360° Virtual Tours and Panoramas provide a compelling, immersive experience that puts control in the hands of the viewer, bringing your customers into your space from the place they are most likely to make a buying decision - their own armchair.
Our Funky Frankwell project created Virtual Tours and Panoramas for a number of businesses in the Frankwell district of Shrewsbury. Through this experience we were able to refine our skills and experiment with software and hardware options to provide the highest quality panoramas on the market.
We looked at off the shelf solutions such as the Ricoh Theta V 360 , the Samsung Gear 360 the GARMIN VIRB 360 and the GoPro Fusion and found that while they offered good functionality and convenience, they couldn't match our Canon 5D Mk III in terms of sharpness, colour range or megapixels. We decided that although these cameras are promising, they are consumer oriented rather than professional and we need our customers to get the best quality we can deliver.
We opted to go with the Canon 5D with a Canon 8-15mm Fisheye lens. The principle of panoramic photography is to shoot overlapping frames which are stitched together to create one image. This requires precision shooting to get right. There is an axis around which the camera must rotate in order to avoid the parallax effect where distant objects appear to move in relation to closer objects. To achieve this we started using a Manfrotto panoramic head which offers extreme precision for multi row shooting. This is the Rolls Royce of Panoramic shooting however it is extremely heavy and cumbersome to work with and we decided to move to the Fanotec range of lightweight but equally precise Nodal Ninja heads. These allow you to set the rotation angle thus ensuring no parallax issues and precisely overlapped pictures.
Software is another minefield. There are numerous stitching programs out there, some free others not so much. We like PTGui a lot but we currently use Kolor Autopano Giga, and Panotour Pro, software that is used to create Virtual Tours out of multiple panoramas. A more than capable alternative to Panotour is Pano2VR by Garden Gnome Software
UPDATE: As of September 14th Kolor products are no longer available. The parent company, GoPro has decided to close the division a mere three years after purchasing the company.