Latest Microsoft Panorama Stitcher Wows Gizmo

I review so much software every year that it takes something truly special to make me sit up and say ‘Wow!”
But that was exactly my reaction to the latest version 1.3.3 of Microsoft’s free “ICE” panorama stitcher. 

The ICE program or Image Composite Editor to give it its full name, is a product from the imaging group at Microsoft Research. This group has been doing some remarkable work including the mind-blowing Photosynth project that creates 3D views by combining multiple two dimensional photos. (see http://photosynth.net)

In fact, the latest version of the ICE panorama stitcher appears to borrow some of the Photosynth technology.   Not only can you patch together photos taken in a one dimensional pan you can also create composites of photos taken in two dimensions.  Furthermore these two dimensional composites don’t have to be taken on a tripod using a rigid grid pattern – they just need to be overlapping. ICE doesn’t even need to be told the order in which the photos were taken; it works that out for itself.

To test it out I went to a local park and took 15 overlapping shots on a compact camera in a very rough 3 by 5 grid. The camera was hand held and I took the shots simply by pivoting my body on one spot while trying to maintain my camera horizontal. I made no attempt at exposure correction – all shots were taken with the camera set to auto. I then uploaded the 15 shots from my camera to a folder on my laptop.

To evaluate ICE’s ability to work out what is relevant I moved three totally unrelated photos to the same folder. I then selected all 18 photos and dragged these into ICE.

Within 45 seconds ICE had correctly patched together the 15 ten megapixel panorama images and ignored the three irrelevant photos.

The results were spectacular. The joining was near perfect and gave no hint of the crude manner in which the panorama was taken. Exposure matching was excellent.
 

As is normally the case with normal one dimensional photo stitchers the edges of my two dimensional panorama were irregular. However with the click of a mouse ICE automatically cropped the shot to provide straight edges. The result was a huge super wide angle 18MB photo that would normally have required an expensive large format camera with an equally expensive lens.    Here’s a thumbnail of the final panorama.  The slight curvature to the right is not distortion but a rising landscape as I took the photo while standing on a small hill.

 

This 20 Megapixel composite was assembled by ICE from 15 shots taken hand held in a 5x3 matrix

Once you’ve created your panorama you can save it in standard JPEG, TIFF, BMP or PNG formats. You can also save it in HD Photo or Silverlight Deep Zoom formats for viewing in Microsoft’s specialist HD Photo Panorama viewer. You can also upload your images to PhotoSynth website to create full 3D effects that can be viewed by all.

Am I impressed? You bet. With its ability to stitch seamlessly in two dimensions ICE is by a clear margin the best panorama stitcher I’ve ever used whether commercial or free. It is an essential freebie for anyone who takes digital photos. Not only does it provide the ultimate in panorama stitching it opens up to the average camera owner a whole range of creative wide angle opportunities that were formerly the exclusive province of those who owned expensive photographic equipment.

Gizmo

New features in version 1.3.3

  • Accelerated stitching on multiple CPU cores
  • Ability to publish, view, and share panoramas on the Photosynth web site
  • Support for "structured panoramas" — panoramas consisting of hundreds of photos taken in a rectangular grid of rows and columns (usually by a robotic device like the GigaPan tripod heads)
  • No image size limitation — stitch gigapixel panoramas
  • Support for input images with 8 or 16 bits per component

Additional features

  • State-of-the-art stitching engine
  • Automatic exposure blending
  • Choice of planar, cylindrical, or spherical projection
  • Orientation tool for adjusting panorama rotation
  • Automatic cropping to maximum image area
  • Native support for 64-bit operating systems
  • Wide range of output formats, including JPEG, TIFF, BMP, PNG, HD Photo, and Silverlight Deep Zoom

System requirements

Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, 32 or 64 bit.

Download link:
http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ice/   (3MB)
 

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Comments

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 8:05  (49100)

Download link appears to be broken ??

by ianjrichards (not verified) on 5. May 2010 - 8:12  (49101)

It's now working.

by MidnightCowboy on 5. May 2010 - 8:28  (49103)

Truly spectacular. Lots of commercial applications too I guess for folks like real estate agents and others needing to promote a static image within a wider landscape.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 8:48  (49106)

NO , it's good !

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 10:00  (49107)

Still can't get this download link to work,.. I've tried a few different browsers but still no luck. My browsers work on any other site but not this one. Tried to download it from the "softpedia" site but still no joy. Maybe it's just an issue confined to my side of the planet (Australia). Will try again later.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 10:11  (49108)

I've been trawling the net looking for this download but as soon as it hooks up to Microsoft, it dies with a "broken link" message.
Finally got it from "SoftSea. com" If anyone else has a problem with Gizmos link,.. try this one:

Moderators comment:
Sorry, we cannot permit a live link to SoftSea.com as the site has a bad WOT rating. Users should be aware of this before they enter it.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 13:06  (49119)

Unfortunately, one has to install Microsoft NET 3.5. So I won't be, 'cos I'm not installing that little beastie.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 13:07  (49120)

I've downloaded without problem - in Melbourne, Aus.
Opened a new window, cut & Paste URL.

by tony on 5. May 2010 - 13:35  (49121)

I have this comment on my editorial on stitching software and this is number one in the list. but I agree the link is not a good one and a pain in the but. For another access link (I know its full of popups, but believe me it always works)
http://www.photo-freeware.net/microsoft-image-composite-editor.php

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 13:52  (49122)

Please tell us more about NET 3.5 - e.g. size, what it does, and why you don't want to install it.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 13:57  (49123)

Cut and paste URL, No problem. Downloaded very fast.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 14:01  (49125)

What's wrong with it?

Aren't you locking yourself out of future installs as well? Is it poison? Or you don't like OS updates?

Is there a technical reason, or is it just pig-headedness?

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 14:06  (49126)

Microsoft NET Framework adds bloat and uses resources. I don't need it for the stuff I run and I avoid occasional programs like this if its called for.
Windows secrets hasn't been in favour of the framework and updates two years ago caused chaos.
These are my main two reasons
1. Applications running in a managed environment tend to require more system resources than similar applications that access machine resources more directly.

2. Newer versions of the framework (3.5 and up) are not pre-installed in versions of Windows below Windows 7. Applications must lead users without the framework through a procedure to install it. Size of .NET framework runtime installers for end-users are huge. The size is around 54 MB for .NET 3.0, 197 MB for .NET 3.5, and 250 MB for .NET 3.5 SP1

by gbr on 5. May 2010 - 14:09  (49127)

The link is ok for me and ICE is fantastic. Thanks Gizmo.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 14:15  (49128)

Probably being pig headed. Its not an OS update. I run WIN XP Pro SP3 and update every time. I have a stable fast system which does the job I want of it. I'll go to Win 7 when I need to. I don't need the framework for 99% of what I do so I don't want the bloat.

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 17:04  (49138)

Hasn't autostitch.exe been doing basically the same thing for years (and also freeware, I believe)?

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 18:34  (49148)

The download link worked fine for me using Firefox. Clicked and it opened a new window and then chose the 64 bit and hit download. Worked perfect

by Anonymous on 5. May 2010 - 20:32  (49158)

Many, many thanks!! I also had the same or similar problems as several others had indicated. Nothing seemed to work. This link worked great on the first attempt. Super. Thanks again!!!

by ianjrichards (not verified) on 5. May 2010 - 23:22  (49163)

Autostitching products have been around for years. What's different with ICE is that has lifted the bar in both usability and capability.

Just think about it. I took 15 shots hand held in a very approximate two dimensional matrix and threw these to ICE along with a few unrelated photos. I didn't tell it how I took the shots, nor did I say in what order. I didn't even say they formed a 2D matrix rather than a one dimensional panorama. Yet it sorted it all out by itself without any intervention. Furthermore the joining and exposure matching was near flawless.

Now that is truly impressive. In fact too close to black magic for my liking :)

Gizmo

by DesElms on 6. May 2010 - 2:40  (49169)

That's just silly... the sort of thing that Linux and Firefox purists say. If you don't want to use Windows, then don't. But if you do, then guess what: The .NET framework is a necessary part of it.

The only time it's problematic is if one screws around with it... by doing something like trying to uninstall it; or by trying to apply the wrong update... stuff like that. The .NET framework, it's true, can be tricky. However, like Internet Explorer, it's a core part of Windows that really needs to be there, whether or not you use/need it.

And don't get me wrong, I hate Microsoft as much as the next guy. I'm just saying that there's not a thing wrong with the .NET framework, all versions, right up thru the new version 4, running on any version of Windows. You miss-out on about a third to maybe half of what's out there for Windows by turning-up your nose at it.

Just my $.02 worth (which my ex-wife will tell you is usually all it's worth).

__________________________
Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA

 

by DesElms on 6. May 2010 - 2:39  (49170)

So what?

It's WINDOWS we're talking about, here... not Linux. Bloat is a part of it, just like politics is a part of government, or seat belts are part of driving. Throw enough hardware at it (dual-core processor 2GHz or faster, minimum 4GB of RAM, minimum 250GB hard drive), bother to control what loads when Windows starts, run a simple memory optimizer (not just any optimizer but, rather, only this one), reboot every day (Windows isn't Linux and was never meant to go days and days or weeks and weeks without rebooting... and it's not a badge of honor to see how long one can go)...

...and you'll never even notice.

There's simply no justification for refusing to use the .NET framework in Windows. Yes, updates two years ago caused chaos. And no Linux or Mac release has ever screwed-up everything, either... right?

I've been at this for over 30 years. I was a purist/idealist once, too. Trust me, there's no point. You can't keep up, no matter how hard you try... not, at least, if you want a life. So don't try. Just play along and minimize harm, and everything works out in the end.

Believe it.

__________________________
Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA

 

by DesElms on 6. May 2010 - 2:34  (49171)

Wow... Ian... no kidding. It's amazing.

Microsoft won't keep this thing free for very much longer, I'll bet.

__________________________
Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA

 

by Anonymous on 6. May 2010 - 3:22  (49174)

Link not working, right now anyway?

by terrawarra on 6. May 2010 - 11:27  (49198)

Thanks from me as well Tony,. I've been trying most of the links for this freebie but without any luck,.. kept coming up as a broken link.
Your link was the "silver bullet" !

cheers

by Anonymous on 6. May 2010 - 12:40  (49201)

"Just think about it. I took 15 shots hand held in a very approximate two dimensional matrix and threw these to ICE along with a few unrelated photos. I didn't tell it how I took the shots, nor did I say in what order. I didn't even say they formed a 2D matrix rather than a one dimensional panorama. Yet it sorted it all out by itself without any intervention. Furthermore the joining and exposure matching was near flawless.
Now that is truly impressive. In fact too close to black magic for my liking :)
Gizmo"

Yes, of course I thought about it. In fact I do agree that it almost looks like black magic.

I am just saying that autostitch.exe has been doing the exact same thing (word by word) for free and for years now.

Which surprises me, because autostitch.exe has been actually reviewed by you here in the past.

by Anonymous on 6. May 2010 - 13:52  (49207)

DesElms, you are so funny.... I mean genuinely funny! Anyone who can make me laugh out loud's gotta be. And you achieved the near impossible today.

You're obviously long enough in the tooth to have learned the value of taking the road most travelled. I think many of us were a bit anal and obsessive about our computing in the earlier years but in the end learned to relax and slacken the reins a bit, realising that it all comes out in the wash eventually and all things have a way of balancing out over time and coming to a point of repose in the centre. Equilibrium. Balance.

On a more serious note, have you ever considered that techsupportalert.com is a very international site, and that quite a lot of the world is not yet on broadband?

A 250Mb download for .NET would be way out of reach, especially when dialup is pulling it in at a lousy 2-3KB/sec and the ISP cuts one off mandatorily every 4 hours.

In my country even in the more affluent regions there are houses where broadband can't be connected simply because there are too few ports/cabinets being set up. Telecom rules here and the pleading of the desperate fall on deaf ears. It will cut too deeply into Telecom's profits to install cabinets at a fast pace so they stretch it out over many years. So much for monopolies!

Cheers,
Morrisey

by Anonymous on 6. May 2010 - 13:54  (49208)

Thanks Tony, your link hit the sweet point.

by MidnightCowboy on 6. May 2010 - 14:13  (49210)

This is a very good point. When I moved from the UK to Brazil it was quite a learning curve in terms of both culture and infrastructure. The small city where I live is considered quite wealthy by national standards and yet the cable net only serves a small proportion of the total area. This is why most of us (me included) are forced to use a USB modem for broadband. The cost of this is beyond the reach of many here so dial-up rules!

by Anonymous on 6. May 2010 - 14:15  (49211)

Gizmo, that's a wonderful park that you live near to. An excellent place to unwind after doing all the great work. Thanks for the tip regarding Panorama Stitcher. More strength to your arms!

by Phylis Sophical on 6. May 2010 - 14:46  (49213)

I have v. 1.2 (Nov 2008) and it does not require NetFramework 3. I have v.2.
Fabulous program. I had some negatives from an old Box Brownie camera, cira early 50's. They were too big for my wiz bang negative scanner so I had to cut the negatives in half and scan each half separately. ICE put the two pieces back together absolutely seamlessly and without my having to decide which piece went where.

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