A critical characteristic of a base rotator to shoot full spherical panoramas is its footprint – the smaller the better – because it is this footprint that requires nadir editing. I am the lucky owner of four rotators:
- The first rotator I ever bought (after using a self-constructed one for a while) was a Manfrotto’s 300N.
- I bought and modified an Agnos MrotatorCP in 2005 to easily produce full spherical panoramas in a single row shooting.
- I received a pre-production Agnos MrotatorU, courtesy of our Google Summer of Code 2007 sponsor. The base rotator is an improvement (the compass is engraved) over the same design I bought in 2005.
- I received a Fanotec Nodal Ninja 5, courtesy of our Google Summer of Code 2008 sponsor.
Below are their footprints compared.
Footprint alone is not everything: the higher the distance of the camera from the base, the smaller the footprint.
The rotators belong to different classes.
The Manfrotto is a very flexible rotator with many options. It has steppings up to 5°, while the competing Fanotec and Agnos models do not get below 7.5° and 18° respectively. It has a lock knob; the stepping can be set by simply placing the stepping knob in the appropriate thread. A unique feature is the decoupling of the top plate, to position precisely the starting angle for the shooting sequence.
The Nodal Ninja rotator is a compromize between features and portability. It is thin and lightweight, but changing stepping require opening the rotator and using a tool to replace the detent ring. Nodal Ninja users who want more flexibility will upgrade to an R12 rotator. Nodal Ninja has the best finish and detail of them all – there are additional holes for anti-twist pins to keep the bracket steady, and underneath, not visible in the pictures, is an exta thread next to the tripod thread to keep the 3/8″ to 1/4″ adapter safe if it is not used.
The Agnos rotator is a single purpose, no-maintenance rotator and as such nothing can go wrong and it is fast and easy to operate. Agnos users who want more flexibility will upgrade to a RotatorT.
All of these rotators are precise enough to be batch stitched with the appropriate software – the relevant precision is not the (impossible) exact repeatability of positions, but the exact rotation around a single point. Until I received the Nodal Ninja, I used the 300N for flexibility, e.g. when shooting gigapixel panoramas. Abd the Mrotator for ultra-fast single-row full spherical. I will likely set up the Nodal Ninja for something in between, or maybe replace the modified Agnos if I can get an add-on to the Nodal Ninja to keep the camera slanted.