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gigapan epic pro on survey tripodA survey tripod for the GigaPan Epic Pro

Using a survey tripod and tribrach to mount a GigaPan (or any specialist pano head)

As part of our high resolution architectural imaging, we use a GigaPan motorised camera mount. This benefits from a sturdy level tripod much more than our usual single image photography.

Keith has been looking at making use of some of our other gear, in particular a Topcon survey tripod.


The requirements for a general purpose photographic tripod are much more flexible than for survey work, where solid and level are really all that matters.

A while ago I looked at the Induro PHQ 3 tripod head, and after using it on the review went out and got one. It's multiple axes of movement and solid build make it ideal for much of my industrial and architectural work.

However, when it comes to using our GigaPan Epic Pro, a simple levelling adapter on an old video tripod has sufficed.

Manfrotto levelling adapter

Note the two bubble levels, one on the tripod and one on the adapter. The one on the adapter is more accurate, but difficult to see, once the GigaPan is mounted.

Standard survey tripods are inexpensive, but very sturdy - usually you'll find a good range on eBay.

The one below is by Topcon, but the mount is the same for any produced in the last 25 years.

Note that huge hole in the top plate...

standard survey tripod

Note too those very sharp spikes at the feet - if you're going to be using one of these indoors, then look for some rubber tips, or get a tripod spider/spreader for the spikes to rest on (also stops the legs splaying, though such tripods are usually quite stiff).

The fitting is a standard 5/8 inch thread (cameras are 1/4" and photographic tripod kit either 1/4" or 3/8") so an adapter is needed.

top plate of survey tripod

However, rather than just a simple screw adapter, I'm using what's called a Tribrach (also lots on eBay)

  • BTW - If you're looking for a used tribrach, you don't need one with what's called an 'optical plummet' - this is an integral angled telescope that points down the hole in the middle for aligning the tribrach over a survey point.

tribrach with locking lever

This is an adapter to a fitting common in survey gear (of which more later)

Note the bubble level (also known as a vial).

There is a locking lever on the front to attach a three pronged base, such as the adapter below (upside down to show spigots)

tribrach to 5/8 inch adapter

Fitting the tribrach to the tripod allows me to get it very level.

tribrach fitted to survey tripod

The quality of bubble level here is much better than the one on top of the GigaPan

levelling bubble on tribrach

The adapter fits in place and locks solidly - the 5/8" screw extends upwards.

tribrach with mount adapter

A simple 5/8" to 3/8" adapter then attaches the GigaPan head to the adapter.

gigapan epic pro and mount adapters

Note how my camera is actually a few mm above the horizontal rotation axis - there is an oversize adapter available for big cameras like this, but I don't tend to do shots with close foreground, so parallax issues are minimal.

Gigapan, with canon 1Ds DSLR mounted on survey tripod and tribrach

Normally I'd leave the adapters attached to the GigaPan, so it can be just dropped onto the tribrach and locked.

Other uses

Here's the original reason for having such a tripod around.

Pentax R-322N mounted on Topcon tripod

It's a Pentax R322 total station (a combination of electronic theodolite and distance measuring device [EDM[)

You can see how it just fits into the tribrach, just the same as the GigaPan now does.

Indeed, if I've got it with me (remember that I used to be a geologist), I can use its own electronic vials (levels) to level the tribrach to a much finer degree.

electronic leveling of Pentax total stations

A very nifty device - current ones incorporate a lot more automation and software, but can cost as much as digital medium format camera backs.

front view of total station

So, I do still have some Pentax gear ;-)


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For a hefty device like the GigaPan Epic pro, a basic survey tripod, used with a surveying tribrach for levelling makes for a near ideal solution.

If you don't want the expanse of the GigaPan, then you could use a manual panoramic head such as this Manfrotto one I've used in the past.

Manfrotto panoramic camera mount

Of course, I still shoot some of my landscape panoramic images hand held (like much of my landscape work), but where I need precision, accuracy and detail, being able to use my survey tripod is most useful.

Questions/comments? See below

Article published 2013

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