Price When Reviewed: 300 . 75
Pros: Comprehensively featured, easy-touse panorama stitching tool with efficient workflow for QuickTime VR, movie, web and print output.
Cons: Now under Autodesk ownership, this version adds only a few genuinely new features over the RealViz-developed version 5.7; pricey.
There are also tools for setting up QuickTime VR interactive images, creating basic timeline movies within an image, exporting panoramas in HTML pages (or KML for GoogleEarth), and for linking multiple views to create virtual tours. 2D panoramas can also be set up with various projections for printing, up to very high resolutions for posters and murals. However, all these were available in version 5.7.
Genuinely new features include: access to graphics cards for GPU hardware acceleration of rendering and previews; the ability to set up authoring controls (such as playback start and stop, and other constraints) within the main working window; the ability to blend HDR images inside Stitcher itself from sets of exposure-bracketed shots; and the addition of specific distortion parameters to support the 185-degree Sunex fisheye lens for Canon and Nikon cameras.
There’s a mildly tweaked user interface that reorganizes or simplifies some menu choices, though the excellent five-step Workflow toolbar remains largely unchanged.
Unfortunately, the built-in batch processor for rendering queues of image sets has disappeared, though it’s still possible to save stitching templates and apply them to other sets one by one.
The automated stitching remains impressive: the accuracy of image alignment is largely dependent on how careful you are at the photography stage. If you’re shooting single-row landscape panoramas of distant hills, you can probably get away with hand-holding the camera and overlapping the shots by about a third.
If you’re shooting multi-row or fisheye spherical images – particularly inside buildings or confined areas where objects appear close to the viewpoint – then you’ll need to use a tripod with a specialized panoramic alignment head. The heads are fiddly and expensive, but they’re vital if you need top-quality images.
Stitcher does great job of blending, but it’s not always perfect. People, animals and tree branches tend to move between shots, making a perfect match impossible. In this case, you have to go in and manually mask out mismatched objects or people using the Stencil tool. This is one of Stitcher’s standout features and allows high-quality images, but it’s a hands-on process that often takes far longer than stitching and rendering.