The Perfect Sunrise

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I'm looking for a cheap panoramic 360x180 (approx. don't mind the "feet" as long as it's close) setup with decent resolution. I weighed my options and thought up the following:

  • cellphone with fisheye lens, I wonder if this would work well, depends on cellphone probably. I would have one in the lower price range, so no iPhone 4S.
  • DLSR camera, pricey and don't really need it.
  • no fisheye lens, just more shots. Annoying and probably won't work well.

and ofcourse a tripod addition which can rotate the camera.

Budget is about 100 euros (so say 1000 dollars, joke), but for the cellphone I'm willing to put down a little extra. I would make the rotation contraption myself.

Is there something I'm not seeing? Are there perhaps cheap cameras which can do fisheye?

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Cheap cellphones usually have really bad cameras, the fisheye lens for cellphones is a toy, it's optical quality is very poor - combine those two and you get really bad image quality, maybe this is the best you can get for your budget but don't expect much from the results. –  Nir Aug 12 '12 at 14:28
    
So I really have to get a DLSR for this? That's too bad, because the fisheye lenses can be quite cheap, and I'm happy with 12 megapixels. –  Photographer1 Aug 12 '12 at 19:00
    
My reply to your comment became so long I've posted it as an answer –  Nir Aug 13 '12 at 6:42
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I would just pick up the free Microsoft app "Photosynth" and borrow or use an iPhone 4 or 4S. The quality is quite nice and it doesn't sound like you are overly concerned with DSLR like quality anyways. –  dpollitt Aug 13 '12 at 23:01
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The 12 megapixels cellphone camera will give you a large, high-megapixel, blurry, noisy and unsharp picture (one exception, high quality and expensive smartphones (like the iPhone 4S you mentioned and others in the same price range) in good light are actually quite good).

The cheap fisheye-for-cellphones is cheap because it's a toy, it's not made out of optical glass and it's not designed to fit the camera optics exactly - it will degrade image quality even more - the result will be a very low quality image.

The truth is you get what you pay for, 100 euros is not enough for acceptable optics.

Here's your option for a fisheye camera (from cheap to expensive and from worse to best):

  1. cellphone with a toy fisheye adapter - as I said this will give extremely poor results, you can consider this if this is the only option that fits in the budget but know what you will get (a crappy camera with an even crappier lens will never produce good pictures).

  2. try to get a security camera with a fisheye-ish field of view - this won't produce high quality images, and probably won't have the full field of view you are looking for but it will be better than the cheap cellphone with the plastic toy "lens" in front of it.

  3. A point and shoot from a real camera company (Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Sony, Pentax, etc.) with a fisheye adapter designed by the camera manufacturer for that specific camera - if you can find one of those for an acceptable price this will give acceptable results.

  4. A mirror-less interchangeable lens camera with a good fisheye lens - I think this is the best option for you, it's out of your budget but this can actually produce really nice high quality results.

  5. A DSLR with a fisheye lens - image quality will be only a little bit better than option 4 above and so far out of your price range it's not even worth mentioning.

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Note that high end options might be able to fit the budget by renting instead of buying. For example a Canon EOS Rebel XSi + Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye = 70 US$ for 3 days // borrowlenses.com/product/canon_bodies/Canon_XSi borrowlenses.com/product/Sigma_4.5mm_canon –  Vincent Robert Aug 13 '12 at 11:31
    
I found the Lomography fisheye camera, but it is analog. Would this be a problem, or would one take be enough for panoramas? –  Photographer1 Aug 23 '12 at 16:29
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Eric Rougier has actually had success shooting 360x180 panos with his iPhone and a fisheye attachment, but Rougier is a 360x180 shooting phenom who can do these things handheld. :)

Generally speaking, this is not a type of shooting for the faint of heart, or the super-low-budget. The simple fact that you typically want to rotate the camera/lens combination around the no-parallax point to get a good stitch tends to mean specialized equipment.

For a very low budget, you're not going to get fantastic quality. The cellphone + fisheye attachment might work out, or you might consider using a mirrored ball and do the lightprobe thing and creating a pano with the free Ornament PS plugin from Flaming Pear (docs), but it won't equate to doing this kind of work with a dSLR and proper fisheye lens.

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