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Gigapan Epic 100 review

GigaWHAT? What IS a Gigapan you ask?
Don't you know how to do a Google search!?!?!! Oh waiiiiiiit riiiiiiight, I'm doing the review here...forgot.
HA! Ok ok all joking aside this is one cool product!

Basically a Gigapan is a robotic platform that automates all of the work in taking a panoramic.
You attach your camera to it and it moves the camera around, up and down and left and right and it even activates the shutter for you using either a cable (for DSLR's) or a robotic arm (for P&S cameras).

The Gigapan Epic 100 is very simple to setup without even reading the instructions but can be harder to tweak in order to get the best results. And to get the most streamlined results it helps to understand focal length and field of view.

1) After attaching the Gigapan Epic 100 to to tripod and setting the shutter button arm, use the bubble level (directly on top of the GPE100) and level it as best as possible. *Sometimes due to the weight of the camera, the holding arm will be slightly off centre so you may have to compensate for this with the bubble level.
2) Turn on the GPE100: You will be prompted with a menu system that makes it very easy to setup.
3) Taking panos: Each time you make a new pano, you will be asked to aim the camera using the EP100's controls. You set the top left and then the bottom right corners of the photo in order to set the whole field of view you want to capture.
The EP100 will tell you how many rows, columns and how many photos will be taken in total.
4) Each time (you can turn this option off) after setting the area you want to capture, you will then be reminded to setup several things such as doing a manual focus, turning off the flash etc. Immediately after this the EP100 will begin taking your photos.

The Gigapan...gigapanning:

Information about the Gigapan example used throughout this review:

During the time I had with the GE100 I went out five times over four days.
Over those five excursions, five out of my seven attempts failed because clouds created shadows over one of the areas I was shooting in.
* In order to get the best results from a GP shoot you need to have a consistent sky.

Full example photo: (full in this case meaning seeing the whole scene, NOT the actual full file as that is almost 1 gig.)

Click for a larger view with excerpt areas for the other examples in this review

Here are some details about one of the gigapans I took using the Gigapan Epic 100:
-Camera used: Canon G10 (15 megapixels)
-Camera settings: Flash off, image review off, manual focus
-Shooting time: The GPE100 took 26 minutes to take 432 photos (the Gigapan was set to the absolute minimum time between shots possible)
-The 432 photos ended up being 1037 megapixels which is just over one gigapixel
-I exported the final file to a TIFF format.
-The TIFF file (single layer) is 947 megabytes. (That's almost a gigabyte. In other words only 4 would fit on a single-layer DVD)

After the initial setup I really didn't like the FOV it used as it was taking about an 80% overlap per photo which is not only unnecessary but a waste of space for unneeded photos and also processing time. So I manually changed the lens FOV (in the GP menu) to give it about a 50% overlap which is much easier for processing power but still allows for a good amount of overlap.

Processing your gigapans:
Anyone can take a pano, even without an automated pano device, but one of the most important aspects of taking a pano is not just getting it aligned when shooting but also being able to stitch all the files well! The GP100 comes with a code to download and use the GigaPan software GigaPan Stitch version 1.0.0804 (after this named GP-S) which is really quite good AND quite bad at the same time:

GP-S interface:

Click for a larger image

-Using GP-S I imported and sorted 432 images. GP-S makes stitching the photos very easy as it's GUI gives you a live preview of what the photos look like in order. This way, all you have to do is set the amount of rows per pano and you're set to process it!
-GP-S stitched my 432 photos in about 20 minutes! That's a lot faster than Photoshop's stitching utility (using significantly fewer photos). I've use a lot of stitching software and most others do a better job of stitching the photos, identifying objects and keeping them together, but none of them do it anywhere near as fast as GP-S.
-However, although GP-S does a fast job of stitching, it also makes a lot of errors. There were several cars that were only half a vehicle and even cutting off people's heads seemingly without reason as well as objects and buildings with strange errors on them such as being disconnected.
-What it DID help with was sensor dust. Somehow, I have sensor dust on my Canon G10 but it never appeared anywhere in the final image.
-GP-S also allows you to export the photo to a TIF or "RAW" format.

What you can see at 100%
"100%" is a photographers way of telling you this is the most you can zoom in before you start to see pixels or digitally enlarge/enhance the image.

Example A: I use this as a good example because most Winnipeggers will know where to look for this. Note that at the larger image, you can't tell where the cars are on the bridge. Just keep zooming, just keep zooming...

Click for larger image

Example B: Try to find out where this is without the red highlight area on the larger version of this image

Stitching error examples:
Example C: Don't loose your head OR your body!

Example D: If only half the bus shows up, is it still late?

Example E: This car won't be going anywhere without it's engine

Example F:
*Please also note the clouds pointed out with a red arrowhere for yet another example of the strangeness that is stitching in GP-S.

Other information:
-Fully charged rechargeable batteries (Ni-MH 2450mha) lasted only 1/4 of the first gigapan before the battery warning went off however it then lasted for over 600 pictures. Gigapan should really take a look at this because it's very disconcerting when making panos as you never know when it will run out.
-Although the six AA batteries then lasted for 600 photos, this was only enough for two panos. If you plan on using it multiple times in a day, plan to bring a LOT of batteries.
-GigaPan is waiting on a single part to come in from a new manufacturer in order to complete and start shipping their Epic Pro, the DSLR version of the Epic. It's scheduled to happen sometime in June, 2010.

-The GPE100 is very easy to use and setup
-Makes taking and stitching photos very easy
-GigaPan software is fast to process huge piles of photos into a pano

-Eats batteries like Cookie Monster eats cookies.
-Battery indicator needs tweaking to give a more accurate idea of how much battery life is left
-GigaPan software makes multiple stitching errors. If using for making a large print or a client you'll have to manually retouch the final file.

This is a very useful product in the same way TV dinners are useful. If you're someone who doesn't have a lot of time, the GPE100 (and TV dinners) help you speed up the process of taking or making panoramics (and dinner). However, unfortunately, it just doesn't taste the same as when mom makes it! OK OK, all joking aside, this IS a great product and if the DSLR version is just as good there will be one in my kit in the near future!

HUGE thanks to Don's Photo who loaned me this product to test out and review.

They will soon be THE first distributor for Gigapan so look for them in stores soon or pre order yours ASAP!

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