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303SPH

Model:

Manfrotto 303SPH

VR Head Type:

Multi-Row Spherical Panoramic Tripod Mount

Weight:

4.41lb (2 kg)

Dimensions:

32 cm

Load Capacity:

4 kg

Color:

Black

Material:

Aluminum

Large Bodied DSLRs / Medium Format Compatibility:

Yes

Leveling:

None

Numerical Demarcations:

On rotational, vertical & rails.

Bottom Thread Attachment

3/8" female thread

Rotator head adjustments:

Proprietary Rotational Head (300N)

Vertical Arm Rotation:

360

Panoramic Rotation:

360

Camera Quick Release:

No

Upper arm detent stop:

No

Landscape Mode:

Yes

Tools Required For Assembly:

Yes

Warranty:

Statutory warranty

+ Free 3 years limited warranty extension.

Tools Supplied:

None

Spare Parts Supplied:

Yes (screws, rails)

Case Supplied:

No

Accessories Available:

Yes

Upgrade:

No

Customer Support:

Yes

Manual:

Yes

Price:

(US) +$500.00

Web site:

http://www.manfrotto.com

 



 

 

Components of the 303SPH. 

 

No worries, it comes pre-assembled.


 

 

Lower assembly.

 

300N Panoramic head with plate mounting bracket.

 

The rail demarcations are from

0 - 190mm.

Vertical arm. As you can see it folds for storage.


 

Upper rotator. 

Upper arm components.

 

Short rail demarcations are from

0 - 120mm


 

Extra set of rails and screws.


 

 

Observations

 

Mounting brackets and rails have dual safety features.

 

#1 - Use to tighten rails into place.

#2 - If the rails are not tightened and if they accidentally slide, there is a back-up to catch the rails before they completely slide out.

#3 - Press this to completely release the rail from the bracket.

Lower bracket has center point conveniently marked out to aid in nodal calibration.


 

Vertical arm and lower rail.

 

The rails have guides (1) that allow components to easily line up.  The vertical arm has a groove (2)

Upper rotator detail

 

Clear degree demarcations.

0 - 180 both sides.


 

Upper rotator detail

 

The upper rotator rotates very smooth.  This is due to a banded bearing (1) and cardboard type washer (2) between the vertical arm and rotator assembly.


 

Upper rail detail

 

The rails have guides (1) that allow components to easily line up.  The upper bracket has grooves underneath that matches the rails' tracks. (2)  No need to square components together.

Plate detail

 

The hole where you insert the screws are threaded.  Prevents screws from accidentally falling out.


 

Bracket detail

 

The mounting brackets have marked out points to aid in nodal calibration and remembering set-up points for various cameras.

Mounting the camera

 

When mounting the camera to the rail (1), it may be wise to leave space for the battery door (2)  to open. 


 

Leveling the camera

 

Make sure the VR head (1) is properly leveled.  Have a leveling device, like the Manfrotto 337 double-bubble level (2), mounted on the hot shoe.  Loosen the screw (3) securing the camera, and adjust as required.  Slide the camera rail back down and adjust for the entrance pupil.

 


 

 

   

   

Nadir shot?

 

Unfortunately the 303SPH is not designed for a clear shot of the nadir. 

 

The screw(1) that is securing the camera rail is not designed for quick adjustments.  Even if you were to replace the screw with a winged-screw or "thumb-screw" it still wouldn't work as it will not fit with the bracket.

 

Also you have to move the upper rail by the upper bracket assembly.  Even then it's not enough in my personal opinion.   You would have to adjust both rails on the upper arm to its maximum expansion to have enough image to work with in Photoshop. Too much adjustments are required just to shoot the nadir.   Then, not to forget, you would lose the nodal calibration. 

 

The lower image shows what is required for a nadir shot that will give you enough image to work with. 

 

Notice the angle of the tripod and VR head.  This is better illustrated with the NN3 review.

 

The tripod legs are spread wider than normal and tipped forward.  Again, you wouldn't do this if you were shooting multiple locations.  As you will have to spend time readjusting back to the entrance pupil. 

 


 

NOTE on images below:  The lens is not set at the correct entrance pupil.  The images are to simply illustrate the length achievable on the upper arm of the 303SPH.

 

With zoom lens.  70-300mm at maximum.

 

Landscape position.

High resolution panoramic shooting

 

As shown above, the 303SPH can definitely shoot high resolution panoramic images.  The longer rails that comes with the VR head is probably suitable for most telephoto or zoom lenses.  Of course excluding the big-guns like the super-telephotos. 


 

Full 360x180 Spherical Panorama Shoot Test

   

6 pan, 1 zenith, 2 nadirs (merged in Photoshop)

 

First initial stitch.

For demonstration purposes two sets of panoramas were shot. 

 

The second set with the camera angled approximately 12 pointing down. 

 

Technique by:

 Eric Rougier / FROMPARIS.COM

 

This is to demonstrate the difference between the two nadirs after conversion to a cubical image.  See below.

   

 

 

Which would you pick to work with? 

#1 - Shot at  0.  #2 - Shot at 12

 

Personally I would rather have a shot of the nadir.  Less work in having to remove shadows and you'll retain the location's authenticity.

 

Read up on other patching techniques here.

 

 


Either panorama is fine to work with.  Since this VR head is unable to shoot an image of the nadir without the tripod in view then you must rely on your Photoshop skills.

 

QTVR

 


 

Conclusion

 

As you can see Manfrotto pays a lot of attention to detail and equipment safety.  If you've been around Photography most likely you've heard of them.  They're a huge manufacturer of professional photographic and video equipment.  Despite their engineering talent and long history I'm not 100% satisfied with the 303SPH. 

 

First the good stuff. 

 

The precision of the 303SPH is incredible.  Every detail they put into making sure the equipment is both safe and precise is by far top notch.  The guide on the rails lining up with the brackets and vertical arm are excellent.  The 300N panoramic head's ease of use and flexibility is unmatched.  Personally I prefer the ease of use of the 300N over detent plates/rings/disc.  You can use the 300N for object panoramas.  The dual safety-catch on the brackets with quick release, to protect your valuable camera, are ingeniously designed.  The upper rotator assembly is well thought of with the ball-bearing washer.  Super smooth rotations.  Ease of rail adjustments.  Rails' corners have been shaved to an angle and edges rounded off to avoid personal injury.  Strong material used that can accommodate the heaviest of camera bodies.  Long rails that can accommodate long zooms and mid-size telephoto lenses.  When I first stitched my first panorama it was parallax free.  It was simple to adjust for the entrance pupil on the 303SPH.  I simply used a carpenter's square and Manfrotto's 337 double-bubble to initially adjust the nodal point.  Then I pointed the camera down, as if I'm shooting the nadir, and adjusted the camera's center focusing point on the pivotal screw of the VR head.  Simple and effective entrance pupil adjustment.  I find this technique easier than "looking at two objects at a distance" technique.  The list goes on and on with its great qualities. 

 

But...

 

Disappointment...  I personally prefer to be able to shoot the nadir without the tripod in view.  That is after all a true FULL 360x180 SPHERICAL PANORAMA shot.  Anything less is not a true full 360.   A nadir that is covered by a "mirror-ball" cap is not my cup-of-tea.  That's just my personal preference.  Just like I love my coffee black.  I personally prefer to keep a location's true details.  Even the ground.  Have you ever shot a 360 of a location where there is important detail on the ground that makes a location significant or unique to any other place?  Keeping as much detail of a location is my ultimate goal when I shoot a 360 panorama.

 

Weight, size and cost should all be considered when purchasing this VR head.  It's heavier than most.  It's huge, bulky and awkward to pack. It's not something that you would take as a hand carry on a flight or go backpacking with. 

 

Cost?  It's approximately $600 US.  For it's build quality it's probably worth it.  But I would personally feel cheated after spending that kind of money knowing I can't get a clear shot of the ground (with all that engineering) unless I modify it to Eric Rougier's 304 but that's now doubling your cost.   Talking about cost how much more is it to add a bubble level?  Did the engineers forget this detail?  Or is this a way to lure you to buying the 338 leveling plate or 337 double-bubble?  Not a real big deal but would've been nice to have a built in level at this price.

 

No case supplied.  For some reason I wasn't surprise.  Something this big no manufacturer is going to supply you with one.  It's extra cost on their end. 

 

If you're planning on purchasing one of these and want it right away, depending where you are, it may be wise to order early if the store does not have it in stock.  It took four months for mine to arrive. 

 

Customer service?  I can't comment on that.  I haven't had to deal with Manfrotto.  But I'm sure they have good customer service.  They've been around for quite awhile.  I think since the 60s. 

 

I would give the 303SPH a score of 8 out of 10.  It's a precise piece of equipment with lots of obvious engineering.  If this had the capability to shoot the nadir without the tripod in view then I would probably have given this a higher score.  Weight, size and cost is another issue.  This is a definite workout if you're planning on walking around a city shooting panos all day long.

 

 

Above Average

 


 

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