6:1 and even 8:1 image ratios). I currently use a Hasselblad medium format digital camera when creating digital "stitched" panoramic images for maximum image resolution.

Our tests show when making a large 8x24 foot photo wall mural, starting with a high resolution original panoramic image can make quite a difference in the overall quality of the printed mural.

A Prime Images web site ... All images and text are © David Lawrence & Prime Images, Inc

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