Photography: Where to Start

I’ve recently become interested in photography, specifically outdoor nature stuff. I’m a complete amateur, I’ve gotten some good results using (believe it or not) a disposable panaromic Fujifilm camera but I know it gets better. I see these shots that encompass this huge area of the sky and wonder how it is done. Large lens? What kind of camera can I get that will take proper panaromic pictures with very high quality? I know it can get really expensive too, but of course I’m on a budget so cost matters. Any tips will be greatly appreciated, thanks!

I make panoramas by shooting with a digital camera and stitching the photos together with Panorama Factory

You can take photos with huge areas of sky with a wide angle or “fisheye” lens. A fisheye lens can cover more than a 180 degree field of view.

Purpose made panoramic cameras and ultra wide angle lenses can be extremely expensive. There are a couple of routes to go and you can tell the results by how the image looks if there are straight lines in the scene. If all the straight lines are straight or almost so that’s probably a wide angle recilinear lens. If vertical lines are straight and other lines are distinctly curved it may be a panoramic camera. It takes a shot like a photo finish camera at a racetrack with a moving vertical slit. If all straight lines except those on a perfect radial are curved it’s probably a fisheye lens.

If you want to get good panoramas on a budget there are some digital cameras that can do a bangup job. The Canon powershot A series comes with a feature to help you take correctly aligned overlapping shots and has special software do do the warping to each frame so everything matches up. Even with the lower resolution A10 I have it produces some astonishingly good panoramas. If I’m careful when taking the shots the final results are difficult to tell from a true panoramic camera.

You can get pretty wide with affordable 35mm camera lenses. A 24mm lens on a 35mm SLR camera gives you 74º from side to side and a 21mm lens will give you 81º. Note that when you look at lens specifications the angle ov view is given for opposite corners while I’m giving it for the long dimension of the 24mmx36mm frame. That may not sound like a lot but gives a very wide angle feel in your shots.

The shorter the focus of the lens, the larger an area your shot will cover. For 35mm cameras, a good lens to have is in the range of 20-25mm for wide shots, 50 mm for normal shots, and 100-200mm for tight shots. Consider purchasing a used 35mm SLR from a reputable camera shop. Many of them sell used equipment on consignment, and you can find pretty good deals. Also purchase a book on basic photograpy, so you’ll have some idea of what you’re doing with your equipment. It’s a really fun hobby, but it can run into some money if you want decent equipment. stay away from drug stores and one-hour photo places for processing, since they often don’t change their chemicals routinely. Most good camera stores offer quality processing and the extra cost is well worth the results.

Thanks for the info guys, this is very helpful!

Good posts above. I will just add that a “true” panorama camera takes very wide angle (I think the standard is 160 or more) without distortion. I think they generally use mechanisms to rotate the lens around to make the exposure, rather than brute force focal length of the lens. A fisheye lens will bend the scene into a sphere (that’s not bad, just not panoramic). What most people these days call “panorama” is what, for example, an APS camera does by just masking the exposed area to give a long, narrow print. (This is very similar to how a full-screen video is projected on a standard TV by “letterboxing”.) I have a cheap-o camera that shoots this way onto 35mm film, and you mentioned the disposable version. But I doubt any of this is what you are seeing in the prints you admire.

Those huge areas of sky may be from view cameras, which have large negatives compared to 35mm. They start at around 4" x 5" and get larger from there. They also provide much higher resolution. The cameras are usually much more manual and expensive than typical SLRs, and are not generally used by more casual amateurs. This site has several good examples of photos from view cameras.

Sorry to pick a nit CokkingWithGas but view cameras don’t neccessarly have a wider angle of view than other cameras. Wide angle lenses have the same optical problems no matter what format. The shortest lens I could find that would cover a 4x5 frame (and even then only when stopped down to f11 or smaller) is a 55mm Rodenstock. Angle of view is about the same a a 14mm lens on a 35mm camera.

View cameras have more control over perspective and field of focus by swinging, tilting and shifting the fim and lens boards. This can’t be done in 35mm without special perspective control lenses. Unfortunately you can’t use the shortest lenses when doing this as you won’t have full coverage of the film plane.

You are absolutely correct that large format has far more potential resolution from sheer film plane acreage.