Here is certainly my favorite model of spherical panoramic head, especially to realize virtual tours. Robust enough for most bodies (perfect with a Canon 5D Mark III or IV + 8-15 mm Fisheye for instance), it is extremely well designed and manufactured.
The Nodal Ninja 4 panoramic head is a head called spherical. There's also a model 3, very close, with only noticeably shorter marked reglets in order to keep bulkiness and weight at a minimum. It can be disassembled in two parts which makes it choice equipment for travel and storage in a photo bag. This is no detail!
In the average-high rank of robustness thus stability among the heads on the market, it is perfect for a light body like the Canon 5D Mark III or IV and its fisheye 8-15 mm or a Nikon D810 and its Nikkor 16 mm FE but can easily handle a heavier body if the lens is compact enough. In this case, the camera won't be positioned too far back and the stability will be preserved.
This head also has two assets, its accessories:
the classic positioner, the convenient RD-16 or the RD-3 + EZ-Leveler,
the nadir adapter.
This way, it is possible to configure a first-rate head! With the RD positioner, you change the number of notches between two consecutive photos very easily and with the nadir adapter, it is even easier - was it possible?! - to turn over the vertical arm to shoot the nadir.
Like with all spherical heads, it is possible to place the entrance pupil of the lens used in literally all directions. It is thus a universal head.
It's a panoramic head I use since 2009 for all my projects of virtual tours other than gigapixel ones. I then pick a spherical motorized head. However, it takes little space stored or not and it's very pleasant to use.
Nodal Ninja 4 panoramic head presentation
The Nodal Ninja 4 panoramic head (there's another model 3, less bulky) is thus a spherical head. It has a stage of setting in depth that can be tilted on a vertical arm. It is perfect to shoot a complete sphere and thus create a virtual tour, especially when shooting the nadir. The reglets are of standard dimensions for model 4 and shorter for model 3, perfect to travel light! Then, what characterizes it is the possibility in its commercial version said "complete" but simple to have a notched base thanks to brass clips pierced of xx holes depending on their sides. It makes the head very compact, less convenient sometimes but really more stable. (See my summary below: Complete, RD-8 ou RD-16, how to choose?).
It is made of two distinct and dismountable parts. Once mounted, it is usually impressive but is particularly not bulky once refolded as it's very well designed. Since it's rather light, it is especially easy to carry.
Once the camera set, it is about 23 cm higher than the head. The height alone being 26 cm from the base of the tripod. As you can see in the image here, its dimensions in width are classic for this model 4 and it's rather an asset to shoot the nadir as we'll see later. Model 3 is in this regard a bit short without a nadir adapter.
You can also see clearly that the vertical arm can be unscrewed very easily to turn over and for travel. Then, note the presence of a clamping screw for the tilting head, quite compact and easy to manipulate, here again.
Finally, it remains accurate, even after several years of intensive use and only the paint starts fading after a while as for a lot of spherical heads on the market!
Once folded, the Nodal Ninja 4 spherical head , whether be it complete (with R-D and nadir adapter) or basic, is especially compact.
Two distinct and dismountable parts
The Nodal Ninja 4 head can be disassembled in two distinct parts. It's a precious asset to store the equipment in your photo bag, as shown in the image below. The Nodal Ninja is particularly exemplary regarding that point! To dissociate the vertical arm from the notched base and from the bottom rail, you juste have to unscrew it, quite simply. The screw is very pleasant to manipulate because it is very large and its coating is soft (image here).
Once folded (photo above), I fit the whole thing in a teleobjective lens case. Very convenient! The Nodal Ninja 4 head comes with a quick fastening stage for the camera which is perfect for reflex bodies. Here again, convenient!
The panoramic Nodal Ninja 4 head can be completely disassembled in two parts and can thus be stored very easily in a photo bag. It then takes the same room as a teleobjective lens, even in its full version with R-D positioner. It is a striking quality.
Once dismounted, the Nodal Ninja 4 head can be broken down into: a notched head that can be as shown here the RD-16 positioner (1) and its inferior stage, a vertical arm (2) and a stage sliding in depth on 12 cm and the quick fastening stage for the camera (3).
1- Notched rotary base and inferior reglet (1) - There are three solutions by Nodal Ninja :the base notched by brass clips, the RD-3 + EZ-Leveler positioner or the RD-16, as in the photo above. Thanks to this notched part, you'll be able to rotate the panoramic head of the number of degrees you need between two consecutive photos without looking into the viewfinder. Thanks to a cyan blue wheel (the smaller one held by a safety rope), you can choose the number of notches you need on the RD positioners. When you rotate the whole block, it is going to block slightly on the next notch. It is very easy to feel...
You're going to fasten the vertical arm on the marked reglet thanks to the big clamping screw.
2- Upper stage and vertical arm (2) - The whole thing enables to keep the camera vertical in order to get the highest panorama possible in pixels. The framing is done by the focal.
The reglet can't be separated from the vertical arm and supports the quick fastening stage for the camera. This reglet can be set on 14 cm in depth.
3- Quick fastening stage for the camera (3) - The quick fastening stage of the Nodal Ninja 4 is very well designed because it naturally fits on the reglet thanks to a guide. It keeps the stage from tilting on the reglet. Only the camera will be able to rotate, if it's not fastened correctly on the stage. It slides on 14 cm.
One Nodal Ninja 4 = 3 positioners! Advice to help you make a choice...
There are three models of positioners you'll need to choose when placing your order: brass clip positioner, RD-3+EZ-Leveler and RD-16. As you'll probably have guessed, it's the number of notches - 3, 6 or 16 - and above all the width of the field of view that change: from 120° to a maximum of 3.75°!
1 - The basic notched base (full version)
The basic notched base is very easy to use. The notches are "hidden" à inside the base under the form of a brass clip more or less pierced of holes on each side. Originally the Nodal Ninja head is sold with three clips hence 6 possibilities.
The number of notches is thus set by dismounting the rotary base completely. You just need to place the notched base with the number of holes you need. To change the number of notches often, it is not so convenient. However, it makes a very light base but more stable if, like me, you always use your spherical head with the same lens. Well-thought!
My opinion and purchasing advice...
Assets: the head remains very compact hence stable. It's the solution I picked because I only use it to realize virtual tours with my Nikon D7200 + 10,5 mm DX. I have another head for my Pentax 645Z.
Drawbacks: the change of the number of notches, so convenient to use, is really not among the most convenient.
Piece of advice: if, like me, you're always using it with the same focal AND the brass clips have the number of notches you need, I recommend you this Nodal Ninja 4 full version for its compactness, stability and bulkiness.
Buy the Nodal Ninja 4 Starter
2 - RD-3 positioner + EZ-Leveler leveling base
The original notched base can thus be replaced by an RD-3 positioner built in the EZ-Leveler leveling base. It enables to change notches easily without needing to dismount the base as shown above with the full version.
My opinion and purchasing advice...
Assets: this version of the Nodal Ninja 4 head directly integrates all you need to realize a virtual tour and the price is still reasonable.
Drawbacks: I see two serious drawbacks to this option: it really harms stability according to me and you'll only have three notches setting possibilities.
Piece of advice: this all-in-one solution makes sense from a commercial point of view but stability is a real issue and the number of notches is too limited. I don't recommend it.
Buy the Nodal Ninja 4 + RD-16
3 - The RD-16 positioner
The head Nodal Ninja can be bought alone, in which case you'll have to complete it with this RD-16 positioner to make it almost universal.
You can choose the number of notches you need among 16 possibilities so almost all focal combinations are compatible up to 200 mm.
Notched positioner RD-16 Nodal Ninja and its two clamping screws (a third one is hidden behind).
The notched positioner RD-16 NODAL NINJA has three clamping screws:
1- The "Lock" blocking screw of the positioner - The biggest clamping screw is used to associate the superior, notched part of the positioner to the inferior, marked stage in order to be able to dismount it from the tripod.
2- The screw for choosing the number of notches - The smallest screw is used to choose the number of degrees you want between two notches while keeping an overlap zone of at least 30% between two consecutive photos.
3- The screw for choosing the number of half-notches - A third screw is used to choose half-notches hence 7°/2 = 3.75°.
My opinion and purchasing advice...
Assets: the RD-16 makes almost all notches settings possible and turns your NN 4 into a very versatile head.
Drawbacks: it's not cheap, a bit heavy and bulky.
Piece of advice: This is THE solution you should favor if you're hesitating. You won't be blocked or limited.
Like all panoramic heads, the Nodal Ninja 4 head is used to place the entrance pupil of your lens above the rotary axis of your head and in the tilting axis of the vertical arm to get perfect overlap zones, even in spherical photography. This manual panoramic head is one of the simplest ones to manipulate.
Sg the head at ettinthe entrance pupil
Let's start with an essential point, the fastening of the body on the upper stage. Indeed, depending on whether the screw thread of the camera sole is or not in the axis of the lens, its fastening on the panoramic head won't be the same:
1 - The fastening of the camera is in the axis of the lens (most common case with reflex cameras): you just have to tie the camera directly on the dedicated stage sold with the head Nodal Ninja and it will all end up in the tilting axis. The entrance pupil will then be able to be above the rotary axis BUT also in the tilting axis. (image here).
2 - The fastening is shifted from the lens: it sometimes happens when you mount a booster on a reflex but above all, it is almost always the case with point-and-shoot cameras. You then have to set a second stage perpendicularly (sold separately) to the superior stage in order to slide the body in height and thus align the center of the lens with the tilting axis.
3 - Shift the optical center of your lens towards the center of your head - Once the camera set on the upper stage, itself on the tiltable arm, you just have to center the lens just above the rotary axis of the notched base thanks to the movement of the vertical arm in a first time. To do so, you just have to move this arm a little on the left in this example after unscrewing the clamping screw under it...
4 - Set the body in depth - Once it is done, you need to find the setting in depth, depending on your lens and if it's a zoom lens, you need to find the settingS depending on the most used focals. This can be done with the upper reglet, quite simply!
Once the settings made for your lens and unlike the heads Manfrotto303 especially, there's no need to take notes to mark the settings (at least when you only work with one lens) because the Nodal Ninja 4 head is sold (like models 3 and 5) with two small metallic plates that can be screwed in marked reglets, stopped against the vertical arm AND the stage supporting the camera once they're set. To replace the vertical arm and the camera in the right position, you just have to set them against these little plates again. Unbeatable even in the dark!
The small stage that lets us see part of the clamping screw below comes against the vertical arm for the bottom and against the camera for the top, once it is set at the entrance pupil. It is very convenient!
Turn the vertical arm over to shoot the nadir
In the tutorial dedicated to the creation of virtual tours on this site, I wrote an article about shooting the nadir with a tripod. To do so, you need to rotate the vertical arm from 180° in order to tie the camera above empty space by putting it as far away as possible from the arms of the tripod. On the Nodal Ninja 4 head (as well as on models 3 and 5 even if model 3 is a bit too short), you just have to unscrew completely the screw under the inferior stage (image above on the left) holding the vertical arm to be able to rotate it from 180° (image below on the right). And for that, no need for a screwdriver because the screw is very large and pleasant to touch. It's very convenient. And yet Nodal Ninja can do even better... Here's how.
1 - First solution: turn the arm over
When you're trying to shoot a complete sphere in order to realize a virtual tour and if you want to get the best possible quality, it is better to shoot the nadir leaving the camera on the panoramic head in order to keep the camera close to the entrance pupil relatively to the ground but also, of course, to be able to shoot photos with long exposure times.
Note that it's no illusion that spherical heads are seldom robust enough for the arm not to bend a little under the weight of the camera as you can imagine in the picture on the left.
2 - Second solution: nadir adapter
Nodal Ninja produces a small accessory that comes between the vertical arm and the inferior stage and that enables to turn it over even more easily without dismounting it. You just have to unscrew the small nut above and turn the stage over. It couldn't be easier! And it even has the good consequence to put the camera even farer from the tripod in order not to photograph its arms.
Once the adapter inserted between the inferior reglet and the vertical arm, you just have to unscrew the nut above and turn the arm over on 180°. The movement is "marked" every 90°. Beautiful equipment.
To shoot the nadir without tripod nor panoramic head, you need two things:
turn the arm over and tie the camera above empty space;
put it as far as possible from the rotary center to shoot
as little as possible of the arms of the tripod.
But it's detrimental to the overall stability if you want to use long exposure times which often happens at F11.0 inside! You thus need to find an acceptable compromise BUT beware of vibrations on a Nodal Ninja 4 with the RD positioner + fast turnover of the arm stage + a quite heavy camera. Believe me! You'll have to use the self-timer/mirror raise absolutely...
However, I'm amazed by the stability of the following mounting: Nikon D7200 ( D810, 5D Mark III/IV) camera fisheye lens Nodal Ninja 4 No positioner No turnover stage.
And even my old Canon 1 DS Mark III with a compact and light lens but without shooting the nadir by turning over the vertical arm...
Conclusion and rating!
Nowadays, the Nodal Ninja 4 (and its sisters 3 and 5) are most certainly the best designed spherical heads on the market. They're light, not bulky at all and adaptable. The vertical arm can be turned over easily and it is possible for those who always use it with the same lens to use the base notched by brass clips only hence without the RD positioner, heavier and more expensive.
As a conclusion, I love this head to shoot most conventional virtual tours (eight photos) with my D7100 Nikon and its 10.5 mm Fisheye. I don't use RD positioners because I always use the same number of notches and the 6-notches clip is enough. Consequently, the head is light but compact enough in this configuration hence stable. Very good product really!
Nodal Ninja 4
Setting of the base
Value for money
Very well designed
Stable with light bodies or heavier bodies with a compact and rather light lens
Bulkiness mounted and folded
The vertical arm can be turned over easily
With or without RD positioner
A little bit too light for big bodies
Base not as complete as Manfrotto's except with RD positioner
Very few things really...
8.5 / 10
My opinion: My favorite head for light body/lens pairs (-1,500 grs) to realize a virtual tour or support a heavier body but to make a simple panorama without a bulky lens. Convenient, rather light, well finished and designed. Fancy item!
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