Following distinguished service for all of one year during WWII, not least as the base for Lt Colonel James Dolittle’s desperate raid on Tokyo four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that gave the U.S. a needed moral boost, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign.
It remained on the ocean floor when it was finally located by a research vessel in 2019. The ship lies there still under some 17,500 feet of ocean. Her name, however, was revived in 1944 and transferred to another carrier of similar class, and ultimately docked as a permanent museum at the Alameda Naval Air Station since 1998.
The Hornet and the surrounding area has intrigued my photographic yearnings for some years, but only recently have I attempted to compose a series of panoramic shots from a single point just a stone’s throw from the leading edge of the ship. The default composition of the carrier on one side and three smaller ships “tied” together on the other seems to be how things are laid out every time I visit the dock, even though the three ships might be differently ordered. Alas, there is always another large ship docked starboard to the carrier on the other side of a service pier to interfere with my wishes.
A superwide angle lens could capture the entire scene with one go if such were my objective, but it such was far from my objective. The angle of view is dramatic, something on the order of 150° or so I should think, and I was clear that I wanted no perspective distortion. The obvious choice was a 50 mm lens (shot at 1/1000 sec, f/4.0 @ ISO 125) though the result calls out for something closer to 75 mm in order for the ships to appear a bit larger than life, as it were.
This is a good point to add my personal exasperation with bloggers and others (Photoshop included) who indicate that a lens designed for a full frame [35 mm] camera attached to a cropped sensor camera yields certain “35 mm equivalencies.” In fact, they do no such thing. For some reason, we forget that a lens is responsible for perspective as well as angle of view, and that the choice of focal length can and ought to be made on the basis of how that lens represents perspective. Since all of the information from a given lens makes its way to the sensor, and a crop sensor merely allows the outer portions of that information to fall to the side, it stands to reason — and experiment — that the combination of lens and crop sensor has no effect whatever on the perspective properties of the lens as it hits the sensor. That said, the shorter the focal length, combined with increasingly cropped sensors, the more the dramatic aspects of perspective are eliminated. What remains, however, has exactly the same perspective qualities as having shot the scene with said lens from the same vantage point, and cropped the output with your software of choice.
So, when I use a 50 mm lens on my 1.3 cropped sensor Quattro-H, it offers the same angle of view as a theoretical 65 mm lens, and also the same perspective properties of that 50 mm lens. The advantage being that the crop sensor eliminates the more questionable performance of the outer third of the obtained image; the disadvantage is that the panorama requires more frames than having shot the scene with a full-frame sensor. I believe that since the resultant panorama image has the same angle of view and perspective either way, there is no advantage in resolution.
The real challenge is the height of the scene, which is considerable from my vantage point, requiring several passes on top of the other, along with software that could deal with the resultant oddball overlaps. Due to my personal laziness, I choose to handhold the camera, and because I have difficulty securing remotely level shots in vertical mode, I am left to endure one or two additional passes across the horizontal plane than good sense would obtain. I don’t quite know what got into me here — an attack of photo mania, at the very least. In this case: some 90 frames were employed to ensure sufficient overlap on both axis. Mind you, this is a huge space and there are all kinds of opportunities for misalignment of ladders and wires. It took me seven minutes to shoot with my 3-pound Sigma Quattro-H + 50mm Art lens, an experiment I suffered only once.
Much to my surprise the gods were with me; my horizon is just about dead-on, and I was able to manage a semblance of level throughout the shoot. Photoshop had considerable difficulty merging all this semi-seamlessly, so I converted my 12-bit DNG files to 16-bit TIFFs for Affinity (since that application won’t work with DNG files). I don’t know if that violated any “rules,” so to speak, but it was the only way I could get Affinity to do what Photoshop couldn’t. I didn’t time it exactly, but I think the operation took about 12 minutes for what Photoshop struggled with for 90.
I was left with a dozen or so problematic joins that showed themselves mainly as adjacent contrast errors, and which I managed to correct somewhat. There was only one relatively large area of the water that Photoshop later was called on to make up pixels where none existed. Since reflections and shadows were involved, the result doesn’t make any dramatic sense, but it kinda works, finalizing in a 1.36 GB Tiff, processed into a mild-HDR B&W with Tonality that reduced nicely to a 300-inch wide jpg.
There are a couple of cable discontuations that are hard to spot. Here’s a close cropping of a briar patch. I’m sure you’ll be able to spot errors my tired eyes don’t see.
The San Francisco Bay is not known for interesting skies; moreover, what may be true overhead where I live in San Jose is guaranteed not be the case so by the time I arrive after a 45-minute drive. I’ve made the trek to Hornet’s berth 8 or 9 times over the years. This is the first time there was a calm harbor, permitting some lovely reflections. Made all the difference I think.
I’ve included two additional panos of this scene shot with far fewer frames with the same 50 mm lens and camera, as well as some close-ups and on-top-ofs. All photos were shot with Foveon sensor cameras, including the DP Merrils, whose loss, now that I revisit these pix, I mourn despite its user difficulties. Obviously, these images were all post-processed to some degree or more — but what continues to amaze and delight is how well the Foveon images hold their value despite the intrusion.
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