Autostitch is not meant to be a real software package but a demo of the incredible technology that has brought panoramic photography to the next level. The authors of this program have licensed their technology to a number of commercial software makers and kindly provided with a working time-limited demo to Windows users for free. That demo is simply known as Autostitch.
Autostitch is obtainable as a ZIP file directly from the website. There is nothing to install as long as your computer can open ZIP files already. Simply extract the content and start the executable. This is a bare experience highly valued for its simplicity. To uninstall, just delete the files and you are done. Although no expiry is mentioned on their website, every few months, Autostitch displays a dialog instructing the user to download a new version.
Using Autostitch is simplicity itself, partly because it does nearly everything automatically and partly because it does very little. When the program starts, it presents the user with an almost empty window. The window never shows anything more, it is just there to hold the menu bar. The File menu has two options: Open and Exit. Selecting Open lets the user choose images and Autostitch starts stitching temp together immediately.
A better place to start is with the Edit menu which only has one item called Options. This item brings up a rather large dialog which shows seven groups of options. Most of them have cryptic names like SIFT Image Size, Theta Max or Phi Min. These seem like implementation parameters which are only understandable by the author. Do not panic though, the two important option groups are understandable. Output Size is used to control the size of the produced panorama by specifying a width, height or percentage of the maximum possible resolution. Selecting 100% gives the highest resolution output. Other Options controls the amount of system memory used and the JPEG quality of the output.
The third menu, Stitch, has a single item as well, Start. This is used in case the images were already opened and the options were changed after. Once you make the habit of changing options first and opening files second, the Start item is no longer needed. The final menu, Help, again has a single item, About. It really seems like the application only really needs two buttons: Open, which would show the options dialog before starting to stitch, and Exit for those who have not discovered the X icon to close windows.
Creating a panorama by stitching images is an extremely complex operation. Features must be aligned, distorted, stretched, corrected and blended. This provides plenty of opportunities to image quality get destroyed, producing areas of softness, details of unnatural appearance and visible seems. The quality of a panorama depends not only on the software used but on the individual images that for the panorama.
Autostitch pioneered automatic stitching and produces good quality output without user-input. Compared to traditional stitching programs, this is a huge improvement as those frequently produce obvious seams. The feature matching is really good, generally much better than can be done by hand which requires extreme precision. Blending of edges is also well done. Sharpness is well preserved and reasonable around stitching boundaries. There are issues dealing with lens artifacts such as flare that shift along with camera movements.
Panorama quality is a relative measure. When Autostitch first appeared, it was considered absolutely amazing since it leaped ahead of previous technologies. Today, Autostitch is the basis of many commercial package who have refined the blending and stitching algorithms even further. As such, Autostitch should now be considered the baseline for stitching software in terms of quality. After all, anything that gives lower quality than what you get from free software, is a waste of time.
Autostitch shows weaknesses in areas of memory consumption and speed. It is easy to notice that this software runs out of memory before most others, even after overriding the pathetic default with the maximum of 1.99 GB. Speaking of this, expecting users to tell software how much memory to use is silly. Software should figure out how much is needed and try to manage with what is available. On a test involving a single row of three images with 8 megapixels, Autostitch took 82 seconds. By contrast, Autopano Giga took less than 40s including the time it takes to press the three buttons to get the job done.
Autostitch is the easiest panorama stitching software there is. It offers virtually no controls, so the results are take-it-or-leave-it. Still, it performs admirably well, producing seamless panoramas with a good success rate. Based on a cost of zero dollars, it is absolutely worth a try for those starting with panorama photography.
Autostitch is currently available for Windows directly from Autostitch.net. There is also an iPhone version available for purchase for $2 USD from the Apple App Store.
To improve chances of capturing perfect panoramas, check high-grade tripods and heads from Manfrotto.
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.
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: