Fotodiox RhinoCam Impressions: A Guest Review by Paul Schilliger
This article is a testimonial from Paul Schilliger, a landscape photographer from Switzerland. His work captures the beauty left for us to admire on this Earth. From tranquil meadows to the awe-inspiring mountains, Paul has hiked through the dense wilderness with medium and large format gear. His greatest works have been made using Fujichrome Velvia and Astia transparency film. His commitment and mastery of the art of photography is reflected in his stunning photographs. In the digital age, Paul has found continued use for his medium format lenses through our RhinoCam system. Here is his experience using our adapter:
To let you know first about my background, I have used view cameras from when the word “digital” was about something that you would see only on the dial of quartz watches. Then, low end digital cameras appeared, and eventually a few years later it reached the medium format systems with what would be considered today, low resolution backs. Even large format photography with its incongruously named “scan back”, similarly priced to an entry line luxury yacht, would have had to be tethered to a computer to acquire a scanned image over several minutes as I recall.
Not owning a house that I could mortgage, I looked at this from afar and have instead used a variety of APS-C digital cameras while using film for my landscape photography. When DSLR's reached 21MP, I made a pricey jump which incidentally coincided with the closure of the processing laboratory I was working with. With this Canon body, I had also a Mamiya lens mounted on a tilt shift device, which allowed for some higher definition stitched images. But this method was not parallax free, and early stitching software had trouble with intricate images, such as trees, and also at correcting lens falloff.
Things have vastly improved over the years, and today we have very capable software which now makes stitching complex images easy and straightforward. Lightroom has been my program of choice. The fantastic Sony sensors are another advancement, not meaning to understate other brands. When the Sony A7R was released, Fotodiox released their RhinoCam for full-frame Sony E cameras. The device had certainly room for improvement, but it was a great addition considering the price, and coupled with the right lenses it produces awesome results. It is probably one of the most profitable gear investments I have made in recent years.
The A7RII had taken care of the shutter shake that was detrimental to the initial A7R, and it now makes justice to some of the excellent MF lenses available on the used market. I have used Mamiya lenses, Pentax 6x7 zooms, and now I use mostly a pair of Pentax 645 zooms. They are as good if not better than many prime lenses. When a perfectly proportioned image is required, I usually shoot two rows. One image in rise, one in fall, then sliding to the next crop slice as the normal process goes, for a total of 6 or 8 frames. The shots acquired this way merge smoothly, as long as the software will find some landmarks in them. Having just sky or water will not allow for their position to be recognized and you may need to stitch them manually in Photoshop.
The beauty of it is that the final image will have exactly the same look as if it were shot on a huge medium format sensor. Using the full image circle of the lens, set in a static position, also allows for parallax free shots, since it is the camera that moves, and not the lens.
However, I now use a technique of a dual shot center, and simply rotate the device on the tripod accordingly. This allows for 360° panoramas, should you wish so. But 90° is still reasonable and I sometimes prefer the kind of anamorphic look that it produces, which still remains natural, to the stretched corners wide angle look. Using only the sweet spot of the lens also produces astounding detail and sharpness. The resulting files are between 150 and 300 MP, and I try not to get over that size. However, even if it is perfect for many nature views, this rotation technique will not produce accurate square shapes, and is therefore not advised when there are oblique lines through the frame either, or for instance when there is a straight horizon line like water. For those subjects, it is better to favor the standard fix parallax shift technique.
Pre-visualisation was an important aspect in using the view camera, and it still is. Some would probably be turned away for having to compose without a complete viewfinder, but it is in fact a very valuable exercise. I still carry in my pocket a set of small, black plastic frames with crop ratios from 4x5, 6x9 to 6x12, which as you can imagine were the sizes of film I could choose from. Through this simple frame I can check if an image stands, and where the best angle of view is before setting my gear.
Others are using this technique and have used it long before us – I think I got this tip from one of Anselm Adams' books. It saves time, and it has spared me probably hundreds of crap images which in the sheet film era weren't particularly cheap. The three dimensional view, and sometimes the viewfinder image as well, can be too flattering or distracting. But a crude flat view seen from only one eye, will tell you if what you are seeing stands as an image or if it needs more breathing or rather cropping. So this viewing technique has served me well with the RhinoCam. The early RhinoCam had a frosted Fresnel, which was a good idea but was only usable with a dark cloth, so I barely used it. But once you have acquired the techniques of pre-visualization, and since most of the cameras are now equipped with LCD screens, you shouldn't really miss that.
Some months ago, the Fotodiox team released a new RhinoCam device that they called “the Vertex”. I immediately put my hand on one of these, and here are my impressions.
This device has undeniable qualities, one being the quick and easy operation. It is also compact enough to fit in the bag as an extension of the lens, and it also provides a sturdy support for both the lens and the camera. The lens coverage is not quite as wide as with the former sliding RhinoCam, but it takes enough of it and it uses the best part of the lens.
I first hesitated to purchase one, because I mostly shoot panoramas and the Vertex produces a square image. Never mind, here is how I get panoramas from it: I first take two frames, adjacent to the left border (or right), and then I rotate the device for 2 thirds of a frame. I take the four frames, then I rotate the device again for 2 thirds of a frame and take the two remaining shots adjacent to the opposite side.
What I discovered to my pleasure is that they merge perfectly in Lightroom. The program has no problem recognizing the upside down frames, and it is a smooth automated process. In the spherical or cylindrical mode, the image will fill the frame. In the perspective mode, the four center frames serve as a reference for the perspective adjustments, and the 2 x 2 lateral additional shots (or even more if you wish) are automatically corrected to fit. The stitching program will automatically crop the corners so that everything aligns and matches the whole image. The preliminary results were excellent for indoor and architecture photography, which was a surprise. The Vertex can be used just in the same way for vertical shots as well.And should you need a shift lens for perspective control, you have it. Using a 35mm for instance or the Pentax 33-55mm, will give you probably more image than you need to crop from. It also opens the possibility for focus stacking, unlike the former RhinoCam.
Will this RhinCam become my device of choice? I always have it in my bag now because it is so compact. But I still take the old modified version with me because it allows me to take some video clips as well during the shooting. Otherwise, I would probably only need the Vertex. I believe it to be a great concept, and is so smooth and easy to operate. If there was some improvement that I could wish for, it would be perhaps a sturdier and slightly longer quick release plate, but I can live with it as it is.
Why do I use a complex process instead of buying a medium format camera? There are “relatively affordable” 100 MP cameras these days, but you have to make it a workhorse to justify the expenses on accessories and lenses. But, I simply don't need a medium format camera. I'm not in the business of shooting people, commercial work and such. I have all my time to take the photographs I want at my pace. And also, once you crop a 100 MP image to a 16/9 ratio, you end up with a much smaller file. Stitching images allows you to obtain the ratio you want, while still retaining a very high image definition. But first of all, it is a fun technique. And certainly like the Fotodiox guys and gals, fun is what we like the most in photography.
A big thank you from the Fotodiox team to Paul for sharing his experience with our RhinoCam system and our latest RhinoCam Vertex adapter. We hope that this articles offered insight and inspiration. We would not be here without people like Paul and our readers. Happy shooting.
- Fotodiox Staff