Most of the stitched panorama photographs I have processed have been made by simply joining together between 2 and 12 exposures made on digital cameras. When I began making panoramas, the software available was rather crude and required a great deal of manual effort to achieve a perfect result. In the last few years, this has changed dramatically and I have made stitched panoramas very successfully with a number of different software packages. Currently, I mostly use PhotoShop but for difficult stitches or where I need more control I use the brillilant open-source (free) software, Hugin.
Panorama Tools originally developed by Professor Helmut Dersch, are excellent plug-ins or stand alone tools, though using them on their own is not the easiest operation. To get over these difficulties, various people have produced a graphical user user interface (GUI) to bolt on to Panorama Tools to make them easy to use. There are two GUIs that I have used with success:-
1. PT Assembler PT Assembler is downloadable as a trial and a small registration fee provides a key to the software ($45 in 2012).
2. Hugin (Free and pronounced “Hoogin”). This an open source GUI which is being developed and is in a stable version. The user interface is easier to use than PT assembler in some respects. The most recent version of Hugin has unfortunately dropped its former ability to output into Photoshop layers. However, it does such an excellent job of the stitch that it hardly seems to be a problem.
I have used PT Assember in the past, but more recently transferred to Hugin. With both PT Assembler and Hugin, you can have as much or as little control over the final stitch as you want and have the panorama output in a variety of ways with far more control than PhotoShop gives. However, I prefer to output the file as a layered PhotoShop file with masks (some software just gives you a flat file). Leaving the pano in layers means that I can make fine adjustments to the tones/colours of the sections, to make a totally seamless stitch. Unfortunately, Hugin no longer gives the option to output in Photoshop layers.
Hugin 2013.00. In this version, the GUI (Graphical User Interface) was changed to include, Simple, ADvanced and Expert modes. The simple mode should work well for most easy panorama stitches, where you don’t need a great deal of control. The other modes give you more options and you need to understand a little more about creating panoramas to use them. But for difficult subjects, these modes give you ultimate control.
Of course there are many panorama stitching programmes on the market for not much or quite a lot of money and you may have your favourites. But if, like me, you are a fan of open source software, give one of the free ones a try.
I’ve not yet tried this, but bursting with features and very affordable is PanoramaPlus from Serif, which will capture frames from video and stitch into panoramas, create PDFs, upload direct to Facebook and Flickr and create a 360° virtual reality movie in QTVR format.
Stitching in Photoshop CS5 – the panorama stitching tool in PhotoShop was much improved since CS4 and very often the resultant stitch is as good as or even occasionally better than those made by Hugin and PT Assembler. Photoshop, however, does take away the fine control that many experienced panoramicists (is that a real word?) prefer to retain.
I’ve made some great stitches using PhotoShop recently, but for complex problems, it can’t always cope, so it’s always a good idea to have another tool in the toolbox. This is where PT Assembler or Hugin come in. If you have a version of Photoshop earlier than CS4, the stitching tool is not as good and it’s really worth learning how use Hugin.
More Panorama information: For more information on the technicalities of shooting and stitching panoramas and panoramas by my husband John Widdall at PanoramaShots