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Camera settings for panorama stitching

Camera mode

A varying aperture may lead to noticeable depth of field differences — the same object is in focus in one frame and blurred in the next. Vignetting also depends largely on the aperture and is much harder to correct when it is different in every frame. Obviously these are not good things for stitching, so camera modes where aperture is constant between consecutive frames are preferable. Basically it is the aperture priority mode (designated A or Av on many cameras) or the manual mode (designated as M).

Setting aperture

While aperture setting depends on a creative intention (what is needed to be in focus) and lighting conditions (need to open aperture to gather more light) consider smaller apertures. A stopped down lens has advantages for stitching. For one, there is less corner softening and vignetting. In addition, more of the frame is in focus which provides greater detail for matching and image quality is generally more uniform over the entire frame.

Setting exposure

Exposure can vary from frame to frame and that is why the exposure levelling algorithm exists. But still try to avoid very large differences as compensating them will push your camera abilities to an extreme. In the imaginary world where cameras have an unlimited dynamic range this would not be an issue. However in practice every camera has some limited headroom for highlight and shadows where you should prefer to stay — particularly when parts of a scene belonging to neighbouring panorama frames have a drastic difference in the dynamic range (for example, the sun in one of the frames). With a camera in an automatic mode this may lead to a radical change in exposure that is very difficult to compensate afterward. Many cameras have an exposure lock button that may be helpful in these situations.

Raw vs. JPEG

Raw format gives an ability to change color rendition in post processing. But panorama stitching has an additional requirement to compensate exposure differences between frames. JPEG has only 8 bits so even a moderate exposure compensation may lead to posterization effects and loss of image quality. Raw files usually record 12-16 bits and thus are much more flexible in this regard.

Other settings

ISO speed setting affects image noise. Therefore, it is better to keep ISO setting fixed for the entire panorama.

White balance will gradually blend between differently balanced frames. To improve image uniformity consider fixing white balance throughout the entire image sequence (this may be easier to do later in raw converter).

Copyright 2010-2016 Alexander Boltnev, Olga Kacher.

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