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303SPH - Modified


Manfrotto 303SPH (modified)

VR Head Type:

Multi-Row Spherical Panoramic Tripod Mount


4 kg


9" Lower rail

11.5" Vertical arm

8.5" Upper rail

Load Capacity:






Large Bodied DSLRs / Medium Format Compatibility:



Yes (additional 338)

Numerical Demarcations:

On rotational, vertical & rails.

Bottom Thread Attachment

3/8" female thread

Rotator head adjustments:

Proprietary Rotational Head (300N)

Vertical Arm Rotation:


Panoramic Rotation:


Camera Quick Release:

Yes (additional 357)

Upper arm detent stop:

Yes (additional 300N)

Landscape Mode:


Tools Required For Assembly:



Statutory warranty

+ Free 3 years limited warranty extension.

Tools Supplied:


Spare Parts Supplied:

Yes (screws, rails)

Case Supplied:


Accessories Available:




Customer Support:



YES - for the 303SPH


(US) $1400.00 (with modifications)

Web site:



This is a do-it-yourself VR head.  It does not exist.


A modified Manfrotto 303SPH.  This is based on modification  by Eric Rougier (FromParis.com)


Eric explains his modifications at FromParis.com  He calls it the 304.





Parts above are the original components of the 303SPH. 


Group below are the additional parts.

338 Leveling plate

300N Panoramic Heads x 2

357 Universal Plate

323 Quick Release


Build the modified 303SPH!

Click on the image.

Click and drag your mouse slowly over the QTVR.

Assembly note:

There are no recommended nodal calibration measurements given for this given type of modification.  It is entirely up to you.  You have to remember that this is a professional level VR head.  It is assumed you know what you are doing.


Nodal calibration was purely done with the 337 double-bubble and a carpenter's square. 


Luckily, on the very first panorama, there were no parallax problems.








Rotate the modified 303SPH  every 10.




The hole where the upper 300N mounts had to be tapped for the 3/8" screw to fit.




300N Panoramic Head


a300N Panoramic head's demarcation detail.


The 303SPH - closed position

The modified 303SPH - closed position




Modified 303SPH


Shoot sequence




In Photoshop...


Simply layer the three nadir images, align, and add a layer mask to the two top layers. 


Understand how to work with layers here then learn to patch here.



Software: PTGUI, Pano2QTVR, and Photoshop

Stitched 6 pan shots, 1 zenith, 1 fixed nadir all at once.







I'll be real honest.... 


This is not for the hobbyist.  Think twice before building one of these.  It's huge, heavy and expensive.  The only reason for building one of these is the ability to shoot the nadir at long exposures which less expensive VR heads are capable of doing.   See the NN3 review on long exposure shooting of the nadir.


I surely felt the 4kg weight when I had to carry the entire assembly on my shoulders - camera, VR head and Manfrotto's Triman tripod.    You need a tripod that can handle this modified 303SPH.  When you shoot the nadir, without the tripod in view, the tripod will tip over.  You have to hold the other side of the tripod to prevent this.  I know the image above (Shoot sequence) with the full length shot of the tripod and nadir shot shows the tripod standing on its own.  Don't believe what you see.  There is a fishing line supporting that.  Obviously I can't hold it and shoot the image at the same time. 


Cost is a major factor.  Just look up the cost to modify.  The extra parts alone cost more than the head itself.  You do not have to spend this much to get the same result.  You just have to rely on your Photoshop skills.  Don't think spending more will give you better results.  Don't think less expensive VR heads are less precise or less capable.  Sure precision starts off with the engineers and manufacturers.  But I'm sure they'll do their job.  You have the last engineering role to play and that's calibrating the entrance pupil.  Sure there are VR heads out there that is already calibrated for you but you're also paying for that calibration.  This is where all the fun is.  Take the time to calibrate your VR head and enjoy!  There are lots of resources in the web that can help you calibrate the entrance pupil.


Another point I have to mention was ordering this VR head.  This is made in Italy (Manfrotto).  I ordered this VR head before the World Cup.  Oooops...  Let's just say nobody was working on that side of the world at that time.  (joke)...  It took about four months for this to arrive.  I'm not saying that the World Cup had anything to do with the delay.  I'm just saying it took awhile.  ; )


On the other hand, this mech-warrior does it all.  It's a machine.  Despite what I just said above I don't mind any of it.  I love panoramas and everything that goes with it.  I love full 360x180 spherical panoramas.  I'd rather have a cylindrical panorama over a full spherical panorama where the nadir has been covered with a "mirror-ball" nadir cap.  Of course this is all personal preference. 


This will handle any camera size.  Even medium format.  That's the beauty of a "do-it-yourself" VR head.  There are no limitations.  The capabilities of this modification is not only for VR photography.  Use your imagination and see what the components can be used for. 


Since this is a "do-it-yourself" VR head, it is difficult to give this a single mark.  Technically there is no right or wrong when you build your own.


The components are a definite 10.  The quality and workmanship of each individual components is indisputable.


Precision and performance when assembled is 10.  The very first panorama I shot with this had no parallax errors.  I couldn't believe it.  I got lucky. 


Precision of the nodal point really all depends on the user's calibration.


I would give size, weight and cost a 6 out of 10. 


Customer service on the VR head alone, 303SPH, really depends on the distributor and not the manufacturer.  I'm not sure what the cause of the delay was.  I never heard the full story from the distributor.  I'm sure a huge company like Manfrotto will have a good customer service.  I never had to deal with them yet.   The store I purchased this VR head from is very good.  They even offered to refund my money even after they've already ordered the VR head.    Go to a pro shop if you do decide to build one of these.


Packaging of the 303SPH and other components were excellent.  A typical Manfrotto packaging.   Had molded Styrofoam securing the VR head and sealed in a bag.   Box was manufacturer sealed and unopened by customs.


Personally though I love building things regardless of cost, weight or size.  If you're a VR photographer looking into shooting lots of panoramas and carrying equipment around locally or while traveling then this is not the VR head to bring along.  Remember this review is not directed at the 303SPH.  This is a do-it-yourself VR head.  Eric Rougier dubbed it the 304; a non existent VR head.  If you're a hobbyist looking into learning and possibly doing the occasional spherical panorama then forget about this VR head modification.  If you're a serious VR photographer and have enough curiosity in building one of these then go ahead.  I found building one of these educational, fun and interesting.  It gave me a better understanding of VR photography.








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