How to Shoot Automatic Panoramas with Your Digital SLR

Some cameras, mostly Sony dSLTs, shoot and process panoramas automatically. Sony calls its feature Sweep Panorama (formerly Sweep Shooting), which is also available in 3D. Instead of photographing several frames of a panorama and then using software to stitch them together, the camera handles everything.

Standard panoramas are saved as JPEGs. No raw frames are saved. You get the final image only. And 3D panoramas are saved as two files.

The first file is a standard JPEG. It's not 3D, which means you can look at it on your camera, computer, or a non-3D TV. The second file has data in it to make the image look three dimensional. This file is saved with the same name but ends in .mpo. For the 3D effect to work, you must have both files.

Although the following details are specific to Sony's panorama feature, should other cameras introduce automatic panorama shooting, you’ll perform similar tasks:

  1. Select the right shooting mode.

    In Sony's case, you can choose between Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama.

  2. Choose the panorama quality settings, such as Size and Image Quality.

  3. Choose the sweep direction: Left, Right, Up, or Down.

    This indicates the direction you're supposed to sweep in, assuming you're holding the camera horizontally (landscape orientation). If you hold the camera vertically (portrait orientation) and chose Down, sweep to your right.

  4. Choose other photo settings.

    Select a focus mode, metering mode, white balance mode, a creative style, and color space.

  5. Frame the scene so that you begin the panorama pointing in the right direction.

  6. Press the shutter button and slowly sweep in the direction you chose.

    On a Sony, you don't have to keep holding the shutter button. Once you press it, you're off and running until the end of the program. Also, the display shows a bar that tells you how far you have to go. The real awesomeness of this feature is that when you're done taking the photo, you're done. No extra computer work is required.

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Keep these things in mind when shooting automatic panoramas:

  • Straight and level: It can be hard to pan without tilting the camera. Pay attention to the indicators in the viewfinder, on the LCD, and in the scene.

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  • Stitching problems: Automatic panoramas are awesome most of the time, but when the camera has trouble stitching the frames together, it may be messy.

  • Keep at it: It can be hard to center your subjects within the narrow side.

  • Zoom and inspect: Zoom in and inspect your panoramas before moving on! It's impossible to see small errors in a huge panorama from a small thumbnail on the back of your camera. You can't possibly tell if there are stitching problems without zooming in and panning around.

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