back to the rest of my suggestions for photo software.
Stitching programs vary wildly in their usability and quality of finished image.
I prefer the one Canon gives away for free with every digital camera, even their cheapest. I have an entire article with examples at Canon Panoramic Software.
Most other software is impossible to figure out, while others slop together images without predistorting or mating them properly. If you use a program that works well and is easy to use I'd stick with it!
Software that gets these two things right solves 90% of the problem. If your stitching software is easy to use and gives good results then you're doing great. I wouldn't spend too much time looking for something better. If you are looking, here goes...
You can't simply "stitch" together images. Each image has to be predistorted by the software so that continuous straight lines don't become kinked when images are assembled.
The software needs to know how much angle the shots include so it can do this distortion correctly. Programs usually read the info from digital camera EXIF, or have this entered manually for film scans.
Unfortunately many panoramic utilities simply stitch together images without predistorting (bending) them first. This gives awful results, since straight horizontal lines become one long line with kinks. I hope it's gotten better, but the last time I used Photoshop's Photo Merge this was all it did.
Good stitching software has to distort each of your images so that they become one, smooth, fluid, curving panorama when joined.
The Final 10%
Software also needs to be able to equalize the brightness from each image, so you see no "tan lines" when assembled.
It also needs to align everything precisely as well as mush things around to help alignment. It helps if your images were shot precisely, but I get OK results even blasting away a series hand held.
CANON'S FREE PHOTOSTITCH 3.1 (click for my page all about it)
The best panoramic creation software I've ever used is the free PhotoStitch 3.1 software Canon has been giving away with their digital cameras for years. I got a copy in 2003 with my Canon A70, and you also get it when you buy a new 5D. It is smart enough to read the flags from your digital camera images so it knows exactly how much curvature to apply to each image before assembling them together.
It even works for images from other brands of cameras and film scans. You have to tell it the focal length of your lens for the best results from film since it can't know otherwise.
It also has many output options: long and skinny still images and a couple of kinds of QTVR Quicktime VR .MOV files. There used to be people who charged high-end realtors a lot of money to do this with special gear and today anyone with probably any Canon camera can do it easily. Many Canon cameras include a special stitch assist mode to make it even easier to make perfect shots for stitching. I do this from hand held images and it works great.
See some examples here. I made the shots hand-held and stitched them into long skinny images and QTVRs later.
If you don't have this software probably the best way to get it is to buy the cheapest Canon digital that includes it.
RealViz Stitcher 5 is an excellent professional program that costs a few hundred dollars. It looks incredible when I've seen it demoed by people who know how to use it. When I tried Stitcher 4 I didn't get very far. It was easy enough to use at first, but I didn't know the tricks to get it to make great composites. It also needed images of identical dimensions, which means it barfed when I imported film scans of slightly different dimensions.
It's clearly the program I'd try to learn when I have the time to apply myself to this. If you just want fast results this probably isn't for you. If you do panoramas very seriously I'd suggest it first. It is a professional program intended for folks more competent than I.
This is a free program invented by a math professor. It's the gold standard in processing panoramic images, as well as converting among various coordinate schemes, correcting lens geometric and chromatic distortions and image resizing.
It can do amazing things, but you have to be a math professor to understand it. Others have written more software to allow normal people to use Panorama Tools easily. This software is called Front Ends or GUIs, Graphical User Interfaces.
These GUIs translate between the math-professor language of Panorama Tools and English. The last time I used Panorama Tools I had to enter every coefficient manually, and of course that's after I manually calculated the coefficients to use!
hugin is another Panorama Tools GUI that's free and runs on Mac OSX, Linux, GNU and even windows. It also runs in Russian, French, Polish, Japanese, German, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch and Italian.
The following programs won't even run on Mac so I haven't tried them. They only run on Windows. You should know I prefer Mac as a full-time professional, if not, I suggest for $500 you upgrade to Mac and learn why we prefer it. If you're interested you can read Why Professionals Prefer Mac.
That said, here are programs others have suggested:
PT Assembler integrates two free plugins to allow easy use of the industry standard Panorama Tools. It's writen by Max Lyons whom I've met and whose panoramic and stitching work is astounding. The two plugins are Autopano which automatically selects matching points for stitching and Enblend which automatically blends the images together after Panorama Tools modifies them. Drag your images into PT Assembler, hit Auto Create and wait a minute for a unblended reduced size preview image and then wait 2 - 4 minutes for a full size stitched and blended TIFF.
You might want to check out this discussion group at the same site.
I haven't tried this free program. Several readers have tried it and love it! It won't work on Mac, which is why I haven't tried it. You can read all about it and download it here.
I haven't tried this windows-only software either. One reader writes that he loves it, except the price.
Software from Canada starting at $64. No Mac version. Suggested by a happy reader.
In German. No Mac version. Suggested by a happy reader.
A suggestion from a reader in Scotland.
This won't run at all on Mac. If you had sound you'd hear me giggling wondering why anyone would consider graphics software from Microsoft. It's like hiring an engineering Ph.D. to decorate your house: he might be really good and do a spectacular job, but prior experience with engineers tends to suggest otherwise. Microsoft calls it a "professional graphic design product," but since as far as I know most professional designers prefer Mac I have my doubts. Did you know that Mac is so prevalent in professional graphics that Microsoft's Annual report is, or at least was, done on Mac in previous years? I read that in one of Robin Willam's great Mac design books.
Giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, there is a free beta, code named "Acrylic," at that link for you to try. Forget me, for all I know it may be magnificent. It was suggested by someone at Microsoft as having nice panorama tools. I'm unsure if that means general tools for panoramic use, or a GUI for the popular software called Panorama Tools.
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