Kolor Autopano Giga & Pro Panorama Software Review

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Kolor Autopano Giga & Autopano Pro

Kolor produces two advanced automatic panorama stitching software, Autopano Giga and Autopano Pro. Both Autopano versions use Autostitch technology to automatically detect panoramas and optimally align images. The full power of that technology - which is not part of the free demo - can automatically recognize which images are part of a panorama from a folder of images and accepts both rectilinear and fisheye images.

Both stitching programs offer a choice of over 400 input formats, including RAW files from most cameras. Seven output formats ranging from the usual 8-bit to 32-bit per-component for the creation of full HDR panoramas are equally supported. The latest versions of Autopano Giga and Autopano Pro now support automatic Exposure-Fusion and HDR blending. Additionally, the Giga version features Exposure-Fusion customizations.

Autopano Giga and Pro are both designed for a high degree of automation and can do nearly everything automatically: Correct exposure and color inconsistencies between frames; Straighten the horizon; and even Optimally crop panoramas. Autopano Giga boasts a number of additional and plugins, including support for lens correction using Adobe Lens Profiles. See the list of differences on Kolor's website.

Autopano Pro and Autopano Giga are available for Windows, Linux and Mac. There are native 64-bit and 32-bit versions and the user-interface is available in 9 languages.

User Experience

Autopano Pro and Autopano Giga - collectively referred to as Autopano in this review - use the same elegant interface on a dark-grey background designed to minimize interference with color perception. Neither software is complex and they are easy to use after a reasonable period of learning. Their interface is unconventional in that it is modeless and is designed for automation and parallelism. While most stitching software force the user to progressively advance through a series of steps, Autopano does not.

Autopano Giga Preview
Autopano Giga Preview Window - Scaled Down

When Autopano starts, it presents a split window with one side for groups of files and the other for panoramas. From each group of files on the left, Autopano can detect any number of panoramas and add them to the right. There, each panorama shows a rough preview and basic information: Number of images, Resolution, Field-Of-View, RMS, Lens Type, Projection and Dynamic-Range. This information is there to assess if Autopano has detected well a panorama. One key metric is the RMS value which measures how well images match in overlapping areas. The lower the number, the better the match. High values usually appear either when the panorama is not taken properly or when photos are incorrectly identified as part of a panorama. This frequently occurs when photos of a subject are taken from multiple angles.

For an automatic workflow, Autopano only requires the user to press four buttons:

  1. Select Images, from the main toolbar, which puts a group of images on the left.
  2. Detect, appearing above each group of images, to detect panoramas and make them appear on the right.
  3. Render, either for a particular panorama or for all of them, which makes the Render dialog appear.
  4. Render, again but from the Render dialog, to confirm quality and output options.

Autopano Giga Panorama Editor
Autopano Giga Panorama Editor - Scaled Down

Should panoramas need modifications, a Panorama Editor window can be opened by clicking on the Edit button above each one. There are a number of tools available here, doing things like setting the type of projection, rotating the viewpoint, setting the vanishing point, defining a crop rectangle, straightening the horizon and verticals, etc. The automatic tools like Straighten Panorama and Set Vanishing Point actually work very well with just one or two clicks.

On the other hand, things like Panorama Rotation which requires setting one angle of rotation of each of 3 axis without showing an interactive preview are not very usable. It is impossible to choose correct values to a sufficient degree of precision without interactivity, and even the Move Image tool which is performed on the image by wire-frame suffers from the same problem.

An additional windows appear for editing control-points for each panorama. This can easily lead to dozens of windows open which becomes seriously confusing, so it is best to work on just a few panoramas at one time.

Output Quality & Performance

Autopano Giga and Autopano Pro seem to use the same rendering engine which produces excellent results. Rendered panoramas preserve sharpness very well even across image boundaries. The blending algorithm leaves no visible seems, uniformly blending color and exposure. Overlap regions are rendered with the best pixels from each image and avoids blending-in lens artifacts such as chromatic aberrations. Both Autopano versions are the only software to render an aberration-free panorama from our test images so far. Just note that the preview uses a quicker lower-quality algorithm, so while artifacts did not appear in the final renders, they do often show in the preview window.

Automatic Detection lets Autopano guess which images among a set of images belong to a panorama. Given a set of images that entirely forms a panorama, it always correctly detects the panorama and aligns the image properly. Given a much larger set, the detection algorithm is extremely aggressive and will group images into panoramas even if they were shot using completely different focal-lengths and do not form anything that can be called a panorama. It even groups images shot with different cameras!

It may be good to do this by default but having a high-certainty option could save considerable amounts of time. The one real detection issue is that Autopano may not detect a desired panorama from a huge set of files even if it is capable of doing so from the panorama images alone. Note that the RMS value is misleading for unrelated images grouped into a panorama because it possible to have a high-degree of overlap-match in a very small area.

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Exposure Fusion and HDR features are new to the Autopano family and extremely basic. When asked to perform stitching of an HDR panorama from HDR images generated by Photoshop, we could not get anything usable. Exposure Fusion faired somewhat better but insufficient control over contrast curves forced highlights to appear blown in the output. Not that performance of incorrect output really matters but Autopano took only 45 minutes to merge an Exposure-Fusion panorama which took PTGui Pro 4 hours. Autopano performed stitching correctly but not Exposure-Fusion while PTGui Pro performed Exposure-Fusion correctly but not the stitching! Finally, to get the desired panorama, we merged-to-HDR and tone-mapped brackets using Adobe Photoshop CS5 and then let Autopano Giga do the stitching.

High-quality stitching is a very CPU intensive operation and, given the excellent quality produced by Autopano, it is unsurprising that this software takes more time than most. For a simple 3 x 8 megapixels single-row panorama, the time to render was 51s using Autopano Pro and 58s using Autopano Giga when both software automatically chose a Planar projection. With a Cylindrical projection, the time went up to 84s. By comparison, this is 3X longer than MS ICE which automatically chose a Cylindrical projection.

Conclusion

Autopano Pro and Autopano Giga are excellent stitching software with a highly automatic and parallel workflow. They can both produce any number panoramas without user effort beyond telling where to find sources images and a few button clicks. Output quality is top notch with superb alignment and blending of images along seems. As they say, good things come to those who wait, and both these software take more time to render than their peers. However, the interface is designed to work on more than one panorama at a time and rarely blocks users.

Based on its performance and simplicity, we can highly recommend Autopano for stitching images. We suggest limiting images fed to automatic detection to those known to form panoramas - or a little more - to avoid dealing with many false positives. HDR and Exposure fusion features are new and not working reliably yet, so dedicated HDR Software in addition to Autopano is advisable to those interested in HDR panoramas.

The big question is to go Pro or Giga. For beginners, the Pro version gives excellent value while providing all essential features for automatically creating panoramas. The Giga version provides additional power through plugins which are used to process images before being fed to the stitching algorithm. Included with Autopano Giga is a plugin to use Adobe Lens Profiles and one to reduce haze in distant panoramas.

Kolor sells Autopano Pro and Autopano Giga directly on their website. Products can be purchased individually or as a bundle with other software. There are 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows, Linux and Mac.

To improve chances of capturing perfect panoramas, check high-grade tripods and heads from Manfrotto.

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High quality panoramas are assembled by specialized image stitching software like the ones reviewed here. Stitching a panorama photo is very complex so the panorama software can make a huge difference.

Panoramic Photography Gear

All you really need is a capable digital camera and stitching software. There is plenty of photography gear that can greatly help make a panorama, with a tripod being most beneficial.

Check items below for recommended gear to make capturing panoramic photos much more enjoyable: