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This tutorial will show you how to make a high quality, durable panoramic tripod bracket. Most people realize the importance of avoiding parallax problems when shooting panorama photos. While there are a number of commercial products available for this purpose, most I wouldn’t trust with my DSLRs. Since I won’t use my equipment on anything that doesn’t look sturdy, that limits me to units that are moderately expensive. Not wanting to spend a lot of money on equipment that I use infrequently, I set about to see if I could create a more cost effective solution. Two years ago when I first made this bracket, I made it using common parts available from most local hardware/home improvement stores for under $17 ($11 if you wanted to use wing nuts).

I have tested the wide angle & telephoto brackets on my tripod with a 20-pound weight and there is literally no deflection of the bracket - this should work with most camera/lens combinations. (For reference, the camera shown in the photos is a Canon SX20 IS).

The design features I particularly wanted were:

a) flexibility - able to use with any of my cameras and lenses
b) strength  - strong without excessive weight; strong enough for a DSLR and 300mm lens
c) multiple tightening knobs - to increase stability and prevent mishaps
d) low cost - keep cost reasonable but not at the expense of stability
e) balanced - minimize stress on the tripod heads
f) quick & easy to setup
g) must be able to use a lens hood

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Tools needed:
- Hacksaw, metal cut-off saw, etc
- Drill and/or drill press, ¼” drill bit, spade bits
- Metal hand file
- Bench vise
 
Materials list:
 
(1) aluminum (or steel) framing square $ 6.47
(2) ¼ x ½  inch 20 TPI machine screws $ 0.89
(2) ¼ x 1 inch carriage bolts and nuts $ 0.08
(1) ¼ x 9/16 inch 20 TPI 3 prong T-nut $ 0.38
(1) 4 x ¾ block of oak trim molding $ 1.98
(5) ¼ bar knobs, 20 TPI  (can substitute wing nuts) $ 7.05   or  $ 0.50
(7) ¼ flat washers $ 0.14
Total
$ 16.99 or $ 10.44
 
I already had paint in my garage, so I did not include it in the costs. The basic tripod bracket will accommodate an entrance pupil distance from 0 to 70 mm (refer to http://wiki.panotools.org/Entrance_Pupil_Database )  This length will cover a large number of lenses.
 
I also wanted an additional camera support bracket to accommodate a longer telephoto lens, so in my case I used an additional framing square. Since the camera support brackets are interchangeable with the rest of the bracket the additional cost was only $ 6.47 more, which put me around $ 24 for my needs – considerably under the cost of the commercial units.
 
I thought about incorporating bubble levels, but decided to just use the existing bubble level on my tripod and a bubble level I already have for my camera hot shoe mount.

Special notes:

- All holes drilled in this project are ¼” (except for T-nut) and all machine screw and bolt threads are 20 TPI.
- All figures can be viewed in higher resolution by selecting the Info icon at the top left of the photo currently being displayed.

Feb 21, 2012 UPDATE: In the original design, I used a steel framing square because I was unsure of the strength of the aluminum and I was not sure that the aluminum would be able to tolerate a 90 degree bend without weakening the bend point too much. Today I decided to make a new camera support for my D7000 and a AF-S Zoom-Nikkor ED 18-200mm lens. Since this is a fairly heavy combination, I thought I'd try making a Panoramic Tripod Bracket with aluminum framing square to see it it could handle this weight . There was a standard version and a heavy-duty" version of framing square in aluminum - I decided to test with the standard version. I had no problems with the aluminum bend and it was easier to work with than the steel. The strength and durability are more than adequate - again, there was literally no deflection of the bracket. The size required for the D7000 & lens combination happens to be the same dimensions as the last telephoto version I made in steel, so I was able to compare of the weights of the metals equally. Here's what I found: The aluminum parts were a little less than half the weight of the steel. The end weights of the 9" Panoramic Tripod Brackets were 20 ounces for the steel version and 12 ounces for the aluminum version. Cost difference: aluminum framing square was 20 cents less than the steel. Bottom line: Use aluminum framing squares rather than steel framing squares because they are lighter and easier to work with.

Feb 25, 2012 Update: Today I added a “universal” “C” bracket modification (Step 7). The design modification allows many camera/lens combinations using just one bracket – from fish-eye lenses to zoom & telephoto lens, from Point & Shoot cameras with zoom lenses to DSLRs. It may not handle all of them, just a lot of them.

Step 2: Cut Framing Square Into Four Sections

Start with a standard 16" x 24" framing square. Cut the framing square into four sections (shown as “A”, “B”, “C” and “D” in figure 2).
 
Section “A” should be 10” long.
 
Sections “B” & “D” are not used.
 
Section “C”. The short, narrow portion should be cut to 4½”. This will be the portion of the bracket where the camera is mounted. The narrow 4½” portion allows the camera to be mounted offset to allow the use of a lens hood. The top portion of this section varies due to the length needed for the camera lens you’ll be using; my basic tripod bracket was 5 and 3/8 inches for my wife’s Canon SX20 IS (28mm lens). I also created a 9 inch one (“C2” in figure 4 of next step) for one of my longer telephoto lenses.
 
Here’s how I determined the length of the wide portion of “C” for a particular lens. I placed the camera (with the lens attached) on a table, then while looking through the viewfinder I took a pencil and started bringing it towards the camera lens. I then marked the point at which I could no longer see the tip of the pencil. The distance from point to the back of the camera is the length of the top (wide section).

Step 3: Creating the Slots, Drilling and Bending

To create the "slots" I used a drill press and ¼” drill bit and carefully drilled consecutive holes in a line to start forming the slot (figure 3). I removed the rest of the material by cutting the metal between the holes using a 1/8“ cut off grinding wheel and then finished up with a hand file. Cut out the slot just large enough to easily slide a ¼ inch bolt the length of the bracket but not so much that the result is too loose.
 
“A” section (bracket base). The slotted portion should be centered and 3” long, starting 1” from left edge. Drill the four remaining holes shown in figure 4. The holes indicated by the two yellow arrows should be 1” from the right edge and ¼” from the bottom & top edges; the two “extra” holes should be drilled leaving about a ¼ “ of material between the holes. These two “extra” holes are for the top and bottom rows of multi-row panorama photos. Finally, make a 90-degree bend 5½” from the right edge. This type of metal is meant to be hard & durable, so expect the bending to take a little time.
 
“C” section (camera support). The top portion of this section varies due to the length needed for the camera lens; the basic tripod bracket was 5 and 3/8 inches for the 28mm lens mentioned before. The slotted portion was centered and 3 and 3/8 inches long, starting 3/8 inch from left edge. The mounting hole for the camera depends upon the camera that will be attached to the bracket. The mounting hole for the camera may also need to be offset, so be sure to take this into consideration. I also created a 9” bracket (“C2”) for my longer telephoto lens (the slot started ¾“ from the edge and was 6¼“ long).

Step 4: Create the Tripod Mount

Cut a 2" x 3" piece of oak molding to create a tripod mount. Counter sink a hole using the appropriate sized spade bit to mount a 9/16” 3-prong T-nut in the center of the block and drill a hole for the T-nut. It is important to counter sink just enough to allow the tip of the T-nut to mount flush with the other side of the block (this is what the tripod will screw into). Mount the T-nut. Counter sink holes on each side of the T-nut hole to allow for ¼” nuts. Turn the block over and counter sink just enough for the head of the carriage bolts. Finally drill ¼” holes for two 1" carriage bolts and assemble as shown in the photo.

Step 5: Final Steps Before Use As Panoramic Tripod Bracket

I recommend painting everything. As you can see in figure 6, I laid out everything for both my telephoto and wide-angle setups.
 
The tripod mount is attached to the tripod in the normal manner using the tripod’s mounting screw.
 
The brackets are then attached to each other using two ¼” flat washers, two ¼” x ½” machine screws and two ¼ bar knobs (figures 7 & 8).
 
The brackets are then attached to the tripod mount using two ¼” flat washers and two ¼ bar knobs (figures 7 & 8).
 
And finally, the camera is attached using a ¼” male bar knob or a female with bolt through the center (figures 9 & 10). Figures 9 & 10 show the camera and bracket are "balanced" and can be used on or off a tripod - you could use on a table or just about any other flat surface.

Step 6: Macro Slider Function

Another function that became apparent after creating the Panoramic Tripod Bracket was that with the interchangeable camera brackets I was able to use the longer 9” bracket (for my telephoto lens) as a macro slider. Using the pieces shown in figure 11, a macro slider can be assembled and mounted on a tripod to allow extending a camera in closer to an object that the tripod would normally allow (figure 12). This is usually easier than moving the tripod closer or farther from an object. Since all the parts are already with me in my sling pack, there is no additional equipment to carry in order to have this extra function.

Step 7: Universal Modification

Two years ago when I originally created this bracket, I used to only use a couple of camera/lens combinations for panoramas photos, therefore the original Panoramic Tripod Bracket was a simpler design where each “C” section was specific to the camera/lens I needed. Now that I’ve been using more lenses for my panorama photos I realized I didn’t want to carry extra “C” bracket parts for each camera/lens combination, so I decided to try designing a “universal” “C” bracket. The following design changes resulted in a design that now allows just that – from fish-eye lenses to zoom & telephoto lens, from Point & Shoot cameras with zoom lenses to DSLRs. It may not handle all of them, just a lot of them – with just a single bracket. This modification still has the extra "Macro Slider" function available.
 
Materials list:
 
(1) aluminum framing square $ 5.96
(2) ¼” x ¼” x 1” carriage bolts and nuts $ 0.08
(4) ¼” x ¾” carriage bolts $ 0.12
(1) ¼” x 9/16” 20-TPI 3-prong T-nut $ 0.38
(1) 4” x ¾” block of oak trim molding $ 1.98
(7) ¼” bar knobs, 20-TPI (or wing nuts) $ 19.74 or $.70
(7) ¼” flat washers $ 0.14
Total
$ 28.40 or $9.36
 
To create the tripod mount, refer to the previous step on how to create the tripod mount.
 
Section “A” should be 9 ½”. The slotted portion should be centered and 3¼”, starting ½” from left edge. Drill the six remaining holes shown. The holes indicated by the two yellow arrows should be 1” from the right edge and ¼” from the bottom & top edges; the “other” holes should be drilled leaving about a ¼ “ of material between the holes. The holes indicated by the yellow arrows are for a single row panorama photo; the rest of the holes are for additional rows of photos in multiple-row panoramas. Finally, make a 90-degree bend 5½” from the right edge. This type of aluminum is meant to be hard & durable, so expect the bend to take a little time. (Note: When painting, put tape on one of the ruler edges so that you can use the marks for recording the positions of various cameras.)
 
Section “B” should be 10½”. The slotted portion should be centered and should start and stop 3/8” from both ends. (Note: When painting, put tape on one of the ruler edges so that you can use the marks for recording the positions of various camera/lens combinations.)
 
Section “C”. This will be the camera mounting bracket. The short, narrow portion should be cut to 5¼” and the wide portion should be 4”. The narrow 5¼” portion allows the camera to be mounted offset to allow the use of a lens hood. The top portion will allow adjustment for different types of lenses. On the narrow 5¼” portion, the slotted portion should start just above the hole already in the metal and extend upward until it reaches the internal corner of the framing square. On the wide portion drill two ¼” holes starting ¼” from the left edge and another set 1½” from the left edge. Combine each of the two holes by removing the metal between the holes you drilled (see photos); I used a 3/16” chainsaw sharpening bit in my Dremel tool. The two elongated holes allow us to use carriage bolts instead of machine screws – these can be tightened easier.
 
“D” excess, not used.
 
If you paint everything except those areas mentioned in sections “A” & “B”, you’ll be able to create yourself an entrance pupil distance chart for the camera/lens combinations you use later. This will save you the trouble of recreating the next time you use that combination “in-the-field”.

Refer to the above photos for assembly and use. The following weights are included for reference.
 
  Weight (oz)
universal panoramic tripod bracket 15
D7000 and a AF-S Zoom-Nikkor ED 18-200mm lens 52
Canon SX20 IS 26

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