Shooting Panoramas with the Nikon Zf: In Praise of Opportunistic Panoramas

I’ve been shooting some on-the-fly panoramas with the Nikon Zf. Here’s how it went and the settings I used.

Nikon Zf panoramas header image
Text & Photos By David Coleman
Last Revised & Updated:
Topics: Nikon, Nikon Zf

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There’s nothing particular about the Nikon Zf that makes it especially suited to shooting panoramas (although there are some things that make it convenient for the purposes; more on that below). But since I’ve been out shooting with it, I thought I’d shoot a few and see how it goes just for a bit of fun.

One thing I’ve liked about shooting with the Nikon Zf, and especially when paired with some of the small primes like the 26mm ƒ/2.8, 28mm ƒ/2.8, and 40mm ƒ/2.8, is that it’s a really convenient camera to just have on you. It’s the type of camera that is ideally suited to opportunistic photography, capturing moments as you run into them.

Nikon Z Small Prime Lenses. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
From left to right: Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8; Nikon Z 28mm ƒ/2.8, Nikon Z 40mm ƒ/2, Nikon Z 50mm ƒ/2.8 Macro.

It’s relative small and light (at least compared to something like the Nikon Z8, although less so when compared with other “street” cameras like the Fujifilm X100V or Ricoh GR III). It has excellent low-light performance. It has in-camera vibration reduction. And it has in-camera lens distortion and vignetting corrections (on by default).

These smaller lenses also have the added benefit of a nodal point (or, more correctly, the “no parallax point”) that is close to the camera and helps with minimizing alignment errors when it comes to stitching the individual tiles together when you haven’t used a tripod head where you can shift the camera back to account for the no-parallax point.

Nikon Zf camera and Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
This is fitted with the 26mm ƒ/2.8, the lens I used for several of the shots below. It’s an exceptionally low-profile and portable lens, ideally suited to street and travel photography. And it’s also a convenient option for shooting on-the-fly panoramas.

Taken together, that combination opens up all sorts of possibilities for opportunistic panoramas.

And that’s what these are. I didn’t set out with the specific intention to shoot panoramas and haul out my tripod and pano head. These were intermixed with traditional single-frame shots. But I often take a more opportunistic approach. If I see a scene that lends itself to a traditional single frame, I’ll shoot it as that. If I come across something that lends itself to a panorama, I’ll shoot it that way.

Shooting this way—especially handheld—isn’t the traditional “right” way to shoot panoramas. But it comes with a couple of other advantages. Even the best travel tripods are a pain to carry around if you’re traveling light. And they tend to attract the wrong kind of attention, particularly security guards telling you to pack it up and move on (which has happened to me more times than I can count).

So I’m a big fan of hand-held opportunistic panoramas. The main disadvantages are that I often end up with higher ISOs than I’d prefer, and you can get some tricky alignment issues that might need some manual tweaking when stitching.

But the upshot is that I can shoot panoramas in places and situations that wouldn’t be possible or convenient with a tripod. And I can have the whole sequence shot and move on in the time it would normally take to set the tripod up.

Customize the Buttons

One of the most important things when shooting panoramas is to have consistency from frame to frame. There are two things I set up on the Nikon Zf to do this.

Back-Button Focus

I change the AF-L/AE-L button on the back of the camera to be for back-button focus. I have separately posted a guide on how to set back-button focus on the Nikon Zf.

The short version is that you can adjust this under:

Custom Settings Menu (pencil icon) > a Focus > a6 AF Activation

and then:

Custom Settings Menu (pencil icon) > f Controls > f2 Custom controls (shooting)

The benefit of this when shooting panoramas specifically is that it means that pressing the shutter button won’t adjust the focus between frames, which is a positive when shooting panoramas.

Exposure Lock

With panoramas, exposure consistency is also very important.

One way to do this is to use entirely manual exposure, and that’s a great option if you’re out on a dedicated panorama shoot.

But in the spirit of the kind of opportunistic panoramas that I’m focusing on here, I tend to use auto exposure more often (and use the exposure compensation liberally).

Since I’ve already reassigned the existing exposure lock button and turned it into a back-button focus button, I have to find another button that’s convenient for vertically framed photos.

I’ve chosen the button on the front of the camera next to the lens. By default, it’s used for White Balance, which isn’t something I typically adjust in camera (largely because I mostly shoot RAW). So I’ve simply reassigned that to be the exposure lock function by going to:

Custom Settings Menu (pencil icon) > f Controls > f2 Custom controls (shooting)

Example Panoramas Taken with the Nikon Zf

Here are a few example panoramas I’ve shot lately with the Nikon Z f. All of these were shot hand-held (i.e., without a tripod). Under normal circumstances, I would be using a tripod, low ISO, long exposure, shutter releases, and so on.

These were all shot with the Nikon Z f in Aperture Priority mode with Auto ISO turned on in combination with back-button focus and exposure lock for all the frames in the sequence. I get the focus and exposure from the part of the frame I decide I will make the best baseline, lock the exposure, and then shoot them frames with the camera held in portrait (vertical) orientation. I’ve left the Zf’s default settings on for lens distortion and vignetting correction.

Nikon Zf Panorama Examples

Here are a few examples of panoramas I’ve shot with the Nikon Zf recently.

Nikon Zf Panorama. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Stitched panorama taken with a Nikon Zf. This was shot hand-held. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Zf Panorama. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Stitched panorama taken with a Nikon Zf. This was shot hand-held. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Zf Panorama. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Stitched panorama taken with a Nikon Zf. This was shot hand-held. I have taken many shots inside the Jefferson Memorial with all sorts of wide-angle lenses, but the effect with a panorama still provides a very different look. This was a double-row panorama. There were some inevitable alignment issues that were particularly noticeable with the floor tiling, but they could be addressed in PTGUI with some manual adjustments to the control points. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Zf Panorama. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Stitched panorama taken with a Nikon Zf. This was shot hand-held. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Zf Panorama. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Stitched panorama taken with a Nikon Zf. This was shot hand-held. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Zf Panorama. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Stitched panorama taken with a Nikon Zf. This was shot hand-held. There’s no reason panoramas have to be horizontal (landscape). Although you can’t tell from the small version embedded here, the original of this is a very high-resolution stitched panorama, with the tiles shot with the camera in landscape orientation. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

Stitching

These are mostly stitched using PTGUI Pro, which I’ve been using for many years. A couple were stitched with Lightroom’s Photo Merge function.

I find that Lightroom’s built-in Photo Merge function works very well much of the time. And it’s convenient and quick to use–everything is right there, the stitched panorama comes out as a DNG file, and it’s stacked with the original images.

For more challenging cases, where I need to tweak the alignment or projection, I use PTGUI Pro, which is more specialized, way more powerful, and also more expensive.

A good middle ground, which I would use more if I didn’t already have PTGUI Pro would be to use Photoshop’s Photo Merge function. It’s very similar to Lightroom’s but has many more options and is more powerful.

I shoot them in RAW. At the time I’m taking these, DXO PureRAW, which has excellent distortion and vignetting correction that go beyond what the in-camera processing does, doesn’t yet work with Nikon Zf files, but that will also be an option moving forward to prep the files before stitching them. That will help even more with any remaining lens distortion, high ISO artifacts, and lens vignetting.

More on Shooting Panoramas

I have more on shooting panoramas here (and am in the process of adding much more very soon).

Profile photo of David Coleman | Have Camera Will Travel | Washington DC-based Professional Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.

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