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The word “professional” gets thrown around quite often in the photography industry, often without much credence; however, the Roundshot VR Drive Metric Panoramic Head from Seitz is just that—a professional’s tool. Used by forensic teams, real estate agents, engineers, and other commercial applications, this 360° panoramic image maker is truly an impressive tool. From the moment you open the heavy-duty waterproof case, you can tell that this Swiss-made instrument is more than your average panoramic camera.
Going back to 1955, Seitz has long been an innovator in panoramic photography, pushing the boundaries of what kind of images a roll of film, and now a digital sensor, are capable of producing. The original Seitz camera was invented by Hermann Seitz as a way to capture the sweeping views that he saw on vacation, in Tuscany. The original models featured a camera that spun around a stationary piece of film, exposing the film as it turned, and many of the company's subsequent cameras, including the Roundshot VR Drive Metric, followed the idea of that rotating camera.
The Roundshot VR Drive Metric, or Metric for short, is a fully automatic panoramic head with a specially mounted Canon 6D with 20mm f/2.8 USM lens that produces 200MP, 180 x 360-degree panoramas. The camera is specifically calibrated for use with the Metric, and does not require any changes to its out-of-box settings. Its focus and aperture are locked in, and all of the exposure settings are controlled automatically from the Metric itself.
Reichbaum setting up the VR Drive Metric in the Photo department at B&H
The heart of the VR Drive Metric is a robotic pan/tilt arm that has a touchscreen to control the arm’s movements and the camera. The operation of the Metric is quite simple. There are four preset programs to choose from, Low ISO, Low ISO with HDR, High ISO, and High ISO with HDR. You can also program your own presets to fit your specific needs. The non-HDR programs take 15 total images and the HDR programs take 3, 5, or 7 exposures per location for a total of 45, 75, or 105 images. Once you choose your preferred setting and level your tripod, you simply press the start icon on the touchscreen, and the Metric does the rest; hence, the “hands-off” aspect of this tightly designed piece of technology.
It is truly impressive to watch as the arm pans, tilts, takes a shot, and repeats until all of the images are captured. Once all of the photos have been taken, you simply import them to your hard drive and put each set of images into its own folder. The Metric includes a license to download the Fovex Panomaker software, which is only available for Windows, and requires a 3GB video card. The software then takes the images, stitches them together in a few minutes, and outputs a perfectly stitched panorama, which can be viewed in a variety of software applications that can be downloaded easily, such as the FSP Viewer.
Panoramic photo of New York's Grand Central Terminal. You can pan left, right, up or down, zoom in or out, or go to full screen with the control panel on the lower left.
For my first time out with the Metric, I took it to Grand Central Terminal, one of the busiest train stations, and one of my favorite places in New York City. Grand Central requires the acquisition of a permit if you are going to be using a tripod in the terminal—an easy process, and one well worth it. Because it is such a busy station, there are time restrictions preventing you from shooting during the most congested times of day. I went to Grand Central at 11a.m., thinking it would be a good time to catch the morning light coming through the windows, and while the large room looked great with the sun streaking through it, the final images suffered from blown out highlights and loss of detail. I tried using one of the HDR modes; however, the results are a bit strange when there are people moving through the scene. After the software blends the images you can often see the same person multiple times in the photo.
To remedy this, I went back at 8 p.m. and shot as the sun was about to go down with just enough sunlight to get even exposures between the windows and the rest of the room. As you can see in the image, the long exposure creates a great ghosting effect so that the people in the images add an ethereal feel to the scene.
Up close and personal, the Roundshot VR Drive Metric Panoramic Head
Once I got my feet wet, so to speak, I decided to shoot a few images in the B&H SuperStore early in the morning, before any customers or employees arrived. With my coworker, Shawn, along to help out, we set up various shots in interesting locations, such as the Pro Photo counter, the camera kiosks, the computer area, and the audio room, with its arresting colored LED lighting.
Panoramic photograph of the studio monitor showroom at B&H Photo
One of the interesting things about using the Metric is that you have to be out of view of the camera’s lens while it’s shooting. This means that you either press the Start button and go hide behind something, or you have to physically walk around in a circle as the head does its shoot-move-shoot motions.
To get a properly exposed final image, you must carefully set up the Metric before starting the shooting program so that the white disc that covers the exposure meter is aimed in a neutrally lit area, somewhere between the brightest and darkest parts of the scene you are capturing. This can take a bit of trial and error, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
After shooting in Grand Central and inside of B&H, I wanted to head outside to capture some of the majesty of New York City. I wanted to shoot in places that are iconic, but also a little more unique than Times Square, the Empire State Building, or the Brooklyn Bridge. I first went to Broadway and 23rd street to capture the famous Flatiron Building. I arrived just after 6 a.m., thinking that the streets would be fairly empty, but of course in the City that Never Sleeps, they’re never empty.
With such an expensive piece of gear, I had to constantly have one eye on the Metric as I was circling it, and one eye on the people around me, making sure that no one walked into my tripod, accidentally toppling the whole setup. Luckily, commuters were busy enough to not stop and stare, but aware enough to give the Metric and me some space.
Panoramic photo of 23rd Street, in Manhattan, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Can you find the Flatiron Building?
After feeling confident that I got the shot I needed, I headed uptown to shoot just outside of Central Park, in Columbus Circle. By now the sun had really risen, and it became quite a challenge to get an evenly exposed image. This brings me to the one drawback that I found: the Metric can only capture JPEG images, bypassing shooting RAW files because of speed and size issues. While stitching up to 105 RAW images together might take a lot longer than the JPEGs, it would be really nice to recover a greater amount of highlight and shadow in post production. Alas, this isn’t possible, so as you see in the below image, there are some issues with the brightest and darkest areas in the photo, although this is only a problem in the most extreme situations.
I couldn’t be happier with the way the final 360-degree panoramas turned out. If you’ve never shot something like this before (and I hadn’t), opening up the final product in a pano-viewer and moving the mouse to control the image is an extremely satisfying feeling. It’s like you’re back in the moment that you took the photos.
Panoramic photo of Manhattan's Columbus Circle, at 59th Street
The panoramic images can be used to make online virtual tours for real estate sales, rental properties, restaurants, or other commercial locations. These panoramas can be made using the included Fovex Panomaker software, but additional software can be purchased, depending on your needs. Although the Roundshot VR Drive Metric is ideal for this aesthetic use, it has numerous other uses for more serious applications. Police departments use the Metric for forensic documentation of crime scenes, allowing them to revisit the scene in virtual reality. Other applications include 32-bit HDR for CGI professionals, 3D measurement for photogrammetry projects, and CAD modeling for engineering and manufacturing.
As I mentioned, the Metric itself is extremely easy to use, and has a very simple learning curve, but it does have some stringent computer requirements. For starters, the software is only available for Windows, with no plans for Mac OS compatibility in the future. Your PC must have at least 8GB of RAM, Intel® or AMD processor with 4 cores, an NVDIA or ATI graphics card with a minimum of 3GB RAM from 2013 or later, and a 64-bit version of Windows 7 or 8. It is also advised that you have at least 10GB of free disk space, and that you have an SSD hard disk for faster processing and saving.
One of the benefits that you receive when purchasing the Roundshot VR Drive Metric is the excellent customer service from Peter Lorber, an expert on the device. He is available via email or phone to walk you through any problems that might arise as you learn the ins and outs of the Metric or the Panomaker software. If you’ve considered jumping into the 360° panoramic pool, there couldn’t be a simpler way to get started than the Roundshot VR Drive Metric from Seitz.