Updated: Sep 15
Review: Part 1 - Shooting Landscape Panorama & Time-lapse With Skymemo S
Level: Enthusiast and Professional Landscape and Time-lapse Photographers
In the previous review on Kenko's Skymemo S star-tracker (you can find it HERE), I mentioned how good it is in doing its job of tracking the night stars to get amazing results. The name, Skymemo S, suggests pretty well that the device is meant to be used for the SKY. As a tracker, it has a rotating wheel on which the camera is of course mounted. Although the star tracker functionality is not a new invention in Astronomy, this star tracker is much lighter than the big and heavy "bulldozers" counterparts that can cost thousands of dollars for doing the exact night job!
Despite the Skymemo S is small enough to be stacked in the common photographer's bag, it has more than an impressive capability to load on its revolving wheel/motor around 5 Kilograms of weight in order to do its job efficiently. And believe me, you would need to really work hard in order to reach a rig that goes past the 5 Kilo mark, as most of the rigs would not reach that point; (rig = camera + lens)
As the night ends, the sun comes up, and the land starts to show up. No, it is not a part of a song... So, yes, every night has its own end. So what now? Should we simply stack the Skymemo S back into the bag and go back home?! Well, the common Astrophotographer would probably tell you "yes"; however, the landscape photographer would disagree. This is the point in time where the latter tells the former that the Skymemo S is also a brilliant DAYTIME photography tool. How come?
Here you go. We, photographers, seem to always be in a chase after the best devices and tools to improve our doing - our photography work. We dare to purchase so much gear just to eventually achieve the best possible results. More often than not, there are tools that seem to be working very nicely on the marketing papers/websites, as opposed to working as they should in real life. Sounds familiar?
Luckinly, the Kenko Skymemo S device is not one of those dodgy tools. Its characteristics of robustness and strength make it a wonderful replacement of a panorama mount. The fact that the Skymemo's motor/wheel is so stable and can revolve so finely makes it a splendid device to shoot and create very large and detailed prints, panoramically. Think about it as a brilliant tool to seamlessly stitch a series of completely straight exposures into an equivalent of one Large-Format file!
Here I call both the "traditional" panorama images (those very long images) AND the Large Format-like stitches, collectively, as "panorama". You can call it however you would like, but you get the idea, right?
So How Does It Actually Serve As a Panorama Mount?
In general, and I am not referring to a smartphone or an amateur work, to create a panoramic image we need to follow some strict rules. Yes, professionally made panoramas need to follow some rules in order to be print-perfect! Otherwise, our resultant image may be at least one of the below defects:
showing the seam lines, or -
basically not entirely presenting the whole area we wanted to show in the first place.
I am more than certain that those problems are known to most of you - the more experienced photographers - if not everyone here. The usual panorama, especially those ones that intend to mimic Large Format image print sizes, suffer from another common problem - the cropping of an important area of the image by the stitching software.
The Skymemo S serves here as, so-called, "The Eliminator" of all of those problems. How do we do this then? Firstly, obviously, one needs to locate the area to shoot. As with any other composition in photography, you need to decide in the first place whether the print is going to be a "traditional" panorama or a Large Format-like artwork.
Once you decided on the composition, position your tripod firmly on the ground. For those who use lightweight tripods, I do warmly suggest to mount your camera bag (or any other equally heavy object) on the tripod's hook in order to establish better stability. Once the tripod is set, mount the Skymemo S on the tripod. Make sure that the device is firmly connected on to the tripod, and verify that the bubble-level of the Skymemo S base is completely levelled up. This part of the set up is the most important, so take your time in doing so. You genuinely want it to be precisely levelled up. The precision here is needed in order to prevent the 4th defect mentioned above.
Mount your camera on the Skymemo S and do not forget to attach a shutter remote to your camera. Start shooting from one end of the area you would like to capture. For landscapes that have a lot of features, I would suggest setting the Skymemo S on "Time Lapse". The many features of the landscape allow the computer-stitching-software to stitch the panoramas better and hence require fewer shots.
However, for those landscapes where there are not so many features in the frame, I suggest going either on the "N" or "S" (North or South, respectively), as this requires more exposures to stitch better. Start shooting using a shutter control every few moments. The motor revolves quite slow in "N" and "S", so take the time between the shots, but be careful not to take too much space between one shot to another. You get the idea, right?
For your convenience, I will demonstrate those steps below.
Now, the method I have just described above I refer to as a "layer". So, a layer means a series of interval shots that create a "traditional" panorama, meaning - an extremely wide-angle image. However, if you intend to create a Large Format-like print size, you will need to shoot more than one layer. Think about the entire image that you would like to create. Then divide it into two or three rows. Each row of the stitched image will be made by a layer. To make this more comprehensible, kindly take a look at the image below to better understand the concept:
What is Important to Know About Taking Photos?
As described, each layer should be created by a few photos. Each photo MUST have a substantial amount of overlapping real-estate. Some photographers would probably suggest allowing at least a 1/3 overlapping area between the shots. I would suggest going to a more extreme practice of 4/5 overlapping area. I suggest this from the point of view that the readers of this article would probably aim to create absolutely seamless and undistorted resultant panoramas, having no compromise resolution or details.
Allow me to go with you through the steps, visually. This is no nuclear science...
Make sure you set up the tripod firmly on the ground and levelled up.
Mount the Kenko Skymemo S firmly on the tripod. Using the spirit level located at the base of the device, make sure that the entire rig is absolutely straight and level. Make the necessary adjustments to the tripod legs where needed.
Rotate the Kenko Skymemo S to 90 degrees, as if the latitude of your place is 90 degrees. That way, the device’s wheel would revolve at the horizontal plane, as opposed to the usual diagonal plane that we use during the nighttime for Astrophotography.
Turn the Kenko Skymemo S on “12X” to start its rotation work. You can choose either “S”, “N”, or “Time-Lapse” on the device in order to dictate the direction of the rotation and its pace.
Connect your shutter remote to the camera and start taking photos while the Skymemo S is moving your camera horizontally. Alternatively, connect the optional connector (cable) between your camera and the Skymemo S.
In case you do not have any remote or connector available, you can opt to use the “interval time shooting” or “time-lapse” functions in your camera’s menu. Take photos every few moments to create aligned and seamless artworks!
What About Time-lapse?
The benefits of using the Skymemo S are not concluded only with Astro-tracking or panorama creations! Video creators who seek to create breathtaking time-lapse clips while the camera is in movement usually pay a substantial amount of money on trusty and sturdy devices. The Skymemo S's ability to load heavier weights of rigs create the third opportunity that is related to the rotation of the device's motor.
The smooth, linear and stable movement of the motor wheel on which you mount your rig promises to create professional time-lapse videos that can compete with any other professional tools currently on the market!
I find a minimal number of drawbacks in using the Skymemo S for either Astro, landscape panorama or time-lapse photography/videography. The (probably) most affecting drawback is the weight of the Skymemo S. I wrote "probably" above as some of you would probably not see it as a drawback. However, I, like many other professionals, also started as a beginner. And, I remember that as a beginner, I needed to take the time to adjust myself physically to carrying stuff on my back. The bag gradually got more and more tools, lenses, and even cameras. That created some substantial weight I needed to carry for some good kilometres of hiking.
Back then, as a beginner, I had felt that anything that I added to the bag created more strain and pain. The Skymemo S is perhaps not that much heavy for most of the experienced (enthusiast and professional) photographers out there, but for beginners, this may pose a bit of a second thought.
These days, I know exactly how important it was to have a padded and reliable photography bag with which I could carry heavy gear without any strain, no matter how heavy it was. As a beginner - I was simply a rookie, but I learned the hard way...
As opposed to the drawbacks of purchasing such a great tool, I can continuously and repeatedly count the three amazing benefits that one gets from it. Astro tracker, landscape panorama/Large Format-like images, and time-lapse photography/videography. As opposed to cheap counterfeit products, this product is sturdy, trusty, and professional.
It's no secret that I am a global ambassador for Kenko; however, as many of you who contacted me along the years know, I speak and write in a direct manner and my reviews (of any product!) are not for sale. If there is any drawback - I do mention it, no matter what! Many of you who contacted me in person and through the website/Facebook know very well that I do recommend also great products from other companies/manufacturers that I have never had ANY affiliation with. I put myself in other people's shoes and simply reckon that being fair is the most important thing, and when putting myself in other's shoes I know that it is good to know a bit more about the products before paying your hard work money.
Having said this, I warmly recommend getting the Skymemo S for either of the above usages. A brilliantly usable device that solves three important functions in both day and night photography. Try it, you won't regret it!
In part 2 of the review, I will teach you how to stitch the panoramas.
I'd be more than happy to assist you in any question you may have, make a contact either here or on my International Facebook Artist Page: www.facebook.com/ArtisteRyan
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