Q: Is there a software program I can buy that will allow me to connect pictures together into a panoramic image? — Jill
A:The joys of digital photography extend beyond the obvious when you start to explore the world of image manipulation.
Once you have the images on your computer, there is no shortage of things that you can do with them.
There are a plethora of programs that will allow you to do some incredible things with your images, but creating panoramic images is one that seems to be less known.
Most of us have tried to take pictures in sequence for a panoramic scene, so this type of software can prove to be most useful. But you must understand the limitations. These kinds of programs attempt to find “connecting points” in your images to stitch them together, so the results can be anywhere from great to terrible.
As usual, there are various low-cost and even free options for performing this task, and the good news is that most of them offer a trial download so you can give it a test drive before you make the purchase.
Generally speaking, the easier the program is to use, the less control you will have over the results.
Panorama Maker from Arc-Soft ($39.99) is designed to be easy to use and performs many of the tasks automatically. It can stitch horizontal, vertical and even 360-degree images in both the JPG and RAW file formats and supports banner paper and multisheet printing.
The free trial download of Panorama Maker (Mac or PC) is available at www.arcsoft.com/products/panoramamakerpro.
For more adventurous types who want a free program with lots of manual control, there is Hugin (hugin.sourceforge.net — available in 16 languages for the Mac, Linux and Windows.)
Hugin allows you to choose all of the “stitching” points within the various photos, so it will require you to do more but likely give you more controllable results. The documentation is mostly posted in the “tutorials” section of the Web site, so don’t expect an elegant experience during the install and initial running of the program.
There are optional tools that you can download that will give you more automated control point selection with Hugin, including Autopano, Autopanosift and Smartblend (all links are at the same site).
Another simple program that works in both automatic and manual mode is PanoStitcher from Pixtra. It touts the ability to combine images even if they are taken at different focal lengths.
The free trial can be downloaded at www.pixtra.com and costs $29.95 if you decide you like it.
If you are interested in building panoramic images for virtual tours (like you see at most residential real estate Web sites these days) you can download a trial version of Panorama Builder at www.panobuilder.com.
This program is much more expensive ($199) and is really designed specifically for virtual tours. So if you just want to stitch images, stick to one of the other choices.