GigaPen Epic 100 hands-on
- Super unique product
- Fantastic results (when it works out)
- Automation is smooth
- Big and bulky
- Eats batteries for lunch
Overview and setup
For those who aren't totally familiar with what the GigaPan Epic is, here's the long and short of it: is a robot that you strap your camera into, and once you select the top left and bottom right corners of a panoramic image that you'd like to compose, you simply mash 'Go,' step away and let the thing work its magic. From there, it fires off as many shots as it needs in order to capture the selected landscape, and once you're home, it's up to you to find the first and last of the series and plop the set down in the company's multi-platform (Mac and Windows) software. The Stitcher application -- which, by the way, is free to download -- blends the images together to create a somewhat seamless panoramic image, and from there, you can save it for editing in Photoshop and / or upload it to GigaPan's website for panning and zooming galore.
All that sounds easy enough, right? Well, not really. GigaPan provides a series of videos (yes, a series) that explains what all is needed to even begin creating your first panorama. Needless to say, this unit is definitely not one to buy if you're hoping for something that's just plug-and-play. After absorbing ourselves in instructional videos for a solid half hour, we then spent a good 10 to 15 minutes precisely mounting our Canon SD850 IS on the platform. Once our P&S was strapped in, we wheeled on out to the lake for a few test runs. We should mention that the unit we tested was the $449 Epic 100, which is a slightly larger version of the $379 Epic. The extra coin goes toward a larger camera base for a wider range of supported cameras, and it gives users the option of triggering the camera shutter at a faster pace.
Here's the thing: GigaPan's Epic 100 is rather large. It's heavy, it's unwieldy and totally inconvenient to carry around. It's not like you can just toss this in your pack, head out for a stroll and hope you see a nice vista. No, you plan to use this device. It's simply too cumbrous to lug around when you may not use it, and the fact that you have to reattach and realign your camera each time you remove it for "normal camera duties" makes this even more unattractive. In other words, you have to really want to take a panorama to make the effort of dragging this thing out.
There's also a very precise way you have to set your camera up before a panorama can begin. If you bother watching Part II of the aforesaid setup video series (it's exhilarating, trust us), you'd know this -- otherwise, you may wonder what you've done so wrong. Here's the highlights: camera on, optical zoom maxed, set to manual mode, image quality and resolution maxed. When all that's in order, you're finally able to begin setting up a shot. After popping six AA cells in the battery holster and turning the machine on, you'll see a somewhat intuitive menu system walk you through the process of aligning a capture. We did very much appreciate that it tells you how many vertical and horizontal images you're about to take so you'll have a rough idea of how much memory card space you'll eat up and how long you'll be waiting around for it to finish.
In our testing, we found that it took right around 6.2 seconds per shutter press. So for a panorama involving 120 images, you'll be sitting around enjoying the view for around 12.4 minutes. Not awful, really, but not hasty either. We also got the impression that this thing sucks down a serious amount of juice. After snapping five panoramas ranging from 12 to 120 shots apiece, the low battery indicator popped up. Given the amount of movement involved, we guess we aren't too shocked, but you should probably plan on carrying a round of spares if you know you'll be doing a serious amount of shooting.
As for the gratis software? We must say, it's pretty robust. After you painstakingly sort through your camera files in order to find the first and last image of each panorama you've just taken, you simply drag and drop a collection of images (from a single panorama) into the program, adjust the amount of columns, select a few advanced options if you like, and then wait as it churns through and creates a single image. Our 2.4GHz / 4GB RAM machine assembled a 36 image panorama in under half an hour, for reference. Once that's complete, you simply punch your GigaPan.org username and password into the software and hit 'Upload." Obviously, the resulting files here are rather large, so slower connections will be waiting hours for some larger panoramas to upload.
Results and image quality
By and large, we were impressed with how well the software stitched together our images. Without zooming in, almost every single one looked flawless. The GigaPan website also does a fantastic job of letting users pan and zoom, showcasing a remarkable amount of detail when fully zoomed in. The biggest knock we have on this whole setup isn't really the Epic 100's fault: it's how it handles moving objects. If you have any humans, animals or other moving objects in your shot at any time during the shooting process, beware -- if that person / object flinches, you'll notice it.
If zooming into the image below (click to be taken to the GigaPan website), you'll notice that the anglers over on the far right look whole when fully zoomed out. If you zoom in, you'll notice a nasty case of vanishing face -- like something straight out of The Ring. In other words, the applications here are kind of limited. You really need a still landscape shot to snag a panorama worth paying this kind of entry fee for, and at places where you'd love to have one (at a wedding, a college graduation, etc.), you'll likely have loads of moving Earthlings screwing things up.
Without a doubt, the Epic 100 is capable of capturing some amazing scenes provided that you can get yourself there. But it loses some of its luster when you realize that moving objects will end up marring the shot somewhat. In our mind, you'd need to be some sort of avid traveler or a postcard photographer in order to justify the cost of this otherwise fascinating device. It truly makes the art of taking panoramic shots a lesson in (relative) simplicity, but in our mind, the utility here is just too limited to warrant the steep price tag. If you know that you're the kind of shooter who could benefit from a better way to capture massively wide-angle shots, you'll be hard pressed to find anything superior to this. For everyone else, we're exceedingly sorry to say that it's just not a practical purchase.