Looking at the big sky

by Giles Turnbull

It was only after encountering one of those really big skies, the kind that makes your jaw drop a little and your eyes ache from trying to take it all in, that I started to think about photo stitching software.

Of course I didn't have the camera with me on that occasion (that always happens), but the next time I saw a half-decent skyscape, I made sure to take plenty of photos with overlaps, so I could experiment with stitching them together into something nice.

But first I had to find some stitching software.

My first attempt was with Hugin OS X, which has been sitting in my "things to try out" list for a long time. Now I had the chance.

Hugin screenshot (from hugin.sourceforge.net)

Hugin is freeware, currently in beta development, but is impressively comprehensive. This is an application packed with detail, designed for making high quality panoramic images.

Despite spending some time playing with the app, and reading the (useful and well-written) tutorials, I was unable to produce a decent stitched image. I kept getting odd results after the Optimize stage, but I suspect this might have been a manifestation of a known bug mentioned on the project home page.

But when using Hugin I couldn't help noticing the level of complexity involved (and I don't mean that as a criticism). Adding a set of images and clicking control points on each one is simple to understand; but in the later stages of the process, you're asked to confirm settings for Roll, Pitch and Yaw; and what kind of stitching interpolator you wish to use. This is not an app for digital photography newbies; it's something that serious (perhaps even professional) people will want to devote time to learning and perfecting.

I searched around for something a bit simpler, and found my way to DoubleTake, which is almost the exact opposite of Hugin.

DoubleTake screenshot

DoubleTake's process is simplicity itself. Drag in some images, and DoubleTake tries to automatically line them up straight away. OK, so it never did a fantastic job of this on the occasions I used it, but success at this stage is a moot point anyway; it's your work of art under construction here, so you drag the images the way you want them to be. DoubleTake's first stab is just to get you started.

And it really is just drag-things-around simplicity. Once you have everything lined up the way you want it, you click a button to auto-crop and zap! - your panorama is complete.

I liked the instant results, and I loved the swift simplicity. Sure, compared to Hugin, this is limited and will never get you the same kind of results for really complex panoramas. But if all you want is instant panoramic pictures with the minimum of fuss, DoubleTake does the job perfectly. It's shareware, only 12 bucks, which I think is very good value for money.

Any other recommendations?