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Thread: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3

  1. #1
    Senior Member edutilos-'s Avatar
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    Default [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.

  2. #2
    Senior Member edutilos-'s Avatar
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    Default 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.

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    Senior Member edutilos-'s Avatar
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    Default Re: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3

    Yet another favourite feature of mine on the NN3 is the Arca Swiss compatibility by adding the QR adaptor (pictured below). The QR mechanism takes some getting used to and truth be told I would prefer a clamp mechanism but when you get used to it, it does mount lot more faster and surer. And there isn't a doubt as to whether it's tightened, unlike clamps. It's a toss-up between speed of mounting, sureness of mounting.. and the possibility of having part of your LCD obscured by the knob. If there's something Fanotech could improve on, it's this. I'm not complaining though, since I no longer have to unmount any plate and replace it with the special one for the panoramic head.



    There's even a thoughtful set of lines for you to align your plate/L plate with. I'm currently using the Fujifilm X-E1 which sadly comes with an off-centre tripod mount, so it is almost mandatory to add a L-plate if you want to do panoramic photography. The Sunwayfoto one comes with an optical centre marking which works very well with the lines on the QR adaptor - a major plus for all X users (who probably fall into the category of space-loving photographers):



    Here's evidence of the amount of thought put into the NN3 - Fanotech made sure that the knobs would stay in place with a pretty easy and light solution - O rings:



    I've used this copy of the NN3 for at least 3 months now (can't remember when I got it) and the weak points in the build are really the plastic knobs. That's also possibly because I'm placing them together when stowed away. Other than that, the rest of the finishing is perfect despite being thrown into my bag inside a small lens case.

    Also wanted to mention here that Fanotech is really obsessed about ensuring that you get to use your NN3 for a long time. The package I got came with all sorts of extras. The picture below shows the original base plate (which you'd have to use if you don't get the Arca-Swiss adaptor) as well as a bunch of extra washers, O rings, Allen keys (which I haven't had to use). Also the additional rotator ring which is reversible.



    A close up of both sides of the ring.

    Last edited by edutilos-; 18th August 2014 at 11:59 PM.

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    Senior Member edutilos-'s Avatar
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    Default Re: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3

    It's In Fashion To Be Small

    With the introduction of mirrorless cameras, I wager that the NN3 will get increasingly popular. As more people get access to photography and technology allows computing power to improve by leaps and bounds for the same buck of yesterday, panoramic photography will definitely catch on more and more. It just doesn't seem right to pair your cool stylish mirrorless camera with a ginormous panoramic head.

    Here's a picture of the head paired with the Fujifilm X-E1 and the excellent Fujinon 10-24mm lens to convince you how small it is. The ballhead there is a Sirui G20..



    Stowed away in the lens case that I use:



    The Hadley Pro is pretty popular in Clubsnap these days - with my previous set up I could carry a DSLR with UWA, and the two pieces of Panosaurus would go into one section each. This new set-up allows me to carry the X-E1 with lens mounted, the NN3 and even an additional set of lenses. I intend to shove a stacked Samyang 8mm fisheye (X mount) and an Olympus 45mm f/1.8 in lens wrap in the remaining compartment with some room to spare for filters, and shove the Olympus EM-5 with the new EZ pancake zoom in one of the front pockets. Perfect for travel!



    If even lighter and smaller's your thing, you can just carry the whole get-up in a Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5, with space for iPad mini and accessories.

    Last edited by edutilos-; 19th August 2014 at 12:07 AM.

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    Default Re: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3

    In Conclusion

    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.

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    Default Re: [edutilos] Review of Nodal Ninja 3

    Examples of Photos Taken with the Nodal Ninja 3

    I'm always hesitant to post sample photographs in panoramic head reviews because in that respect, all heads will be equal. But in any case, just as a reminder of what we can do with these things (especially if we have them with us) - when 15mm is still not wide enough:









    Last edited by edutilos-; 19th August 2014 at 12:21 AM.

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