Panoscan Inc. has been designing and building digital panoramic camera systems since January of 1998. Our first commercial model (Panoscan MK-1) was introduced in January 1999. Our goal, from the day of our founding has been to manufacture the best digital panoramic camera in the world. We invite you to read the comparison below or see our comparison chart.
As with any digital camera the Panoscan MK-3 can only be as good as the image sensor used inside. The Panoscan uses an exceptionally high quality trilinear sensor manufactured by Kodak. Another leading panoramic camera manufacturer uses a CCD that was manufactured by Sony. (ILX-518) Our first camera, the MK-1, used a Sony ILX-520. These Sony sensors were originally designed for inexpensive doccument scanners. The Sony sensors provided reasonable performance for the MK-1 but the main problem with the CCD was poor quality control and the design has a tendency to self heat when operated for long periods of time. These Sony CCD's have pixel dimensions of only 8 microns or less which severely limit the light sensitivity. The Sony sensors tend to be very noisy in low light situations. (Especially when used at slow shutter speeds over long periods of time where they have time to heat up.) Sony discontinued the ILX-518 and the ILX 520 in February of 2002. These Sony CCD's are no longer available.
The Kodak sensor we use in the Panoscan MK-3 has almost double the surface area per pixel than the Sony CCD. The Kodak sensor also has a newly designed color filter that improves sensitivity by nearly 100% over the previous filters. Although these Kodak sensors are very expensive when compared with the Sony CCD's... The result is a sensor that is nearly four times more sensitive than our competitors . Because the Kodak sensors do not have any self heating issues the Panoscan MK-3 can shoot images at ISO 3200 that have less noise then Sony can at ISO 800 or lower.
Another advantage to Kodaks larger pixels is better optical performance. The tiny pixels used in the Sony CCD are actually smaller than the 35mm Nikon optics can resolve. This optical mis-match results in an image with a high pixel count but poor optical detail. The larger pixels in the MK-3 camera combined with the larger lens coverage results in sharper images. (Especially near the top and bottom of the image where sharpness tends to fall off.)
While the Kodak sensors maintain a lead in quality and performance at this time... Our engineers are always evaluating new sensors from every manufacturer. The modular design of the MK-3 camera assures you that you will be able to upgrade the camera in the future as new sensors come on the market.
|COMPARE DYNAMIC RANGE
The Panoscan MK-3 system captures images with greater dynamic range, at a faster capture rate, than any digital panoramic camera in the world. The MK-3 captures up to 11 stops of dynamic range in a single scan pass. Higher dynamic range is achieved through widely spaced bracketing of exposures. These bracketed exposures are quickly captured and combined into an HDR file using common software such as Photoshop, HDR Shop or Photomatix.
The promotional materials from one panoramic camera manufacturer claims to have a camera capable of capturing high dynamic range images with 26 f stops of dynamic range in a single exposure. While it may be true that they have a feature that allows an HDR image to be captured in a single scan pass... it is actually achieved through combining multiple interleaved exposures. The camera shoots a sequence of different exposure lines while it scans a 360 degree image. Each line of the image is captured at two or three exposure brackets and the interleaved lines are combined into a final image. This interleaved exposure method has several drawbacks.
Unfortunately, this method of capturing all three exposures in a single camera rotation is accomplished at the expense of perfect image registration. As you can see in the illustration above the camera captures all three exposures while it continues to rotate. The camera does not stop to take each exposure. This continuous motion causes a temporal and positional shift in the image that cannot be fully corrected. While this shift may be quite small in the high resolution images, due to the extremely slow rotation of the system, at low resolution settings the shift can be very noticeable.
Actual HDR images have been tone mapped for 24 bit presentation.
Ultimately, single pass sequential exposure scanning is a novel approach to HDR capture, but this method cannot compare with the quality of properly registered multi pass scanning. Since the Panoscan MK-3 is up to 8 times faster than the competition our multi pass approach typically takes less time to shoot in the field as well. Faster capture means there is far less motion shift visible in moving subjects such as clouds or trees blowing in the wind. Our ViewFinder software is fully scriptable, the multi-exposure sequence can be fully automated to a single button solution. The extra low light sensitivity of the MK-3 camera allows shadow details to be captured where other systems would just collect noise.
Although some digital cameras use 16 bit analog to digital converters the noise floor of most CCD's is actually closer to 12 to 14 bits of range. Using an A to D converter with 16 bit depth often results in a trade off in speed and accuracy of conversion. Most of our competitors use a single A to D converter to read the levels in all three color channels. This design means that a single converter must sample all three colors in sequence which limits the speed of the scan. The Panoscan MK-3 uses three separate A to D converters... one for each color channel. These converters are the highest quality components available. While our triple pipeline approach is more expensive to implement, it allows our camera to read out the data faster and with more accuracy. The results are noticeably cleaner than a single converter approach. The Panoscan MK-3 has lower image noise and higher dynamic range than any other scanning camera on the market.
Panoscan is faster than competing cameras because we have up to 8 times the processing bandwidth from the CCD to the hard drive. The Panoscan's hardware architecture is designed around a triple pipeline A to D conversion fed into a dedicated digital processing system that pumps the finished data directly to a dedicated hard drive. The host laptop computer is not part of the actual scanning process. The laptop is merely used as a preview display and control platform. The data throughput is not limited by USB bottlenecks or multi tasking operating systems for image capture. The MK-3 can shoot up to 240 lines per second at all resolution settings, including full resolution. The MK-3 can take a 100% resolution spherical image (6,000 by 12,000 pixels) in 54 seconds compared to 8 minutes or more, for other digital panoramic cameras.
In addition to faster shutter speeds and increased bandwidth... Speed also comes from higher sensitivity in low light situations. Other scanning cameras show noticeable noise at the 400 ISO setting and become very noisy at ISO 800. The Panoscan camera uses a CCD with much larger pixels to collect more light. (Almost 100% larger.)
Lager pixels = more sensitivity.
The Kodak sensor used in the Panoscan MK-3 also has a newly designed color filter that further improves sensitivity by nearly 100% over the previous filters. The Panoscan MK-3 can shoot at ISO 1600 with minimal noise. The ISO 1600 setting on the Panoscan MK-3 produces a cleaner image than most other cameras at ISO 400.
This higher sensitivity means you can shoot at higher shutter speeds in low light situations. Even a single F stop more sensitivity = half the scan time in a low light situation. Ultimately the higher sensitivity means you can capture shadow detail on the Panoscan that would be at least 2 full stops into the noise floor of our competitor's system.
With a base resolution of 6000 pixels by 65,535 pixels and our superior optical quality, no other camera on the market can compare in sharpness. Furthermore, the MK-3 offers an enhanced mode with up to 50% added horizontal resolution resulting in image sizes of 9,000 by 65,535 pixels in a single pass. Perfect pixel registration allows scans to be combined into longer pans as needed. Images of 9,000 by 200,000 pixels can be achieved in this way.
Panoscan's larger CCD matches the optical performance of the Mamiya lens system perfectly. Images from the Mamiya 24mm fisheye lens are especially impressive compared with images from other 35mm based cameras..
These are actual scans made with equivalent focal length lenses and set up at exactly the same distance from the target. Both images were carefully focused for maximum sharpness and shot at F8 with an ISO setting of 400. Both Images are represented at 1:1 magnification. Notice that the MK-3 image is 50% larger and contains considerably more detail than a leading competitor.
|COMPARE OPERATIONAL FEATURES
Panoscan is the only scanning panoramic camera on the market with a fully automatic shutter. This shutter allows the camera to perform a new dark calibration before each and every scan. Our shutter also protects the CCD from dust contamination. Other systems require you to manually place the lens cap on the camera and wait 30 seconds or more to run through all of the shutter speeds and build up a dark calibration table... The MK-3's calibration method assures each scan has the lowest possible noise floor despite temperature changes. The MK-3's automatic shutter system eliminates the need for manually capping the lens before each new dark calibration.
Panoscan is the only scanning panoramic camera available with a 48 bit preview screen. Behind each pixel in the preview is the full 48 bit range. Most competitors down sample the preview to 24 bits making it impossible to perform a white balance off the preview image. On the Panoscan system you just point to any neutral object in the preview and click the "auto balance" button. Furthermore the Panoscan allows you to pick up to four spots on the preview to capture an average white balance. Creating a custom white balance on the Panoscan takes only a few seconds compared with the time consuming procedures on other systems.
In addition to the color balancing advantage of a 48 bit preview the Panoscan allows you to see a realtime simulation of exposure changes to the preview. If you change a shutter speed or ISO setting on the Panoscan you see the result instantly without a second preview scan. This saves a lot of valuable time! With our competitors systems you have to make a new preview scan each time you want to see the result of an exposure adjustment. Our exclusive 48 bit preview also allows the operator to create sophisticated tonal range curves to compress the dynamic range in the preview monitor. This tool is invaluable for viewing high contrast scenes on the preview monitor. Tonal range curves can be stored with the images and recalled at any time. This sophisticated preview technology is not available on any other panoramic camera system.
These exclusive features and many more... all contribute to the extraordinary ease of operation in the field. No other system on the market can compare with the efficiency and speed of the Panoscan MK-3 system.
|COMPARE COLOR ACCURACY
The Panoscan MK-3 is designed with several unique features to ensure the best color accuracy possible in every lighting situation. Color accuracy starts with the superior spectral response of the new Kodak CCD used in the Panoscan MK-3. Since all CCD image sensors are sensitive to infra-red and ultra-violet light, special filters must be used to block these wavelengths from contaminating the visible image. Most camera manufacturers use a single fixed filter to block out the offending infra-red light from contaminating the image. The problem with this approach is that different light sources contain different amounts of infra-red energy. While daylight and florescent lamps have relatively low IR emissions Tungsten light sources contain very high levels of IR energy. A single filter that is adequate for daylight will probably not perform well for Tungsten lights. Typically, the filters designed for Tungsten lights also lower the sensitivity by about 1 full stop. One leading competitor uses a dichroic "hot mirror" to limit the IR energy. Unfortunately these dichroic filters vary in efficiency with respect to the angle of light passing through the filter. As a result they are less effective in the top and bottom of the image.
Because the Panoscan MK-3 is a modular system our IR filters can be changed to suit the specific shooting conditions. The MK-3 nose plate can be removed to allow easy replacement of the IR blocking filter. This means you can use a more aggressive filter for shooting under tungsten lights. Our competitors all use a fixed IR blocking filters. These filters have been shown to "leak" IR under many lighting situations. Many synthetic materials used in automotive interiors, such as nylon fabric seats, can often reflect IR energy causing the image to appear with a pink hue when shot with dichroic filters.
Note: The actual color of the car interior is gray... Not pink.
With the Panoscan system you have a choice of highly effective IR blocking filters for different situations. You may also remove the filter entirely for shooting in the near IR and UV ranges as well.
The Panoscan MK-3 is machined from solid blocks of aluminum. It can survive the toughest treatment and survive to capture the story. From sub zero temperatures to over 140 degrees F, Panoscan cameras have proven to operate without failure. Our ruggedized processor module is designed to accept shocks over 80 g's. Panoscan owners have reported dropping their cameras onto stone floors and continued shooting their assignments without incident.
While most of our competitors use tiny servo motors to rotate their cameras Panoscan uses a custom designed drive system capable of withstanding over 80 foot pounds of torque. A leading competitor uses a micro gearbox to drive a steel wheel in direct contact with the circular aluminum camera housing. This "friction" drive system is prone to slipping in all but the optimum conditions. This friction drive system is so fragile it cannot rotate the camera unless the system is perfectly level. Even a moderate gust of wind can cause these cameras to swing backward during a scan and ruin the image. Even worse this drive system can be easily contaminated with a dust particle that will cause the drive to "bump" during the scan and ruin the image.
The Panoscan drive system is capable of producing over 5 foot pounds of continuous torque. Our drive system operates the camera in any position. (Even sideways or upside down without modification.) The powerful drive system in combination with the massive weight of the camera allows the MK-3 to resist wind loads up to 100 mph. The fact that no Panoscan customer has ever reported a mechanical drive failure is a testament to the durability of our system.
Panoscan cameras are manufactured to the highest possible quality standards. All of the mechanical components are machined in a ISO 9001:2000 certified facility to aerospace tolerances. All mechanical components are hand inspected by at least three independent quality control specialists prior to anodizing.
All electronic components are rigorously tested and burned in for at least 24 hours prior to assembly. Each CCD is meticulously hand inspected under microscope for defects and undergoes extensive testing and certification prior to final assembly. All CCD's that do not pass this quality control inspection are sent back to Kodak for analysis.
Although Panoscan's drive is manufactured to our own specifications the same gearing is used aboard various spacecraft. The Panoscan drive system is designed to give years of dependable service under a wide temperature range.
Final assembly and testing is done at Panoscan's laboratory in Calabasas CA. Each CCD is individually aligned on an optical bench to the specific lens that a customer orders with the system. This alignment procedure assures optimum performance for each camera and allows accurate photogrammetry as well. By testing each camera in our own lab facility Panoscan can ensure the highest possible quality and performance.
Panoscan MK-3 camera systems are guaranteed for two full years. Panoscan includes free lifetime telephone support for each camera sale. We also provide lifetime cleaning and inspection free of charge.
Nearly all customers have a question from time to time. It's nice to know that when you call Panoscan you have access to the actual engineers who designed the system instead of a nameless tech support agent someplace in India. We treat each customer with the care and attention they deserve.
In the unlikely event that a Panoscan camera does ever need service, you can rest assured that our repair turn around is as fast and efficient as possible. Most repairs take only a day or two.
The Panoscan system is open. The Panoscan system works on any Windows or Macintosh computer system and produces industry standard TIFF files that can be opened and used by most image editing software. This open file format allows you to pick the software that best suits your application. For producing QuickTime VR movies you may prefer VR Worx or Cubic Converter. For High dynamic range imaging you may prefer HDR Shop, Photomatix or Photoshop CS2. For crime scene documentation you may prefer Crime-Scene VR. You may prefer to work on a Macintosh or you may prefer Windows XP... With Panoscan you are free to use the computer and software that suits your needs best.
Our PanoMetric software allows quick and easy measurements of panoramic scenes. PanoMetric is the only fully panoramic measuring system that lets you save your project for later editing and exports directly to DXF format for use in almost any CAD program including AutoCad. With PanoMetric entire locations can be measured and modeled in 3D if desired.
The Panoscan system is fully modular. The Panoscan camera, lens mount, filters, processor and CCD board are all modular. CCD and signal processing technology are improving all the time. Panoscan owners can make inexpensive incremental upgrades as they become available. One clear example of this upgrade opportunity came when our MK-3 camera was introduced. All existing MK-2 owners were given a chance to upgrade for less than 8% of the cost of a new camera. Nearly every Panoscan MK-2 customer upgraded to the MK-3 without hesitation. Your investment is protected by the fact that the Panoscan system can be kept up to date with the latest technology.