PANORAMA: GATES OF THE VALLEY
"Gates of the Valley", Yosemite National Park. Photo © Jared Doty.
A bigger version of this photo is currently located here.
Can a hand-held, 6 megapixel point-and-shoot digital camera take a better photo than an expensive 12.8 megapixel D-SLR and a high quality lens?
As soon as we arrived at "Gates of the Valley" (also called "Valley View"), my son Jared took a series of seven, hand-held, vertical photos with a Canon Powershot S3 IS camera. I was busy setting up my tripod.
He overlapped each photo with the prior photo to allow for stitching together later in the computer. The camera was set in an autoexposure mode so the exposures varied from 1/160 at f/5.6 to 1/250 at f/5.6. The software compensated for the exposure variations.
The first photo was taken at 7:03:08 pm PDT and the last at 7:03:52, a total elapsed time of 44 seconds. By the time my tripod was set up and my camera mounted, he was done with his first series. He did take more photos over the next 45 minutes, but this set was definitely a prize winner.
When we got home, I loaded the seven individual photos into Autostitch, set the scale to 100% (full size pano) and left while the software did its thing (it takes a while to do full size panos in Autostitch). I came back a half hour later and the software was done (I don't know how long it took to stitch the images and the time would vary with the horsepower of the computer.)
The end result was a 45.5 MB tiff file (156 MB in layers as a PSD file) that would print out at 9 x 19.5 inches at 300 ppi without any interpolation. I downsized the image to 8.5 x 18.5 inches so we could make a print that would fit on 13 x 19 inch paper. The photo looks great and my son was really pleased with the results. The file should interpolate up in size to allow for a nice 14 x 30 inch panoramic print (our next project).
I compared the resolution of the panoramic file from the S3 to a similar single photo of the same scene from my Canon 5D and EF 24-105mm L series lens. The rocks on El Capitan looked much sharper in my son's pano than in my single photo, as would be expected. A series of photos stitched together, even from a camera with less native resolution (less pixels or photosites on the sensor), can have more total information than a single photo from a camera with a higher resolution sensor.
In this particular instance, Jared created a higher resolution photo with a $430 camera than I did with equipment costing several times as much. Had I done a similar set of vertical photos with my equipment at the equivalent angle of view, and stitched it together later, my photo would look just as good or better in a very large print, but I didn't do that.
I did note some color fringing in high contrast areas with the Canon S3 lens that I did not have with the 24-105mm lens. The 24-105 lens is a better lens. The good news is that the color fringing does not show in the 8.5 x 18.5 inch print.
The really good news is that a camera with less resolution and a somewhat inferior lens can produce better photos than a single high resolution photo from a more expensive camera and lens if the photo is divided up into separate shots and stitched together later. Something to think about if you are using a point-and-shoot camera and you are doing a big scenic photo and want a big enlargement. Of course, it should be a good quality camera to begin with.
On the other hand, even with a higher resolution camera, if you want a really big print, take a set of photos and stitch them together later, rather than doing it all at once in one shot with a wider angle lens.
To find the Gates of the Valley location, read the next post.
The Canon Powershot S3 IS camera is a fine camera for still shots. It has a class leading movie mode, the reason I bought the camera in the first place. Why look at dinky little movie clips of my grandchildren when I can have screen filling clips at the touch of a button. The camera has received top marks from DP Review and Popular Photography magazine (June 2006 issue). It is the camera I carry if I don't have a D-SLR with me. If you want to buy one, you can get a great price, pay no shipping, and help suport this site by buying your camera at the Amazon link below.
Autostitch is great software for stitching photos together in a Windows XP computer, and the demo version is free. Read more in the Autostitch article at my photo web site.