Stitching a PC-E Lens for Panos

If Nikon won't make it, make it yourself

This article was originally written in 2008, when we were limited to 12mp cameras. I've updated it a bit and changed the title.

What do we want? Pixels!

When do we want it? Now!

The clamor from the pixel mongers continues to grow to deafening proportions, even though we have 60mp full frame and 100mp medium format cameras, and both those can pixel shift to produce more. If you don't have one of those cameras, or your camera maker hasn't gotten to those levels yet, you want to know what to do about it.

Don't worry, you already have plenty of pixels. Why? Because there's a panorama technique you can use with any camera if you've got a lens that shifts.

Here's the recipe, enjoy:

  1. Obtain an L plate for your camera.
  2. Buy a Nikon 19mm, 24mm, 45mm, or 85mm PC-E lens. Canon users can get a 17mm, 24mm, 50mm, 90mm, or 135mm tilt-shift lens. Laowa and others make shift lenses that work, too.
  3. Shoot.

You now have wonderful 19.7 or 23.1mp images from a 12mp camera. Or as much as 72mp from your D850.

What's that you say? You're only getting 12mp or 45mp? Oh, I guess there's just a little detail missing in Step #3.

You need to learn to shift and stitch. Take an image with the lens shifted one direction, then the other (more on that in a bit).

The Nikon PC-E lenses, for instance, can shift to 11.5mm, but I'm a little conservative in my use of the pixels from them at the extremes. Thus, I generally end up with 2832x6962 images when I use a 12mp camera horizontally and do two full shifts. This creates a widescreen, quasi-panorama image (19.7mp that prints nicely at about 10x24"). Flip the camera into the vertical position and shift and I usually end up with a 4256x5428 image. This latter use creates images remarkably close to the traditional 8x10 aspect ratio of photo prints (23.1mp that prints superbly at 14x18").

On a D850, you end up with about 13000 x 5500 pixels for horizontal panos, which makes for a 18 x 43" print at 300 dpi.

True, subject motion can make for real problems, so you won't be using your now higher resolution camera+shift lens for shooting sports, and you have to be somewhat careful of subtle subject motions (ocean waves, for example). 

You also have to learn the field procedure for shifting: you must keep the front of the lens constant—if you shift the lens one direction you must shift the body the opposite direction an equal amount to keep the lens front in the same place. True also that you'll have more post processing to do (though with proper field technique the images should stitch right together with absolute ease).

What's that? You can't imagine the framing of the image when you're looking at the scene? Make yourself two cardboard viewing frames, one 2.4:1 (camera horizontal with shifting), one 1.25:1 (camera vertical with shifting). Now figure out how far you have to hold them from your eye to approximate 17, 19, 24, 45, 50, 85mm, and 90mm focal lengths (hint: don't make your frames too big).

So, to use the vernacular of a former vice presidential candidate "quitchyur bellyaching fella and getchya some nice-uns."

Of, if popular culture is your thing:

First you s h i f t to the left
Then you move it back ri-ight
Put your lens in a grip
be sure to hold it real tight
But it's the megapixels that really make it insane
Let's do the High Rez Thing Again!
Let's do the High Rez Thing Again!

(If you don't know what to sing that to and how to dress as you do, well, it's astounding and time is fleeting, but I can't help you.)

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