Best Free Digital Image Stitcher

 
Introduction

Image stitching - the term is actually a good analogy. Stitching images or photos is the process of combining several digital images together so that you get one big one in the end.

That wouldn't be so tough you might say, but what makes stitching software so helpful is that it is "sewing" those photographs together with no obvious trace of the seam. What you get is a great single panorama view of what you have photographed with several pictures.

 
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Discussion

Microsoft ICEMicrosoft Image Composite Editor (abbreviated as ICE) - I am very, very impressed with this photographic image stitcher. Started as a BETA, this great software by Microsoft has developed immensely and is still free! The first thing you have to have of course is some pics to stitch together and I have tried a number of different images from 2 to 8 the stitching of the images worked very well on all the panoramic pictures, whether it was vertical or horizontal. Opening formats it accepts JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG and HD Photo image.

There are four modes of camera motion to stitch your sequence of images, three fixed and one that you can adjust the distortion and that the 'Rotation motion'. When in this mode just click the 3D icon on the top taskbar, where you can tilt, zoom in and out. When you are happy with your construction then you can leave the cropping to another imaging software or auto crop. The finished panoramic image is exported into JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG, HD Photo image, Adobe Photoshop, HD View Tileset and Deep Zoom Tileset.

As an added bonus .psd you can export in layers! Any other alterations can be achieved in your image software. The project can be saved as a .spi file enabling quick access if you so wish to return and alter the image again. I have read on several sites that the Fisheyed lens shots are not quite successful, but for most of us it does the job extremely well. If you have a Fisheye lens it would be great to inform us how you get on with it.

 

Autostitch Autostitch - a program written by Matthew Brown, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia. It comes complete with some sample pictures for you to play with. Select File/Open and choose your pictures, and then just sit back and wait while it formats the photos into a single combined panorama. All lighting corrections and blending are done for you. The downside of this program is some arcing in the panorama that leaves black edges. You will need to crop the panorama to get clean edges.

 

Windows Live Photo Gallery Windows Live Photo Gallery - which is an allrounder for managing your photos (much the same as Picasa), but a little-publicised feature is available in the Make menu: "Panorama Stitcher". It is a no-brainer - simply select the photos from the thumbnails viewer, and the program does the rest. Cropping and adjustment is immediately at hand under the Fix menu. The program works much like Autostitch. The blending results, incidentally, are superior as compared to purchased programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements. Highly recommended all around.

 

Panorama Perfect Lite

Panorama Perfect Lite - It's the freeware version of a commercial product, but the only difference I can see is a limitation on the size of the panorama picture it can produce. However, this should not be a constraint for most users.

The strength of this software is its ability to match up photos taken without a tripod. Using nodes on the blending area of each photo, you can match each structure (tree, building etc.) to ensure that there is no distortion when joining. Although more complex, this process allows a better stitch without the bending and distortion you sometimes get with Autostitch. This difference will not be important to casual photographers, but more serious users will consider the effort worthwhile.

 
Related Products and Links

HUGIN Panorama Photo Stitcher by Sourceforge.

Let us know here in the comments or in our forum if you know of any related free products that deserve mentioning here.

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Quick Selection Guide

Microsoft Image Composite Editor
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Many supported image formats
1.4.4
2.17 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
Windows XP to 7

64 Bit version available (2.42 MB) here.
v1.4.4 available 26 May, 2011

Autostitch
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Lighting corrections and blending
Arcing in the panorama leaves black edges
2.2
1 MB
Time limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
98/ME/2000/XP/Vista

Free time limited demonstration version. License can be renewed by re-downloading.

Windows Live Photo Gallery
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy use, great results
Embedded in other photo gallery features
2011
1.2 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
Windows Vista to 7

Part of the free Windows Live Essentials

Panorama Perfect Lite
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Blending by picture nodes
Limitation in panorama size
1.6.2
2.11 MB
Feature limited freeware
2000/XP/Vista/7

 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Ian Richards. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

image stitching lighting blending panorama ice image composite editor autostitch panorama perfect lite microsoft live photo gallery

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Comments

by Konnichiwa_1 on 6. August 2011 - 2:46  (77005)

Been using techsupportalert for years--thanks for the great reviews and info!! I've never been inspired to create an account to add anything, but after downloading Microsoft ICE I have to say I'm very impressed. In fact, I'll probably be taking more panoramas just because it's so easy to use.

by Konnichiwa_1 on 8. August 2011 - 3:24  (77119)

I'm sorry to have to append my previous review, but it seems as though either Microsoft ICE, or more likely Dot Net Framework 4, upset some settings on my computer. My taskbar resets each time I restart the computer, and the language bar reverted to a less functional design. I used the system restore to remove the software and things work fine now. Oh well, I guess I'll be using a different image stitcher!

by MidnightCowboy on 6. August 2011 - 6:48  (77015)

Thanks for the kind words :)

by karcoos (not verified) on 21. June 2011 - 5:49  (74063)

Seriously, hugin is designed for professional users. Photosynth is essential to beginners, like me.

http://www.photosynth.net/

[Moderator's Note : Mention and link of commercial software removed]

by Thaijay (not verified) on 13. June 2011 - 6:56  (73705)

FYI -
Installation of ICE x64 on Win7 x64 Professional required Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package (x64). It required installation prior to allowing finishing installation. After 2 downloads/installations of C++, a re-boot, and inability to install, I tried the x86 C++. Then ICE installed.
:-)

by Charlie D (not verified) on 10. December 2010 - 17:46  (62276)

Another panoramic stitcher worth trying is buried in the Zoner Photo Studio (see its listing under Gizmo's "Best Free Digital Image Viewer). Click on the "Manager" tab in the upper right of the screen, then "Publish", then "Panorama". It is straightforward to use and produces good results - even when other stitchers failed. Wasn't finding it obvious?

by Dijay (not verified) on 5. November 2010 - 17:48  (60808)

I have downloaded and used Microsoft ICE and am very pleased with the results. However, I have used it only for making simple panoramas i.e. static wide views, and would like to make 360 degree cylindrical panoramas that can be panned. Is there software that will enable me to do this? Thanks and regards, Dennis.

by Robin (not verified) on 26. September 2010 - 20:43  (58482)

HUGIN does not work on my PC !!! :(
the program cant align the images itself (i cant du it manualy with 50 images ) it finds no control points and gives error messages...
any ideas?

by tony on 12. October 2010 - 19:13  (59437)

I found HUGIN a very difficult program to master, therefore concluded it was not one to be recommended. Keep to MS ICE you won't go wrong

by Wolfticket (not verified) on 22. September 2010 - 9:44  (58263)

Having used Autostitch and ICE on all my panoramas* (to compare results between the two), I have found:

ICE is superficially nicer in almost every way; the UI is better, there are more options, more features.
However, Autostitch almost universally gives far superior, more naturalistic results.

ICE seems to be more a simplistic, giving panoramas that look like multiple photos pasted together, minimising boarders but often giving a deeply unnatural perspective and visible seams.

Autostich seems to do the best job possible with the source photos, and through more refined and extensive warping gives smoother seams and a much more uniform perspective, looking more like a single photo taken with a wide angle lens than a hodgepodge of individual images.

I'm almost always amazed how much better one guys project is than Microsoft's effort.

*My panoramas generally consist of relatively haphazard hand-held photos, while trying to stay a level as possible and ensuring decent overlaps and contrast.

by Elie Khoury (not verified) on 12. August 2010 - 13:23  (55862)

There is an online free stitcher that produces comparable results called Dermandar (www.dermandar.com).

by e_mortal on 3. August 2010 - 13:57  (55388)

The Windows Live Photo Gallery stitch option gives the best results that I have tried. It handles jobs that Microsoft ICE cannot manage.

by richtea (not verified) on 15. July 2012 - 18:12  (96205)

Just recently, I compared the two on one job. Each panorama was slightly different, and while Photo Gallery produced perhaps a more pleasing composite, ICE was superior on image quality. This would make me incline towards the latter, overall.

by tony on 3. August 2010 - 16:53  (55403)

Ok, I had never thought of looking there. I am so focused elsewhere that it hadn't occurred to me to look there. I will investigate

by Anonymous on 14. February 2010 - 12:45  (43599)

Access to MS's research server is a bit flaky - there's muttering about turning cookies off etc - but this ftp link works if you'd rather download from an official Microsoft server :

ftp[DOT]research[DOT]microsoft.com/downloads/730cd6bb-6450-4e66-8101-a94e71cb0779/SetupICE_x86_1.2.msi

Just as a warning, if you need to download something rather than rely on the web installer that you're first offered for the Live Gallery, it comes to 134MB!! Seems a lot if you just want a panorama tool - presumably it uses the ICE technology?

I'd second the Canon Photostitch, I don't know how it compares with other things but it works and it is easy to use.

by tony on 15. February 2010 - 15:33  (43672)

The Canon comes with Canon I believe, this is a FREEWARE assessment. And, I think I gave another link earlier in these messages and I have downloaded quicker from here
http://www.photo-freeware.net/
In fact it a great source for most of my freebies for photo software. Thanks for your comment

Tony

by Phylis Sophical on 7. January 2010 - 4:49  (40445)

Fantastic that ICE. Don't even have to determine which photo goes on the right or left. Can't even tell where it was stitched.

Can't find the post now but someone back in '08 wondered what the catch was from MS. No ads at all. Only catch, you have to allow them to run Windows Genuine Advantage. As far as needing .NET framwork 2.0, it's worth it. There are new programs other than MS that require it.

A bit of the subject of this section, but I also highly recommend MS PhotoStory for making a slide show with music, titles and much more.

by tony on 11. January 2010 - 8:54  (40828)

Glad you like it. I have had success after success with this stitcher, it really is excellent. Here is my latest
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tony_photoplus/4240964630/
Have you any you show on the internet?

by Anonymous on 28. December 2009 - 20:33  (39694)

I have great respect for Gizmo recommendations, and was all set to try the top pick, Microsoft's ICE. It didn't seem too large a download... but then when I came to install it, the setup warned that I would need Microsoft's .NET Framework version 2 or later as well. So I went to download that too - but paused when I saw how huge it was. Do I really want such massive apps on my XP laptop?

Which led me to look again at alternatives. What do Gizmo experts think of the (free) Serif software PanoramaPlus - which hasn't been mentioned so far?

br1anstorm

by tony on 29. December 2009 - 17:11  (39738)

Hi br1anstorm, you will find that most of the MS software is supported .Net Framework. Its unfortunate that its a large download, but its the only way this is supported for it to work. It is an excellent stitcher, I used it today and it was just amazing how well it worked

by Anonymous on 23. December 2009 - 21:25  (39279)

Wow, I tried Microsoft ICE by throwing panoramic images at it that I took just by pivoting my body and it stitched them together without zero input from me. It did great job too!

by Anonymous on 22. December 2009 - 20:21  (39177)

I've use auto-stitch and it's amazing.
Although limited to jpg images it' still a great package, small simple and fast.

Mike D

by Anonymous on 8. August 2009 - 11:16  (26628)

Hugin is for professionals. It has a learning curve, but once you get how it works, it's the most complete and powerful option out there. It'as also fast and its quality is unsurpassed. You can even blend HDRI's (high dynamic range images) with it, and have a myriad of projection options.

by Anonymous on 7. December 2009 - 12:20  (38017)

I was browsing for panorama maker software and came across Hugin. In 30 seconds I had stitched 3 photos together in a flawless panorama and I'm no pro. It's seems great
http://hugin.sourceforge.net/tutorials/index.shtml

by Anonymous on 12. May 2010 - 12:36  (49636)

The automated wizard is surely a good starting point. At least for the usual situations, but if you are not satisfied with the result you could tweak here and there and get even better results.
Thats the great plus with hugin, but to know what and where to tweak, thats the learning curve. I prefer it, because using ubuntu, there is no other obvious choice.

by Anonymous on 17. July 2009 - 17:13  (25262)

I just posted the comment about Panostich here earlier.

I searched and here is an working Microsoft ICE URL:
http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/

I am disappopinted that I cannot use ICE because my OS is Windows 2000 Pro... but hope the M/S ICE URL works for ya!

Good luck!

DJMK

by Anonymous on 17. July 2009 - 16:56  (25260)

I have been seeking a good simple panorama stitch ap for a while now. I tried the Microsoft ICE link on this article but could not bring the page up. Perhaps the link is bad? Let me know if the link or my computer is the problem.

I have a Canon camera and have been using Canon Photostitch. On wayyy too many pix it did a lousy job joining and blending; the stitch seam was obvious and straight lines often looked like bent or fractured bones.

Anywayyy...I just did a Google search for a decent freeware/shareware photo stitcher with good enough quality to use for my real estate marketing media needs. In my search I luckily happened upon the Pixtra site. Blind luck led me to it and blind luck led me to choose to download Pixtra PanoStitcher 1.6.

WOWWW is all I can say! This one WORKS! And using the blend button has created perfect blends from formerly unusable picture pairs I tried to join with Canon PhotoStitch. And the create perspective option turns the curvilinear perspective to perfect straight perspective photos. And it also blends uneven lighting very well.

I would urge folks here to try it as I had tried several others before and decided to give my search for a usable program one last try.

The shareware version is not in any way disabled that I can see but you are limited to joing just two shots without watermarks being placed on the result. But this is fine for my needs for the most part. Rarely do I need to join three or more shots. The vast majority of my pix are simple two photo joins to get a wide angle shot in close quarters. It does a great job on multi-shot joins and has lots of extras and editing options.

I will keep on using it and if it continues to work as well as it has for me today, I WILL buy it! I will be intersted to read what others here think about it.

Here is the URL to the Pixtra site: http://www.pixtra.com/Downloads/Download.htm

Good luck!

DJMK

by Anonymous on 15. June 2009 - 6:45  (23907)

The best and easiest to use "free" panoramic image stitcher is Canon Photostitch, available on the CD that comes with Canon digital cameras. Beware though, everything else on the CD sucks, but fortunately the setup program allows you to pick which programs to install.

Richard

by gwiz on 15. June 2009 - 4:42  (23905)

I needed to join 20+ images from a large map that I scanned in. I used Autostich, Hugin, and Microsoft ICE. ICE was the best out of the three. Autostich transition between all of the images was ok, but you could clearly see the over lap. To be fair to Hugin, I only spent about 30 minutes trying to figure it out, and it seems like a very powerful program, but I could only match the quality of Autostich. Microsoft ICE stiched the images almost perfectly, and you can't tell where the transition is. Although, ICE has more limited options, it worked the best.

by Anonymous on 7. June 2009 - 7:10  (23224)

I vote for hugin !

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