Alternative to the Gigapan Epic?

Over the last weeks I have played around with a different robotic camera head. The reason is the ongoing issue with the Gigapan Epic to hold heavier cameras. I really want to be able to use the Canon 500D with a heavy lens to take gigapixel panoramas, and my combination clearly reaches the limit of what is possible with the Gigapan Epic. Hopefully the new SLR version of the Gigapan will solve this issue. Anyway, in the meantime I was reading a lot about alternative systems. One of them is based on the Merlin mount, which is not really designed to be used for this purpose, but it is designed to hold and motorize astronomic telescopes. The interesting feature is that it can hold up to 4kg and is actually rather cheap. (I paid £159 for the Merlin including tripod).
There is a very active group of users and developers on the AutoPano forums. The outcome is a fantastic software called PapyWizard which allows you to control the Merlin mount and use it for gigapixel panoramas. The only additional missing part is a Serial to bluetooth adapter to allow wireless communication between the software and the mount. The software is available for the Nokia Tablet series (N770, N800, N810) but also for Linux, MacOSX and Windows. I am using a Nokia N810, which I bought very cheap on Ebay.

Below is a picture of my current setup, showing the Merlin including the Canon 500D with a Zoom lens.

Merlin astronomic mount

Merlin astronomic mount

I am still sorting out some of the issues with this setup. I do miss some features of the Gigapan, but since the Papywizard is actively being developed, more features are being added on a regular basis. Overall it is an interesting alternative. But since it isn’t an all/in/one solution, I wouldn’t really recommend it to newcomers at this point in time.

Anyway, below is one of the first test panoramas I took using the Merlin. There are a number of issues in the picture, but overall it isn’t that bad.

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