Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 Giga
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It's been a long time since I wanted to put this arcticle online, so let's start!
Nodal Ninja is a company with traditions (15+years) and is one of the most famous and trusted brands in the panoramic photography world. They have many products to suit every (almost*) need a panographer has.
* They are working hard on a dual axis panoramic motorized head, upon completion of which there will not be any "almost" :)
Today I will be writing about the most advanced manual panoramic head - the one and only Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 Giga. This is partly review, partly how-to article.
All the characteristics and features are well described on the website of the top Nodal Ninja reseller in Europe- Panosociety.com
The manual can be found HERE
This panoramic head is rated Semi pro / Pro level and can be used with lenses from 8 to 550mm with camera mounted in portrait orientation (most popular) or up to 700mm if the camera is positioned in landscape orientation.
I read all this info before buying this panohead, but it wasn't very clear how this thing is functioning and all seamed a bit confusing at first glance- so many small parts, knobs and twists...
Here comes the box- it is almost hard, very nicely made, machine washable (tested) and fits tightly all those parts inside. BUT...There is alsways a "but". It doesn't have any handle or "ears" for attaching some clips or other holding mechanism. For now I have to put it in another regular bag so it is easier to carry and even hang on the tripod hook. This panohead is not something you put in your pocket - both size and weight wise. After a talk to Nodal Ninja they promissed they will make things better. The company's slogan is "Turning heads" and the one of Fanotec is "We Listen, We Try Harder"!
In order to use it is recommended (but not necessary) to remove the ball head off your tripod and put the rotator directly- in this case I used Nodal Ninja RD16-II Advanced Panoramic Rotator, but I also have RD8-II rotator, which serves a bit different neads, e.g. used with longer telephoto lenses. You install the rotator with a bit of force, but not too tight, nor not too lose, because this rig is carrying up to 10 kg load and you don't want the rotator to rotate itself!
Then you put the lower arm. Notice several small details- I have installed a Arca-Swiss Style stop plate so I can assemble quickly this part even without looking at the numbers. Please also see the M series nadir adapter, which is VERY usefull to make quickly a precise nadir photo and don't waste your time trying to retouch it in post.
It also adds the benefit to be able to shoot straight up a zenit shot- without it the camera will hit the lower horizontal arm which might result in possible damage to the camera.
Look at the place I installed the stop plate- left side, and the knob of the Arca-Swiss clamp is towards the photographer (otherwise it will be seen your panorama). The latter has a protection pin, which makes it impossible to put the stop plate on the right side!
Then you install the vertical arm with the "Giga" plate. It is really very easy to switch between the Giga and M2 version of this panohead to suit your needs. Just a side note, if needed, the Giga plate can be off-centered to a certain extent (45 degrees) so it doesn't obstruct the FoV of wider and fisheye lenses. Also, when I use the head with fisheye lens, I remove the Giga plate, because it is not needed and adds bulk, though really lightweight.
The final part of the assembly is the upper arm. Here again notice the stop plate- I have chosen 18cm for the start of my measurements for the placement of the camera. You can notice the little white dots which indicate a position for each lens I use. I have them written, but it is easier to have a visual guide for alignment. The camera plate which is attached to the Arca-Swiss clamp is good to have a center marker, so it is easier to calibrate the rig with greater precision. On the last photo you can see a 6mm spacer block, which allows the quick release plate to move on the upper arm when you use wider lenses. Note to Nodal Ninja- you can put a center mark there also, please!
The index ring has 2 positions for which you can set to see divisions for 1.5 , 2 , 2.5 and 3.75 degrees measurements, depending what stopping plungers you will engage. Very neat! You just losen the light blue screws and torate the index ring 180 degrees in either direction.
Setting the position of the lower and upper horizontal arms is not part of this article, as there are plenty of useful info online how to determine the correct values.
Next I will talk about the rotator and its VERY usefull features! RD16-II is an advanced rotator which can turn around these degrees: 3.75; 5; 6; 7.5; 10; 12; 15; 18; 20; 24; 30; 36; 45; 60; 90; 120. Some of these require using dual detent plungers (included). Notice the detent plungers- one is locked-in everytime on the position you need, the other one is screwed on the "big stopper" which blocks the rotation of RD16-II. Both are secured with strings, so you don't accidently drop and lose them! Also very well thought feature is the protection of the holes with these rubber pads- you don't usually use this head in perfect studio or office environment- very often in the field with a lot of wind and dust. So these will keep your head spinning - use them!
On the second and third photo you can see the other very useful feature- you can set the start and stop position of your panorama, or mark them, to be more exact. You determine the start position and set the lower black ring so that the 0 matches the vertical line on the main body. Then you turn around the rig and determine visually the end of the panorama and you slide the thin blue line with its grips so that the marker coinsides with the end degree of the panorama. This way you will not forget end and start positions, which is not a problem for 1 row panorama, but when rows get 5+ you will be thankful to have this feature! Again very well thought and engineered.
So here is how the assembled panoramic head with camera looks like, ready to shoot:
Now I would like to tell you about the Giga plate and all that's attached to it.
On the vertical arm you have a set of stopping plungers. You engage one of them depending on your needs, e.g. what lens you are using. Each one has 2 sub-positions and you have to watch out which one clicks!
One big note- these vertical stops are not click-stops, but click-locks! Because of the weight of camera+lens combo, it was a design decision to use locks- the pin enters the hole and blocks the rotation.
You have also two blue Giga plate rotation limiters- they have the same funtion as the limiters on the main rotator- to remind you of the start and end rotation positions of the panorama (one vertical other horizontal). So you set these 4 limiters first and then you start to shoot. If you don't do this you will suffer a lot, trying to figure out what you did "last summer"! Seriously, these are just obligatory to use for multirow panoramas. After that it is very easy to use Align to grid function in PtGui and set the rows/columns + degrees between shots. Bam- you are almost ready in no time, zero hassle!
The blue limitters have a tab on the end, which can be lifted and then these stopping plungers fit another position otherwise not possible with the curve on the other end.
On next photo you see the last thing you can set - the blue drag knob. It regulates the tension and to what extent you can unscrew the big knob which tightens the Giga plate + the upper arm with the camera and lens.
Here is a spreadsheet I use to help me with the right angles for different focal lenghts. You can see the percentage of overlap, and depending on the rotator you can have "better" fit. Note- this is for Nikon DX (crop sensor).
There are numerous panoramic calculators in internet, which can help you build your own list.
On the following photo you can see another usage of the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 Giga - you can use it as a gimble for long lenses attached with their Arca-Swiss foot directly to the upper rotator. This means you have to disengage the lower rotator as well, so it moves freely.
Some side notes.
If you are serious into panoramic photography, don't wait but buy the best (though it comes at a price, but totally worth it in time)! I am saying this upon my 11+ years shooting panoramas and having had 4 panoheads and 4 tripods. The reliability and versatility of Nodal Ninja heads will give you more hours to sleep and spend with your family!
If you are in Europe and decide to buy any Nodal Ninja panoramic equipment from Panosociety.com you can use this discount coupon for 5 % off. Enjoy!