18th August 2014, 11:23 PM
[edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3
Yet another long overdue review of the Fanotech Nodal Ninja 3 that I bought from Photosphere (Facebook) a while ago. Earlier I had reviewed another great product, the Panosaurus v2.0, also brought to us by the great guys in Photosphere. You can read it here.
First Things First: Why a Panoramic Head??? (No matter how small it is..)
Let's get the concept of using a panoramic head out of the way again. Sure, you can handhold, you can rotate the camera around with your ballhead anyhow.. Maybe you canstitch it, but you can't be certain. It's pretty hit and miss. To take the frustration of the equation, you have to get a panoramic head. The Nodal Ninja, like the Panosaurus v2.0 is the most versatile type of panoramic head - it allows you to construct multiple-row panoramas. If you're interested in single row panoramas, just a nodal rail or macro rail will do. But you can easily adapt multi-row panoramic heads into a single row one. More on that later. Panoramic heads allow you to rotate the camera-lens combination around its nodal point. In physics, the nodal point is basically where those nifty light rays coming from the scene intersect within your lens before diverging to form the image on the screen (read: sensor) within your camera (image from Panoramafactory's page below for illustration).
The image above is a negative example of how to shoot images that make up a panorama. Basically, you aren't going to be rotating about the nodal point, and between frames, the different objects in the scene start moving relative to each other. You can see why it's going to be difficult to stitch a good result if that happens. Just imagine - scene 1 where a tree covers an object entirely, but scene 2 (next frame), the object is peeking out. So is the object in or out? How does the software manage the frames? The end result is going to be a photograph full of stitching errors and ghost artifacts (half-in, half-out objects). In fact, the diagram illustrates clearly the usual case of mounting the camera on top of a ballhead.
Introducing the Nodal Ninja 3
The Nodal Ninja 3 by Fanotech comes in a hard shell case (pictured below). The package that you need for panoramic photography weighs a mere 682 grams (including a soft lens case that I use to carry it around in, as well as a Sirui Arca-Swiss compatible QR plate that is used to mount the head on standard ballhead). This is significantly lighter compared to the Panosaurus that I've used before.
More importantly though, the NN3 is really, really small. Here's the NN3 pictured next to a 15 cm ruler for a sense of scale:
You can carry it any way you like, but I find that separating the rest of the head from the base, and then folding the upper arm down together makes for a nice package. For reference, these are the measurements (with Sirui plate attached) and compressed together in the package I've mentioned, pretty much as shown with the ruler above - ~9cm thick, ~16cm long and ~5cm wide (with the Arca Swiss QR adaptor attached). Nifty. Here's what it looks like next to the Panosaurus, which isn't the largest, but not that small either, but the NN3 makes it look positively clunky and unwieldy. The Panosaurus does the job well, at an extremely attractive price point, but if you want solid engineering, the NN3 is unbeatable.
Do note that the NN3 supports a maximum of approximately 3.2 kg, as per the Fanotech website. The recommended load is 1.3 kg - more than sufficient for most mirrorless combinations actually. I've used this combination with a Pentax K3 and Sigma 10-20mm, just for reference, and it worked fine, though the upper arm needed a bit more attention to ensure that there was no creep. Any heavier than that, and I reckon you might find it troublesome. The size alone makes it an almost must-buy for the people who crave small, compact, light loads for their photography.
18th August 2014, 11:29 PM
Re: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3
Obviously Designed For Photographers
Besides the Panosaurus, there are many other options available on the market – Sunwayfoto, Benro.. I know friends who use these. There are also custom set-ups that you can create through purchasing rails and stuff and slapping them together. These may actually get more compact, but for a versatile panoramic head, Fanotech markets the NN3 as the smallest in the market, and I dare say that they’re probably right about that.
What do I love about the NN3? It’s just so well thought out. It is obviously a highly specialized tool that excels at what it does, kind of like how a well-engineered custom L plate like those from Really Right Stuff fit the camera body like a glove. Keeping in mind how small the NN3 is, it does its job exceedingly well. My favourite feature has got to be the rotator (picture below with arrow) which allows precision adjustments between frames. I’m using the 15 degree one, which I think can be reversed to 30 degrees between frames. Fanotech also has the 45 and 60 degree reversible ring in the box, so you can swap it out if you prefer those spacings.
Some people may scoff at this and say "Oh, it's just a party trick, we don't actually need the click stops!". For most situations, I would agree, but as always, why would you need a DSLR when a compact camera may suffice? Versatility, and the NN3 provides just that. Especially for cityscape photographers where fireworks, light shows are part and parcel of our lives, the click stops allow you (assuming that you don't bungle up and move your tripod and/or ballhead setting) to easily layer frames into blended photographs. The photograph below, taken at the recently NDP Preview on 2 Aug, was made so much easier as I just needed to layer one frame into the whole panorama. With the click stops, I just focused on capturing one frame with all the fireworks within, and then did the base panorama after the smoke had cleared. I think I would have easily spent 2 hours editing the photograph without this feature. Or even possibly wasted the whole effort.
Here's a standard photograph of the upper arm markings while we're at it:
Depicted below is another favourite feature of mine - I'm not sure but I don't think I've seen other panoramic heads feature this (I may be wrong though). Markers that screw right onto the head itself! I know I really wished I had this on the Panosaurus. I had to make markings on the Panosaurus to ensure that I was fixing up the head the way I needed it everytime I set up. The markers allow you to do it even with your eyes closed. And they're really tight, so if say, you have the Arca Swiss QR adaptor and think that it's in a fixed position, this will save you when Murphy's Law strikes and the damn thing comes loose. Also showing the standard spirit level (the one on my copy is pretty accurate) and base markings.
Last edited by edutilos-; 18th August 2014 at 11:45 PM.
18th August 2014, 11:30 PM
18th August 2014, 11:30 PM
18th August 2014, 11:30 PM
Re: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3
If you're still worried about whether you'd take to panoramic photography, there's no better option than the cheap Panosaurus v2.0. It's clunky, it's really affordable and it does the job well. If and when you've decided that you want something better, there's a whole load of options out there, and I won't blink for a second in recommending the Nodal Ninja 3, if your camera lens combination is compatible with it. (To test, you can check the Photosphere Facebook page to see when they have one of their rather useful practical outings, where you can test all their products in real life - nothing beats it I feel) It's light, it's small, it's well-designed, it has all the useful features I can think of that a standard landscape photographer needs. Chances are, if your camera is compatible with the NN3 (i.e. it's not a DSLR monster), you will love it.
We always say that the best camera is the one we have with us. Ditto for tripods. Why should it be any different for panoramic heads? You're definitely more likely to carry around something that you'll notice less, takes up less space in your back. In that respect, the NN3 is a true ninja. I know for a fact that I've done a lot more panoramic photography after I picked it up.
Is the Nodal Ninja 3 perfect? Nope. But it's easy to overlook the few shortcomings: a slight creep for heavier combos - you can look at the NN4 for that), and a QR adaptor that possibly could be improved. But keep in mind the rather affordable price (I'm not sure where else to get it locally, but Photosphere has it going for $299 and as at time of writing, is offering it at a very attractive $270 - the QR adaptor is sold separately on their site for $65; in comparison, the Sunwayfoto setup is listed on TK Foto's site as going for a bundle price of $499) and excellent engineering that went into this product, and I think you'll see that it's very good bang for buck.
Last edited by edutilos-; 19th August 2014 at 12:17 AM.
18th August 2014, 11:31 PM