Let's put our Camera on the Pole Position !

Rev 20 Feb 2007

Peter Murphy has shot the photos for some of his large collection of panoramas with the camera hard-fixed on top of a pole.

Inspired by this pioneer, I have made my own version. The camera sits at 3.6 meters of altitude when I take four photos 90deg apart. With my Canon Rebel 300D and a 8mm Sigma fisheye lens.

I did also put this monopod on top of a Manfrotto tripod and reached the frightening altitude of 5.4 meters. I do not intend to use this assembly in the sidewalk of a busy street, or my camera may not survive from the unavoidable fall. You can see also below an intermediate version obtained by inserting a 4 feet rigid extension between the tripod and the pole (tandem monopods). The overall length is here exactly 5 meters.

I already owned a Manfrotto 681B Monopod. I procured a second one to complete and they now make the main part of the pole. Many other products would fit as well, of course

This is the bottom part of the pole:

And this is the top part:

I made an adapter from 9mm thick PVC that screws on the thread of both the monopods to make one long pole having the thin tips at the top and bottom.

After removal of the small plastic cap from the bottom tip of the monopod to be inversed and put on top of the second one, I have inserted a plastic cylinder having a standard 3/8" screw at its center. I have secured this assembly with another radial screw through the monopod skin and the cylindrical core.

An ultralight home made panohead (fabricated from 6mm thick aluminum sheet) is then fixed on the top. This Panohead can be dismounted in several parts for compact packing.

The Rebel camera has its place there, ready to go.

When the sun may spoil the photo with a flare pattern (the Sigma fisheye does it often), I may install a simple sunshield made from a 135 film plastic box cap an a steel wire. The sky is anyway often washed out in the area of the sky where the sun is. The position of the shield is tuned at ground level then the pole is extended and oriented under compass control (see below).

The dashboard of the system is composed simply of a remote control switch for shutter releasing, a bubble level and a compass. The small platform/bracket for the level must be put perfectly perpendicular to the monopod. This requirement is the major challenge that I can report. I made this bracket from PVC. Three layer of 9mm thick grey PVC provided sufficient guiding, flexibility and grip around the monopod.

An other must : Due to this new height of nearly 4 meters, I had to put 1.5m of extension cable to the Canon standard 0.7m connection for the shutter release (remote control) switch. The connectors are 2.5mm in diameter and can be procured at electronics stores. I had to make my own soldering.

The accuracy of the Nodal Point location is then kept to less than 2cm radius on a complete turn of the head. Beware of strong gusty wind !

I have made quite a few panoramas with this setup. Optimizing and stitching are very similar to normal panohead on ground level made panos. I usually get about one pixel of average error for a 6000 x 3000 equirectangular.

Higher and newer poles

Super high Slim Rotator:

I have designed (Nov 2005) and built a new version of the long pole on a tripod. It's mainly composed of an (very much) extended version of the Slim rotator

Have a look near the end down the page.

Walter Spieth Fiberglass-Teleskop-Tower:

This pole is intended for UHF (2m wave length) and 6.2 meters out of the original 10 meters can be used for the support of a DSLR.

With some adaptation I have made a 6,2 m high pole and therefore nearly cloning the Agnos pole

I have procured the telescopic H/W from r-g that distributes the product made by Walter Spieth of Ebersbach (73061) in Germany.

When retracted the overall length is about 1,5 m long.

Here is the panorama made that day.

It is also possible to extend the altitude with a 1,2m extension this can be mounted below the pole.

There is a drawback in doing this as then the telescopic extension has to be done by hand at about 2.35m of altitude and I personnaly need stepping on a stool to reach it.

Another annoying feature is that the pole has practicaly to be always fully extended in shooting configuration. Due to the design, it is not really possible to use intermediate length at all.

A tripod for this pole

As with the electrical spinner (see here after) there is no need to rotate the pole, I have designed and built a tripod to get the pole straight and stable by itself:

An exemple of panography shot with that gear.

It is still even possible to manually rotate the mast if necessary, though...

Balancing the camera + panohead assembly

If this equipment assembly is not well balanced, upon starting or stopping the spin, the whole pole is subjected to a violent rocking. The camera may then swing dangerously on top of the mast.

To solve the problem, I have decided to forego the NPP adjustment as no object will be really close in most cases anyway. On the contrary, below is how I have precisely balanced the Camera + panohead assembly:

With a wire, hang the combo by the 3/8" Dia hole as shown here.

With the help of both A and B, get the lens axis aligned with the white arrow and the yellow arrow parallel with it also (i.e. really horizontal): It's still slightly slanted on the photograph;-)

The composite Assy is then almost perfectly balanced in a few seconds long operation.

Another portable long pole:

Manfrotto carries the 146B model on its catalog for lightning support equipment.

It is intended as an extension to be mounted on top of some light stands which are fitted with the so-called "type 14" interface on their top.

Used alone, it is a very rigid 3.2m high pole on which a panorama head can be mounted easily, but I have made some extension from steel tubing and the 6 meters resulting pole may become my favorite medium pole configuration:

The highest (36') in my personnal pole stable:

Manfrotto makes a line of stands for lighting support that make a good base for aerial panorama photography.

I have modified the 269HDBU to become the highest pole that I ever have used. Its original hight is 7.6m.

Update November 2010: Manfrotto now sells a new model 269HDB-3U and calls it an "Overlook Stand" that is based on the 269 HDBU giant lighting stand. 269HDB-3U is based on the 269HDBU lighting stand modified to support your camera up to 7.3m (24 ft.). The special top attachment permits you to attach a camera head, or directly attach your camera. Using a triple levelling leg system and a levelling bubble, you can adjust the position of your camera in order to shoot wherever and however you want. It is then ready to use with a camera, but then this newer model is about 2 to 2.5 more expensive than the former one!

I can mount alternatively several extensions on its top, including the double 681(or 679)B monopod that I have described at the top of this page:

The overall hight is then more than 11 meters (~36'). While this is possible to do with no wind at all, I certainly would not recommand to make an attempt to shoot with your dearest DSLR when even a light breeze is blowing!

By putting a 3m steel tubing extension on top of the giant 269HDBU, I enen get a stiffer assembly. Clamping the tripod legs on the ground is easy to do (special holes on each of the feet are included in the design) and then panography may be taken at altitude ranging well above 8m when light breeze is blowing...

This impressive pole is quite heavy to carry at about 10kg of weight. I have thus modified its tripod structure in order to allow a safe dismounting of some of its main elements (mast from tripod) apart for easier transportation (e.g. 2 x 5kg).

A by-product from this modification has been the fact that the Walter Spieth fiber glass pole or its extension are both now fully compatibe with the big tripod (part of 269HDBU)! It can be used as a more stable (but much heavier) alternative to the other "spider" tripod described before.

For undetermined reasons, Manfrotto does not carry safety collar for more than 40 mm DIA tubing. I have made a 45mm DIA "safety collar" that is intended to both allow free rotation of the mast from the second element up to the camera while the bottom and the tripod stay still on ground and also to avoid collapsing of the 45 mm DIA tube when the lower retainer is unclamped to let the tube rotate.

Alternatively the electrical spinner can be used, but the weight saving on the tip payload is very positive in reducing the possible bending.

One of the advantages over the fiber glass telescopic pole is the ability to choose any altitude from minimum to maximum by simple tightening.

General tip from experience:

It is very important that the mast rises vertically. It is always rewarding and safer to take care of this before extending the telescopic poles whatever the design of the pole!

Camera mechanical interfaces on top of these high poles:

I usually do not make multi-row panorama from the top of these poles. I try to get the harware installed on top as light as technically feasible while doable with simple material.

Here are some of my main panohead for that matter:

Another point of view for panorama making:

Cick on pict to enlarge

To lean over a clean Nadir.

On the enlarged photograph the red arrow show where the foot of the tripod can be clamped down: there is a cleverly designed hole to fit either a wheel or to bolt down the foot on anything including the ground.

The green arrows show the telescopic leg that can be extended at least 16" and thus getting this slanted position.

An electrical rotator:

Inspired by Peter Murphy's own invention, I have also fitted at the top of the pole a motorized panorama head made from a very cheap chinese electric screwdriver.

A radio transmitter is used for remote shutter release.

The spin rate is reduced from the initial ~120 RPM down to ~24 RPM (0.4 rev per sec) by simply using 2 standard AA batteries cells instead of the original 4 non-standard and big ones fitted in the screwdriver (left). I have re-used the three-way switch to make a convenient power control pack case (right) for wired remote control of camera spin.

Revised 20 February 2007 (Pole interfaces added)

Michel Thoby