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i've owned two Kaidan full multirow panorama heads and now have the RRS ultimate after discarding a few others along the way along with a couple of dozen software packages too. do enough panorama shooting and you will know those rules called optics and can't be ignored.
I also own the RRS panorama kit and have done more than enough panoramas to know that your "rules" are wrong. If you can touch the nearest subject, you will certainly need a panorama head to do a problem-free stitch.
What you desperately "need" to do is forget everything you think you know for two reasons: 1) to become more liberated and creative and not so rule-based, and 2) stop telling everyone what they should and shouldn't do.
Rusty, focus stacking is like stitching, but instead of stitching neighbouring shots, you "stitch" (i.e. stack) shots in depth-order. You make many shots focused at different depths and use software like Helicon to create a single shot, sharp in the entire region of interest. This can be useful in situations where you cannot get enough depth of field, for example with a close foreground object of interest and a distant background, both of which must be critically sharp for a large print. It also becomes more relevant with larger (read: medium (and large) format) sensors, where less depth of field combines with larger resolution to make the whole thing more critical.
Also, it isn't actually the nodal point you want, but the entrance pupil. This is the apparent location of the aperture when viewed from the front of the lens (although there is also a more accurate optical way to find it, of course), and if you rotate the lens around this point, then you will be able to stitch perfectly (after correcting vignetting and distortion, e.g. barrel distortion) without foreground/background objects changing their relationship to each other in neighbouring shots, necessitating a lot of tedious clean-up work to make a panorama work. It is normally only necessary to use a panorama head when you start including close objects in your composition, as the relative position of distant objects barely changes when you rotate the lens/camera for neighbouring shots.
[Edit: Aham jumped in before I finished my edit: his is the short summary, same thing.]
Edited on Apr 25, 2011 at 09:48 PM · View previous versions