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

 
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Tags

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

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Comments

by Anonymous on 23. April 2008 - 3:53  (241)

For a different kind of stitching, you might want to include Microsoft's GroupShot. This allows you to stitch together the best portrait from a series of similar portrait shots.

by Anonymous on 11. June 2008 - 2:40  (1899)

I have recently discovered Hugin, a very nice piece of work, fully automatic, and also all the techinical stuff transparent to you if you like playing with the numbers.

http://hugin.sourceforge.net/

by tony on 13. June 2008 - 15:43  (2027)

Hugin, is a good Open scource stitch program. It is however a very difficult program for most to get to grips with. It does have a few WYSIWYG aspects to it, but much of the information it requires needs a lot of knowledge more than the average user would possibly know. I do use it on odd occasions. But, then I sometimes get my lens info all up the creek.

Tony

by Arithmomaniac on 7. October 2008 - 1:40  (8791)

I vote for Hugin, too.

by marcdarkin on 7. October 2008 - 2:42  (8793)

Gosh, it looked so promising!

I installed ICE and proceeded to test it right away with four 10mpx uncompressed TIFs. I know that's a bit demanding but modern stitching programs should handle it with no problems.

Well, after loading the pics it read 'solving...' and was like that for so long I thought my PC had hanged, until I clicked on cancel and the process was stopped. I tried again and had the same result. I thought it could be because of the number of photos or their size, so I tried just two 3mpx JPGs. The same thing again. At my fourth attempt I happened to click on the cube in the toolbar while the operation was still displaying the 'solving' message and... at last! The thing isn't obvious at all, if that's the way it's intended to work. Probably it isn't.

Then I was able to go through the functions and I really understand why you're so enthusiastic about it, Tony. Really nice capabilities, though I miss a color matching option. However, that's not much to complain about in a free program.

But... something went wrong. I clicked on the 'exit' button and the program closed after prompting to save the project. A minute later I tried to open it again and the typical 'ICE has found a problem and must be closed...' appeared on screen. And that was so for as many times as I tried. I thought I'd better reinstall it and went to the program folder just to find there's no uninstaller.

I'll try overwriting the old folder, but that'll be tomorrow. We'll see.

These issues might be specific to my setup, but they shouldn't be there. Yes, I know it's a beta, but I don't know whether to think Microsoft are again neglecting basic aspects or they are unaware of them. Anyway, I think it's best if I report the bugs. Hopefully they'll fix them.

Marc

by tony on 7. October 2008 - 6:35  (8807)

Actually Marc I had a few problems and uninstalled it with Revo and then reinstalled it. I would suggest you do that first rather than over write it, it should work fine then, it is a BETA. There is one more bug and that is if it doesn't appear click on the image area and it will come up. As you say these will be fixed. But, don't let this put you off the results are the best I have seen from a free panoramic software that is easy to handle. I am not aware of a free program straight off the top of my head that does colour matching. Freeware panoramic software is a bit thin on the ground, especially anything that produces anything worth while and that is not complex.

Tony

by Anonymous on 7. October 2008 - 8:37  (8809)

What the heck is MS doing in the visual design area ?!? If they are creating a market beyond Adobe they have my support...

by marcdarkin on 7. October 2008 - 12:27  (8815)

I did as you advised, Tony, but the issue remains. After using Revo I reinstalled ICE and had no poblems working with it, except for the 'solving' bug. But then I closed it and it won't start again. The error window appears every time I try.

Sad, because I agree the results are very good.

Marc

by Anonymous on 7. October 2008 - 21:25  (8892)

WOT addon for Firefox tells me that Panorama Perfect lite site is a dangerous one for reliability and privacy. That may or may not be the case but use precaution. Based on comments on Firefox web site, reliability problems may be due to fact WOT does not like some sites which are actually ok.

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/search?q=wot

by Anonymous on 8. October 2008 - 16:40  (8930)

As of October 7th and 8th, I am NOT ABLE to download this Beta program from the links posted to Microsoft's Research Center.

by Anonymous on 8. October 2008 - 22:53  (8948)

October 8. I just downloaded and installed it. No problem.

by mikedutch (not verified) on 9. October 2008 - 11:45  (8965)

Microsoft Labs also offers a 3D stitcher: http://photosynth.net/

by tony on 16. October 2008 - 19:43  (9218)

Sorry Anonymous have been away and am catching up. WOT is not always right, so common sense has to prevail here I am afraid. I have loaded it several tomes on a few computers and it is fine. Hope that helps

Tony

by tony on 16. October 2008 - 19:46  (9219)

Hi Mike, as I see it photosynth is made up of global images and from that it creates on on-line image of a building, statue or what ever. Its very clever technology but from what I see not one you create for your computer, but I will get some time to assess and see if my understanding is correct.

Tony

by tony on 16. October 2008 - 19:47  (9220)

Glad to see you had no problem

Tony

by Anonymous on 18. October 2008 - 13:30  (9288)

MS said that the evaluation period for GroupShot is over, and I can't get it to run anymore. Do you know how to tweak it to ignore the "do not run after XX"??

by tony on 18. October 2008 - 17:02  (9292)

Actually I had nothing to do with the GroupShot edit but I will have a look at it later and see what MS are doing with it.

Tony

by tony on 22. October 2008 - 11:15  (9461)

Just a note if you are trying to download ICE that people are getting difficulties in accessing the Microsoft site. If this is the case then go to this location and downloaded if from here
http://www.photo-freeware.net/microsoft-image-composite-editor.php

Tony

by tony on 24. October 2008 - 17:30  (9592)

Ok, for those who could not load this up onto their computers I suggest you try again. They have another update that they loaded on the 17th Oct. Worth downloading again even if you have it on your computer for the update

Tony

by Anonymous on 10. March 2009 - 14:15  (17536)

I am using Windows Live Photo Gallery.
I have had no problems with it though it can be slow.
It handles hand held shots well, i did a 12 photo 360 deg. pan and a 180 deg over the top of my head.
It colour matches very well.
Photoshop CS3 is good if you have it - I don't.
However it successfully joined two photos that were taken at 28 and 40mm (effective focal lengths.
Bockey.

by tony on 10. March 2009 - 19:00  (17555)

Thats great to hear. I have had nothing but success with this.

by Anonymous on 29. March 2009 - 8:03  (18808)

"... but a little-publicised feature is available in the Make menu: "Panorama Stitcher"."

It's not little-publicized any more, if you've been watching any network TV at all in recent months.

Also, is this critter ad-supported, or what? What's Microsoft's expected revenue stream from this? They wouldn't be paying the big bucks for prime-time national advertising (for several apps in the Live suite) unless they had solid expectations of making some money from it. Clearly "free" isn't really very free with Windows Live Photo Gallery, so what's the catch? I started skimming the "service agreement" for it, and it's got more than one paragraph dealing with charges and fees... though NOTHING SPECIFIC, of course.

Call me paranoid, but I don't trust what Microsoft is up to with this whole "Live" program, and I won't use it. Frankly, I suspect they hope to get people hooked, at which point they'll change the service agreement and start CHARGING A SUBSCRIPTION for them. That's the Holy Grail: being able to charge people every month for software instead of just once for a license.

by Anonymous on 3. May 2009 - 18:29  (20998)

For what it's worth, I just generated a a couple of panoramas from the same images (made by rotating the camera in a slightly haphazard fashion :-) using ICE and Autostich by way of comparison.
The results from Autostich were far superior (ie. much more natural looking) in both cases.

by tony on 3. May 2009 - 21:40  (21014)

Interesting, I shall have a go at that myself. The only thing I find with autostitch is that it tends to be more rotund, if thats the phrase and I have always a lot to crop and alter. Thanks for your input

Tony

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

I vote for hugin !

by tony on 7. June 2009 - 7:53  (23227)

Hugin is fine, just very complex and I never always find I get results. Some of the results have been weird to say the least. I am surprised the Hugin people haven't developed further as it has so much more potential and to reduce the input factors that it really relies on. Maybe its time I have another go with it, but for most my top choice is still easy to use and gives good results. I use ICE all the time and I am not complaining about the results

Tony

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 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 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 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

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