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I'm looking to buy a tripod, but unsure which heads fit my usecase and my budget of about €250. Specifically, the usecase split between panoramic, 'regular travel' and macro photography, with panoramic probably being the most important for choosing the tripod system. Making panoramas would be significantly easier with independent adjustments in the vertical and horizontal axes. From what I've read in this question, something like a Pan/Tilt or Geared Head would likely provide that, but common wisdom seems to be that a ball head provides more flexibility for all other cases, plus it would eliminate the need to level the tripod for simple shots, if I'm not mistaken.

Another idea was to get a tripod base that has a bowl head, so I could level the head mount and then rotate the head horizontally (assuming the head has 360° rotation functionality without touching the ball), but if the head was a ball head, that would still run into the same issues with vertical tilting.

So, in short, any suggestions on how to resolve this would be very welcome. I'm aware that pretty much anything would be a significant step up from shooting handheld and I might be overthinking this, but it would feel stupid to buy gear that is somehow fundamentally non-optimal for my purposes.

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The answer partly depends on two factors:

  1. How much you care about correcting for parallax while you are setting up the shot.
  2. Whether you are going to only shoot single-row panos, or if you also are going to shoot multi-row panos;

If you don't care about parallax, then all you need is a level panning base, on top of which you mount whatever head fits your weight, size, strength, and budget constraints. In this case, a ballhead with panning movement in its own base (again, on top of a level tripod) is sufficient. See also, Do I "need" a panoramic head to shoot 360 panoramas?

But beware that if there is anything in the near foreground, you will get parallax error between each of your shots, because you haven't controlled the axes so that the camera rotates about the _no-parallax point ("NPP", a.k.a. the center of the lens's entrance pupil, the apparent center of the aperture when viewed from the front of the lens). See also: What is Parallax error in the context of panorama?.

  • Note that some references refer to the NPP as the "nodal point" of the lens, but this is incorrect terminology. Regardless, it's used frequently enough (even in the name of products such as the "Nodal Ninja") that you should be aware that in the context of parallax, the terms "center of the entrance pupil", no-parallax point, and the misused "nodal point" all refer to the same thing.

To correct for parallax, you need to make sure each axis of rotation goes through the NPP. So for the panning axis, you need be able to move the camera backwards, away from the scene and towards you (because the camera's tripod socket is almost always behind the entrance pupil).

Similarly, for the tilt axis (if shooting multi-row panos), you need to ensure the lens's NPP doesn't shift forward or back when you tilt the camera. In this case, a ballhead is unsuitable for panos because the tilt axis is the center of the ball, several inches below the NPP. But so too are most geared heads unsuitable, because their axes of rotation can't be adjusted to be aligned. For instance, the Manfrotto 410 and 405 geared heads' axes are all slightly offset from each other, and the tilt and roll axes are below the camera.

So if you care about correcting for parallax error, and assuming a level base on which to mount the head, to answer the question in the title,

Which kinds of tripod heads are suitable for panoramic photography?

For single-row panos, all you need is a panning base and an arm that allows you adjust the camera's position front-to-back so that you are rotating about the NPP.

For multi-row panos, you need an adjustable gimbal (or enough modular pieces to allow you to assemble an adjustable gimbal). As an example, this Neewer pano gimbal seems to be a cost-effective partial solution:

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Neewer panoramic gimbal tripod head, from Amazon.com

I have some reservations about the rigidty of the L-arm (it looks like it could be susceptible to vibration, if you're not careful with your technique), and it's not suitable for the other main purpose of a gimbal (long/heavy lens support). But it will certainly get the job done if you need a pano gimbal.

A note about camera orientation: to get the most out of your panos, you will want to mount the camera in portrait orientation. That way, when stitched together, you will have a taller field of view than if you had left the camera in landscape orientation. The example Neewer gimbal mounts the camera in portrait orientation. If you're just going with a panning base + arm for single-row, you'll need an L-bracket (ideally one made for your camera model, but "universal" or modular ones do exist).

But by the time you get into needing an L-bracket, you need to decide if you are going to go the quick-release mount option, or stick with connecting the camera and possibly other parts of the pano head using tripod screws.


Personally, I've found that I rarely shoot multi-row panos. My panos are landscape shots, so a single row is plenty for me. So for traveling purposes, I just mount a panoramic panning base on top of my ballhead, and an arm on top of the panning base allows me to adjust the camera front/back to take care of parallax. That way I have the flexibility to use the ballhead for more conventional purposes (macro shots of flowers & bugs, etc.), and use the ballhead to provide a level base for the pano shots.

When I'm not flying or backpacking, I use a tripod with a leveling bowl, with a modular gimbal on top. The gimbal is adjustable for pano purposes, but it's also strong enough to hold large lenses for birding, rocket launches, etc.

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@Scottbb answer is pretty much complete. Take a look at the links posted. (I drew some diagrams)

If there are no objects close to your camera, for example on a landscape, you are not close to a tree, you can use pretty much any tripod with any head.

The parallax misalignment is noticeable with close objects and fades away with the distance.

The "Panoramic attachment heads" like the one @Scottbb posted can be screwed on the tripod itself, but can also be screwed on a normal detachable plate. (Probably with the aid of a thread adapter)

I would buy a sturdy normal tripod if possible two detachable plates. One for normal use and another to be attached to the head. You still need to unscrew your camera, but you will still save some time.

You can also consider an electric pano head.

I will not specially recommend any brand in particular, but that kind of Neewer products (metal hardware) are decently constructed.

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