I just did a speend test with my coolpix 5000 and Lexar Pro 80 WA 80 x card.
15 seconds on HI setting. And you can't shoot until the image has finished writing.
Lets think about this for a moment.
If the cameras CF throuput is 1 to 1.5 mb a second then if you shoot on a setting that produces a image in this size you will get a 1 - 1.5 sec write time. If you shoot an image at a higher setting that is say 4 megs than the write time will be about 4 to 6 seconds.
If you want to shoot crowd scenes or scenes where there is likly to be stuff moving around then you will have to shoot at a smaller image size so the camera can write and shoot quickly. You have to do whatever you gotta do to get the shot. But it is not necessary to shoot everything at the highes possible quality.
This becomes a matter "skill" with the camera. In crowd scenes you must plan the seam placement ahead of time and plan the order of shots. I have done this a lot. To get a good set I sometimes have to take multiple shots. I have taken many panos on Bourban street in new orleans and I have had to take up to 10 or so 2 shot hemi sets to get a good finished image.I usually put the seam on something like a verticl column or area will there will not be moving things. Even if a person walks across the seam when I shoot I can take that person out in photoshop becasue the solid column or wall is there to clone onto. TIME...Also you may have to stand there for over an hour or more waiting for the perfect time to shoot. I have done this too. This is the case inside bars and clubs. You just have to keep shooting until you get a hemi set you know will work.
TIP - When I am shooting crowd scenes like at conventions or on bourbon street I usually have one or two assistants with me....ie drinking buddies LOL. Anyway I will plan the seam placements. Then I will get my assistants to stand near these points. When I am ready to shoot I signal them and they will kind of stop the flow of people by blocking there path or ask them to smile and point at the camera. Most people become interested and will stand there instead of moving. Again this sometimes take a few attempts but it does work. When I am by myself well then its up to the "photo gods in the sky" as to whethere I get the shot or not.
Below is a link to images shot with an old Nikon coolpix 950 + FC-E8 on FINE setting. I get an image of about 750 kb. It take about 3 second to write to a 8x lexar card. As you can see the sharpness/quality is definitly acceptable. This is only a 1.2 megapixel camera!http://18.104.22.168/roebuck/282_snowdrift/360_living_room_1.html
I will dig up the old bourbon street crowd shot to show you what can be done with this setting and post it here.
In my opinion is not necessary to shoot everything at the highest possible quality. The final image quality is determined by the quality of your exposure(not the size of the image) and your workflow. Mostly your workflow. Your final panos will be displayed at a max of 96 dpi no matter how many pixels are in the image. Computer moniters can only display between 72 and 96 dpi. So even if it is a full screen or small 400 x 400 it will still be displayed at 72 - 96 dpi. All those pixels from a RAW or HI image are just being wasted. So the point here is you must make a good exposure and process this in your workflow correctly to get a very good final pano. I think the most important thing in getting a lower qualty image to be sharp is to start with a good exposure that has good tonal range regardless of the quality setting. If you have to color correct to get good tonal range this is defintily going to effect the final image.
What I am trying to say here is you can get a very good quality pano from a lower setting IF you shoot a correct e