Canon Photostitch software is good and works pretty well with good quality photos. With a tripod then you’ll probably get an awesome merged result. Sometimes it won’t stitch together photos how I want. So what do I use instead ? Well it’s a tricky choice, because all panorama/stitching software isn’t created equal. Each has it’s nuances, features and drawbacks.
I use Panorama and stitching software often for the photos I post on my blog. I like the power afforded to me to get wider angle shots or to be able to get a much higher megapixel result because of the multiple images being joined. Without of course the expense of an expensive fisheye lens or a multi thousand dollar 75 megapixel camera. It’s even possible to produce gigapixel images, the Microsoft ICE site talks about a gigapixel image, comprised of 800 individual photos ! My largest ever has been 35 individual photos.
Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor) is a good choice, because it’s free, and Microsoft do a 32 bit and 64 bit Windows version. Photoshop “Photomerge” is built into all up-to-date versions of Photoshop including Photoshop Elements. I also use PTGui Pro which is excellent in most circumstances and has a wide range of projections (that’s how the photos are modified to make the finished panorama). There’s also Hugin on the free end of things, which is based on the Panorama Tools free library. There’s even a panorama facility built into my iPhone 4s (on which I take most of my photos).
So what’s best ? Well, best all round, for quality is Photoshop Photomerge, I haven’t been able to find better. PTGui Pro I really like too and do use often.
So we’ll start with the obvious – Canon Photostitch :
This piece of software comes free with every Canon camera (I think). I does work, but is getting a little bit dated. Canon have issued a fairly recent update. And it’s also possible for non Canon users to get it for free (or if you’ve lost your install CD), I posted about Canon Photostitch here – “How to get Canon PhotoStitch Panorama and Photo Stitching software for free”
Pros – Relatively easy to use on good quality photos, offers facility for making corrections should the joins not be perfect. Will do parallel stitching for, for instance large documents/images scanned in sections. Or what I call walking panoramas where you’re taking picture of a long piece of street art like graffiti.
Cons – Does often make stitching errors when shooting without a tripod and in varying light conditions. Images have to be ordered manually into the correct order (and rotated in correct orientation). Unable to do multiple rows of photos, so would do 6w x 1h, but wouldn’t do 6w x 3h for instance.
Canon Photostitch – 7/10
For FREE ? Yes it’s free, relatively well known, and actually quite feature packed if one looks behind the buttons and menus. It’s fairly similar feature wise to Canon Photostitch. I’ve had some good results, and it’s been able to stitch some panoramas that no other software would do. It seems to be less “fussy” about the source images is my explanation !
Don’t let it’s free status fool you, I’ve used it to produce some lovely panoramas, when the other software just said – “NO WAY NOT EVER” to being asked to stitch photos. Add it to your toolbox, you can just drag and drop your photos in and it will do the rest.
Pros – Free. One of the least fussy panorama/stitching applications I’ve used. It can also do parallel movement type stitching or the more traditional rotational stitching. It’s quick and doesn’t use a great deal of resources on the machine. Has the ability to shift the center of the panorama and straighten horizon – big feature, you’ll see why later with Photoshop.
Cons – Not many, hard to find fault. Mostly little problem-ettes which make things take a little longer. It didn’t work as well as Photoshop for the parallel images, then nor did Canon Photostitch. Colour and tone sometimes a little off.
Microsoft ICE – 8 to 9 / 10
PTGui Pro is a paid application. It’s based on the Panorama Tools open source library from what I understand. It’s a very excellent piece of software by all accounts. It does stitch together most panoramas that I’ve thrown at it. It does have multiple projections, which I like because it’s possible to reduce the parts of the image that are wasted in the crop. It’s also possible to make for instance buildings look less distorted by choosing a different projection.
Pros – Very quick and light on resources of the computer. Very good tools to preview the panorama, and make adjustments to the centre point and correct a curved horizon. Also two tools for fixing stitching errors – masks and control points.
Cons – Whilst it is awesome, the way it merges the photos does leave a little to be desired. It seems to go for straight lines for the joins, and the blending sometimes leaves blurry lines on the finished result. To correct these with clone tool in Photoshop takes a bit of time. Also I often work with automatic exposure. I have two choices in PTGui – 1) keep my lovely colours and tone, and risk the tone/colour being off in various portions of the merged photo. Or 2) use their aggressive auto-exposure function, which sometimes washes colours out. This often points me back to Photoshop.
PTGui Pro – 8 to 9 /10
Hugin also uses the aforementioned Panorama Tools library. I’ve seen some awesome results that have come out of it. I haven’t unfortunately been able to AS YET get the hang of it on my Windows 7 64 bit machine. A friend suggested installing the 32 bit version as he thought this maybe more stable. So the reason I’m mentioning it, is not because I have great first hand experiences, but because it’s free, and I KNOW FOR CERTAIN that it’s a good tool.
So I can’t list pros or cons, or give a score. I hope to revisit later, but I’m happy with the tools I’m already using for now. MY MAIN POINT is please do give it a try, I’m fairly sure it’ll give you good results. I’m very much a supporter of free open source software, like Hugin, which is maintained.
Photoshop – Photomerge
I had at one point given up on Photoshop Photomerge in favour of mostly using PTGui Pro. Why? – well it’d do wild stuff like suddenly I’d be presented with a “bent” horizon, which I didn’t know how to fix. It does take a bit of time and resources on the computer to stitch complex panos. But I’ve found solutions for almost all the problems, and for me, because of it’s superior stitching method it is number one. It’s stitching is done very finely, the join edges are not straight, they are obviously extensively calculated to give the best result. Best results are usually had from Photoshop because of this superior joins. Even with autoexposure on my iPhone 4s, I’m most of the time getting smooth even colour and tone across the whole finished photo.
Photoshop Photomerge doesn’t have the nice center point facility or an easy horizon levelling facility. But I fix these in Photoshop with it’s own built in tools. For Horizon straightening I use “Filter->Adaptive Wide Angle” for curved/bent horizons or “Filter->Lens Correction” for non-level horizons. For the occasional mistakes made in joining, one can either work with the masks in the finished panorama or the clone tool once layers have been merged. An instance of this would be mismatched piece of horizon or railings that didn’t join properly – amongst a lot of things that often error in panoramas 🙂
Lastly sometimes the projection that Photoshop will choose will be, well, just wrong. I very rarely use the “Perspective” projection, mostly I use the “Cylindrical” projection. It’s worth TELLING Photoshop which projection, as sometimes the unstichable will become stitchable.
Experimentation with the “Vignette Removal” tool is recommended, this can fix some photos with really dark, and then really light areas in your merged photos.
Pros – The best for panorama/photostitching. It’s merging is virtually seamless almost all of the time. The colour and tone usually comes out great even on photos taken on an autoexposure camera.
Cons – Shame it doesn’t have the center point/horizon fixing as user friendly as PTGui Pro, but a little bit of tinkering with the filters will resolve this. Does use resources on the machine, but worth it for the quality of stitching. Sometimes will just refuse to stitch photos !
Photoshop Photomerge – 9.5 / 10
There are other pieces of software, my iPhone has one built into the camera, which I use quite often. What I’ve learnt with this is have the “brightest” part of the photo in shot when you start shooting the panorama, otherwise your sunset will get completely washed out. And having the steadiest of hands and the smoothest of panning is advised ! … Crooked horizons can be corrected with the aforementioned lens correction filters in Photoshop. Also it’s a good way to take a wide angle and then when you get home you can decided what to crop out. I’ve also joined a “top half” and a “bottom half” taken on iPhone 4s with Microsoft ICE. That’s a whole new concept, merging multiple panoramas – does work, I’ve done it !
I won’t mention the other PC software programs I’m aware of as I either haven’t used them or didn’t like them.
Panoramas Produced For This Article
As a test I’ve used the same photos with all the software mentioned.
- Photoshop flatly refused to merge, no way no how.
- Canon Photostitch insisted I rotate the images prior to loading them (they were landscape orientation in Windows). It made a slight error on the joining of railings. This may have been correctable inside the software, but I didn’t try.
- PTGui Pro worked straight of the bat, as usual very reliable. Only issues with finished image were that it was a little light (black sky a little grey) and there were areas as I mentioned already where joins where just faintly evident.
- Hugin, I did try, but it didn’t work right off the bat, had to give it the rotated images, and even then it didn’t appear to have stitched them. So I didn’t get anything from Hugin. Will try again later !
- Microsoft ICE actually gave the smoothest merge, I couldn’t see any errors, the colours looked best.
Here’s the contact sheet :
There’s some very good software available for merging individual photos into panoramas and merged photos. I recommend not just relying on one piece of software, as I’ve yet to find “the perfect” stitcher. My favourite is Photoshop Photomerge at time of writing. Close second is PTGui Pro. Third is Microsoft ICE.
I like to photograph sunsets, and these tools suit me very well to get best results with the equipment I’m using.
For Bottom Feeders (Summary Readers)
Canon Photostitch is just one of a class of software programs that are designed to merge or stitch multiple photos together to make one panorama or merged image. There are alternatives which are newer and work better. My favourite of which is Adobe Photoshop’s Photomerge facility. All alternatives that I use regularly are examined in detail above, with the pros and cons that I’m currently aware of.
By Don Charisma
Resources And Sources
All photos and artwork used in this article are (c) Don Charisma 2014
Microsoft ICE – http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ice/
Canon Photostitch – See my article “How to get Canon PhotoStitch Panorama and Photo Stitching software for free”
PTGui Pro – http://www.ptgui.com/
Hugin – http://hugin.sourceforge.net/
Adobe Photoshop – http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/photoshop.html