Super-panoramic showdown for Mac
There are several photo-stitchers available for Mac (and several for iPhone as well), and most do a stellar job for stitching together 3-4 images into a panoramic image. However, I recently completed a project that required stitching together hundreds of images into some very large panoramas of several locations around beautiful Peoria, Illinois. What I found is that some of the programs which do admirable work on small stitching jobs performed very poorly on larger-scale panoramas. I tried several programs with varying results, and you can check out my showdown below.
As they say, the best tool is the one you have. I already had Photoshop installed, so giving it a shot was a no-brainer. I went into File > Automate > Photomerge as I've done several times on a smaller scale and with a lot of success. I loaded in the 103 10-megapixel images I had taken for the task and hit "OK". My computer's fans immediately sped up to high-gear. Photoshop went through the automated process of opening up all the images, copying and pasting and aligning them into a brand new image with 103 layers. The process took over an hour to complete, but when finished I was moderately happy with the results. It wasn't seamless, but it was pretty good.
The problem was in my computer's performance. With this massive file open, I was unable to do anything useful with my computer at all. Even moving the mouse around the screen seemed to make my computer choke. Forget trying to make any menu selections or flatten the image. I assume the CPU was maxed out, but I certainly couldn't open Activity Monitor to see. I figured I would just take a screenshot of the result to save for this article, but upon completing the familiar keyboard shortcut, the computer crashed, and crashed hard. I should have predicted that.
From the Hugin Gallery it seemed like this open-source piece of software would do exactly what I needed it to do. It looked very full-featured and it was free to boot! They even offer a great set of tutorials to get started on your own panoramics. And did I mention it's free?
The thing this program lacked is automated tasks. Don't get me wrong, there is some automation built-in, but any manual intervention with this many images made the process much more time-consuming than I was interested in. The program also lacked the fine polish that I am used to with my Mac applications, from the ugly icons and clunky interface to way too many options in dealing with things like yaw, pitch, roll, and radial distortions to name just a few. I am by no means a professional photographer, so while some people may appreciate the fine-tuning and manual intervention this program offers, I found it too overwhelming and time-consuming.
DoubleTake solved many of the problems Hugin faced. The interface was very simplistic and Mac-like, with easily understood options and nice looking interface. The drag and drop interface was much friendlier than Hugin's input and, most of all, the program was easy to use and understand.
However, as the name implies, DoubleTake truly shines when working with just 2 photos. I'm sure more could be used, but the program seemed confused by the 103 images I threw at it. I know it's difficult to tell from the thumbnail above, but DoubleTake stitched the images together in a way that resembled an orange peel. It did not detect multiple rows. It did an admirable job of stitching horizontally, but the program seemed a bit vertically challenged. Still, for its intended use of just a handful of photos, it seems well worth the $24.95US asking price. For super-panos with multiple rows, my search continued.
However, it fell short on the super-panoramic challenge. It seemed at about halfway through the alignment process, it just sort of gave up and starting laying images on top of other images, each with a different opacity, leaving me with the weird abstract image above. I can't recommend this if you're hoping to stitch together a super-panoramic, but if you'd like to give it a shot, you can buy it for $39US, or test it out with the trial version.
Autopano Pro is expensive at €99 (approximately $150US), but it was the only software I tried that was capable of doing what I needed it to do. 103 images seemed to be no problem for this little application, stitching them together in just about 20 minutes with absolutely no input or tweaking from me. All of the programs above maxed out my computer during the stitching process making it unusable for other tasks, and Autopano Pro was no different.
However, the results speak for themselves. Autopano was used to generate the main image up top of this article, and with the exception of cropping and resizing via Photoshop, the image is just as Autopano Pro created. There is some color banding that is easily fixable, but after my long search I cannot tell you how happy I am with the results. I'd started to think that there would be no program that could stitch together the photos I wanted automatically, but Autopano Pro proved me wrong.
There is a trial version available, so give it a shot before dropping the coinage on the application. It is expensive and it's very much a one-trick-pony, but if you've got one of these super-panoramics to make I haven't found a better tool.
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