One of the cool new features working its way into some new cameras is the ability to capture sweep panoramas. This feature has been in many point and shoot cameras for a while and Sony has included it into its Alpha line of DSLR cameras, which is where I have been playing with it. In years past, if I wanted to create a pano I would have to take multiple overlapping shots and then stitch them together in Photoshop. With the sweep panorama mode, you simply press and hold the shutter button while panning the camera across the scene. Once it reaches the end of the pano area, the camera takes all of the images and assembles them in the camera so that you have a completed pano right there on your storage card. So the question is, is it better than the traditional method of shooting multiple images?
The answer isn’t cut and dry but here are a few things to consider. On the plus side, there is no extra software needed. That being said, if you don’t do a complete sweep of the camera you can end up with a gray patch at the end of the pano that will need to be cropped. That’s because each sweep pano is basically the same length and so you need to complete the entire sweep, even if you don’t need that much space. It’s not a huge deal but sometimes it takes multiple attempts to get the pano looking just right.
Another thing to consider is the file it creates, which is a JPG. You can’t do the in-camera panorama using raw file settings so all of the processing is applied at the time of capture. This isn’t that big of a concern but if you like the control of a raw file, you will be out of luck. On the other hand, since it is a jpeg, you have the ability to upload it and share it right out of the camera so you can go from capture to sharing very quickly. The other limitation to consider is the physical size of the image itself. Even though I was shooting with a full frame Alpha-99 with a 24.3MP sensor, my in-camera panorama only has a pixel height of 1856.
Compare that to a panorama that I compiled from multiple shots and I have an image with a pixel height of 3883 and that’s after slightly cropping the image.
Extra pixels mean that I can print larger using the multi-image pano than I can with the in-camera version. I could comfortably take the multi-image pano up to 45 inches while retaining great detail whereas the in-camera version is less the 35″ at 240DPI. So if the goal is to go big, multi-shot is definitely where it’s at. So what about that multi-image shot?
I created the comparison image using 6 raw images that were overlapped about 30% from shot to shot. They were captured as raw files and then uploaded to Lightroom where they were processed before being sent to Photoshop for assembly.
After merging the file, I had to crop the edges and then use a little Content Aware Fill to clean up some of the missing edges. If you have created a pano in Photoshop, you know what I am talking about. After Photoshop the pano was sent back to Lightroom for some finishing touches. All in all, it is a much longer process that creates a very large image file, almost 150MB as compared to about 44MB for the in-camera version.
So which one is better? Well, I will let you decide. First the in-camera shot -
And now the multi-image pano -
Click them large and see what you think. As for me, I think it’s a toss-up and depending on what I am going to do with them, I will probably end up flip-flopping between the two methods, or maybe use both because who doesn’t like having options?