Guide to panoramic photography
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Updated on October 18, 2019

How many photos to make a virtual tour?

You can take a picture of a complete sphere in just one photo with the new 360° cameras like the Ricoh Theta SC (which uses two lenses placed at 180°), in two pictures to go very fast with the fisheyes 220° but also in thousands of photos to make a gigapixel very detailed. But I really like the compromise of 8 photos because it goes pretty quickly to take a picture then to Stitch and the virtual tour offers a very good quality on all media ...

Lens Pentax 7-10 mm FisheyeUnlike a simple panorama, when you want to make a virtual tour, you often want to embrace 360° at least but the best thing ever remains the full virtual tour, on 180x360°, from the floor to the ceiling.
The question of the number of photos, thus of the focal to use, is thus asked:

  • Should you use your basic lens and for how many photos?
  • Should you use a very short lens or a fisheye?
  • Circular or full-frame fisheye?
  • Do you need an optically good lens?
  • Do they all stitch well?
  • Do you want to shoot few photos to go as fast as possible or many photos to be able to zoom in the image comfortably?
  • How many photos for a gigapixel project?


Key points if you're a beginner...

Here are the key points to remember about the choice of the focal and the lens to make a virtual tour. The rest of this page is aimed at people who want to learn more about it.

THE big question: how many photos do I need to make a virtual tour?

Since it's about shooting a complete sphere of 180x360°, you know intuitively that it depends on the focal used:
With a circular fisheye lens, you need 2/3 photos,
With a full format fisheye lens, you need 8 photos (ideal according to me)
With for instance a 24 mm, you need 22 photos etc. etc...

So the more photos you want, the more time you'll need to shoot the virtual tour but the bigger it'll be and the more you'll be able to zoom in.
Nowadays, I think a good compromise with sensors around 20 Megapixels is 8 photos with a 10mm fisheye if you have an APS-C (Canon 760D or Nikon D5300 or D7200) and 15 or 16 mm Fisheye if you have a full format sensor (Canon 5D Mark IIV or Nikon D610/D750/D850).

My advice! If you're tempted by a 14 mm, this focal (for 24x36 sensor) is often expensive, doesn't stitch as fast and as well as a fisheye and you'll need more photos without gaining quality. I don't recommend it, except if you only have it at hand!

Next key points: What photo lens to choose? suivre



How many photos to cover a sphere?

You can probably guess right away that the shorter the focal, the lower the number of photos you'll have to take to shoot a complete sphere. So if instinctively you'd think of the most common short focal, 28 mm (in 24x36 so its 17mm equivalent in APS-C), you'll still have to shoot more than 30 photos to cover this sphere completely. Quite an amount of work!


The tree best fisheye of the market : Nikkor 8-15 mm Fisheye, Canon 8-15 mm and Pentax 10-17 mm Fisheye.


You need to remember that it has an advantage that we'll detail later about the possibility to zoom in the image but we'll only talk about the number of photos to shoot to cover a complete sphere here, sticking to the facts.
Besides, we know that for two consecutive photos to stitch easily and automatically, they must present an overlap surface of at least 15/20% - 30% being ideal -. With those two facts in mind, you can now calculate the number of photos you'll need in order to cover a complete sphere. It goes from two photos shot with a circular fisheye to hundreds shot with a teleobjective lens...

Choice of the number of images

A very simple formula can give you quite an accurate idea of the number of photos you'll have to shoot depending on the final panorama you're expecting with a manual panoramic head, keeping in mind that it is not important that all overlaps have the same percentage :


How many photos?

N = F / ( 70 / 100 × HFOV *)

N = number of images to shoot;
F = field of view of the panorama;
(70/100 = only 70% of the photo is effective since 30% are used as overlap zone).
* HFOV = field of view of the lens. This field of view is the real field of view of the lens. So either on the smaller side if the camera is in a vertical position (also called portrait mode), either in the width if the camera is placed horizontally (also called landscape mode).

Caution: catalogues almost always indicate the field of view of the lens in its diagonal. A rule of three enables to find the angle you're looking for very easily.

HFOV = MFOV × W or H / SD
HFOV = effective field of view of the lens;
MFOV = field of view given by the manufacturer for a lens;
W or H = width or height of the sensor format;
SD = diagonal of the sensor format.

Example of the case of a 15 mm fisheye lens in format 24x36 - manufacturer data SD = 180 ° - and the camera is set vertically:
HFOV = 180 °× 36 / 43.27 | HFOV = 150 ° in height | HFOV = 100 ° in width.

In our example, this formula, if you want to get a 360 ° panorama with a 15 mm fisheye lens in portrait position, tells us that we should take:
N = 360 ° / ( (70 / 100) × 100 ° ) so:
N = 5.14 images so 6 photos with a large overlap.
And you see that you only need one photo towards the ceiling and the floor to close the sphere so 8 photos altogether.


Table of several focals/number of photos

Equivalent 24 x 36 (Divide the focal by 1.5 or 1.6 to get the equivalent APS-C).

  Field of view/
Photos/Ranges/Tilt Nb
of photos
8 mm FE - Circ.
2 or 3 (1)
15/16 mm FE/FF
6 + Z + N (2)
14 mm (3)
2 x 8 + Z + N
12 to 18
17 mm
2 x 8 + Z + N
24 mm
2 x 10 + Z + N
35 mm
4 x 15 + Z + N
50 mm
6 x 18 + Z + N

(1) - With a circular fisheye lens, you can as well shoot two photos only, but they're barely stitchable. It is better to shoot three.
(2) Z + N = Zenith and Nadir
(3) even with a 14mm, you need two ranges of photos!

Number of photos / sensor size / panorama size

As I also explain in the third part of the photo equipment to make a virtual tour page, the number of photos combined with the sensor size determines the final size in pixels of the panorama that will be used to create the virtual and thus its quality and the zoom-in possibilities.

What file size for what display?

1 - When the panorama that will become a virtual tour is 360° x 180°. It is then an image file (JPEG, TIFF or other) of, say 4,000 x 2,000 pixels. The height/width ratio is 2/1. The width of 4,000 pixels of our example enable to display four cube sides, hence our 360°.
2 – If you take into account that your screen enables to display one side of your panorama, hence about 90° of the 360°, and you remember that the standard for a screen nowadays is an average width of 1,920 pixels, then a panorama in the form of a virtual tour must be at least 2,000 pixels per side x 4 hence about 8,000 pixels long when the virtual tour is displayed with the zoom-out at its maximum. With this size, you'll agree that it will be impossible to zoom in the image but its display will look good. If once Stitchd, the side of our panorama is still over 8,000 pixels then you can admit that we'll be able to start zooming in the virtual tours without seeing horrendous pixels everywhere like there often are in so-called world records!

Therefore, your photo must be at least 8000 pixels long if it is to display it on a desktop computer screen. A Ricoh Theta SC or Insta360 One X take an image of 5700 pixels aside so it is clearly insufficient. On the other hand it will be enough if you visualize your visit only on a tablet or a smartphone. This is why some seem to be satisfied! It will be limited with a circular fisheye lens (a Sigma 4.5mm style on a 24x36) on a 20 Mpixels but it will pass. With all the solutions that I recommend on this site from 5 photos on a 24 Mpixels you will even have a margin to zoom in your virtual visit. Some examples in pictures ...


For what quality of display?

(100% crop on a 24-in full HD monitor of a virtual tour with Ricoh Theta SC)

(100% crop on a 24-in full HD monitor of a virtual tour with a Canon 70D)

Mass has been said ! That you do not tell me more with a Ricoh Theta SC this is enough on a full HD monitor of 24 inch I do not even tell you about a 27 inch 4K! But it is true that a real estate agent who would show his goods on tablets or in a small size on a computer (window of only 800 x 600 pixels for example) it could make the joke as they say!




Full format fisheye, circular or "classic" 14 mm lens?

For who wants to start creating virtual tours, the choice of the focal used is thus strategic. If the focal's too short, the virtual tour will be shot quickly - 2 or 3 photos are enough - but the size of the panorama will be a bit small and if the focal's too long, you'll have to shoot many photos and you'll be able to zoom in a little bit more. Full format fisheye is thus an excellent compromise.
There are two "types" of fisheye lenses, full format and circular fisheyes: Below left we have a full-size fisheye image: so the 180 ° angle of view is contained on the diagonal of the sensor (You can get this result with an 8mm fisheye on an APS-C box or fisheye 15 mm on a 24 x36). The image would have rigorously the same in embraced angle of field. On the right we have a circular fisheye image this time whose circle is also 180 ° (the useful part of the photo is very small) taken either with a 4.5 mm on APS-C format or with an 8 mm on a 24x36.


Photos fisheye fullframe et circulaire


In both cases, the photo looks very distorted but in the second base, the effective part of the photo is very much reduced. Only half the pixels can be used. It doesn't make big virtual tours. That does not allow to obtain great virtual visits so their possibilities of zoom will be reduced ...

Caution! If you choose to shoot two circular photos, you'll indeed have your 180x360° in two photos only but even shot with a 20 Mo sensor, your virtual tour won't be so big because of the important reframing - the major part of the photo is black and useless!

With a full-size fisheye we would need "only" 5 or 8 photos to cover the 360 °. With an 11mm on an APS-C, it would take a single row of 6 photos at 0 ° then possibly a photo towards the zenith and one towards the nadir. With a very wide angle like the 14 mm, the significant loss of field of view - visible below - would require us to work in two rows of 8 photos plus the zenith and the nadir is 18 photos this time! Like what a small difference in focus translates into a big difference in implementation!


Difference between a full-format fisheye lens and a 14 mm lens


Especially in height, the - yet - very large 14 mm doesn't embrace a field of view wide enough to only need to shoot six photos vertically. You'll need at least two ranges of eight photos with a lot of overlap, which is useless. 14 mm is far from being the ideal compromise...

My recommendation!

If you want to go fast, take a circular fisheye in three photos in order to have a bit of overlap and if you want the best compromise between number of photos, shooting time and final quality, use a full frame Fisheye, hence a 10.5 mm Fisheye on an APS-C sensor or a 15 or 16 mm Fisheye (depending on the brand) on a 24x36 sensor.

Last recommendation! To go fast (in two or three photos) it is better to have at least 20 Mo of pixels and if you want to make a nice virtual tour very quickly, the ideal compromise is still, according to me, 6+2 photos with a full format Fisheye.

Why 25% overlap at least?




Of course, the software needs enough raw material to be able to recognize the common parts of two consecutive shots to be Stitchd in order to stitch together checkpoints or recognition points. But there is also a second reason that you wouldn't necessarily think of: harmonization of luminosities or color balance between two photos. Indeed, the success of the stitching will also depend on its level of discretion hence, among other parameters, on the absence of zones between two consecutive photos in the final stitching. There can be many causes since to simple differences of exposure or white balance can be added vignetting, often a problem even when the diaphragm is shut tight. And to do so, it needs at least 25% overlap. Nowadays, I would even tend to recommend 30 to 35%. The bigger the overlap zone and the more invisible the stitching.

Caution! Don't forget to set the rotator on the right number of notches you need!

In the next page, we'll talk about criteria to choose your lens to realize a virtual tour. Suivre

Next page 2/14 : criteria to choose your lens to realize a VT suivre

To be remembered...

You'll have to choose between:

1 - Take as few photos as possible to go fast during the shooting, but it will be detrimental to the quality of the virtual tour. In certain situations, the photographer doesn't have a choice.
2 - Shoot 8 photos with a full sensor fisheye, which remains the best compromise according to me,
3 - Multiply the ranges and thus shoot more photos to offer users a great zoom-in quality.

Fisheye lenses, curiously, stitch much more easily than very short focals like 14 mm. They're also less expensive and require less photos for an equivalent final quality. I really prefer my 10.5 mm fisheye or my 8-15 mm fisheye to my old 14 mm for this kind of work.

The ideal is to have an overlap rate of at least 25% between two consecutive photos in order to make harmonization of lights and colors easier. To stitch details together only, 10% could indeed be enough.



Pratical Guide N°1 :
The Nodal Point

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My practical guides in e-books - N° 1!

"Find the nodal point or no parallax point accurately in less than an hour"... whether you are photographing a simple panorama or a 360° photo - PDF of 100 pages - More information... Suivre

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