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Enroute Imaging
QuickStitch
by Rick Smith (June 4, 1999)

Ever find a vista or a building that you want to take a picture of, but it just won't fit in your camera's viewfinder? And stepping back to get the whole picture isn't a option? QuickStitch is your answer. Simply stated, it allows you to glue ("Stitch") several pictures together to form larger composite pictures.

The program consists of only three main screens: the picture choosing and arranging screen, the popup window for setting the
stitching parameters and the results (output) screen. Due to this low screen count, learning the program is fairly easy. If you take good pictures, you will very quickly get excellent results.

The program is capable of stitching as few as two pictures, vertically or horizontally or as many as 36 (6 rows by 6 columns) or anything in between. The most important feature of the program is that instead of simply fitting the pictures together, the program corrects for perspective by making the edges of a tall building straight. Until you try this for yourself, you won't believe the dramatic difference this makes on the realism of architecture or landscape shots. You can also choose from four different output resolutions from small to jumbo.

When starting to use this program, I suggest stitching 2 pictures together, before you attempt a 36 picture stitch. I have tried 6 picture stitches both horizontally and vertically, hand held, and have achieved excellent results. I have also attempted 3 rows of 4 pictures each (also hand held) with poor results. Although each row came out fine individually, together there were several areas that were "double exposed". This was because I must have accidentally moved the camera between rows. I was also shooting fairly close objects (under 3 feet) and the camera was completely hand held -

So, I wouldn't attempt this kind of tight wrap-around shot regularly without the assistance of a VR pan head such as the Hakuba Videomate 507 tripod or Kaidan's Kiwi line.

The most important rules to remember when taking pictures for QuickStitch are:

  • The exposure between shots should be as close as possible. If possible, turn OFF automatic exposure and manually set the exposure. This can be extremely difficult in some digital cameras.

  • There must be about 40% overlap between shots. You might be able to get away with less, but I wouldn't chance it.

  • Each picture in the panorama set must have the same spatial center. To accomplish this, you should strive to pivot the camera about the center point of the "film surface". You also need to keep the camera at the same angle for each row. If the angle is different between shots, QuickStitch will stitch the pictures but you'll end up cropping portions of your image to get a rectangular result, you will have to crop only the common area. Keeping this "spatial center" is probably the hardest rule to perform correctly, especially when your subjects are close. For me, it becomes easier when the subject is farther away. Errors show up as blurred or "double exposed" areas.

    So far, I have used this program for about a year and here are my findings:

  • The program is quite good and performs reliably most of the time.

  • When you carefully take the pictures by following the rules above, the results are OUTSTANDING, almost unbelievable. You will be very impressed by the results.

    Here are the problems I have found with the program:

  • The default directory for retrieving or saving files is the QuickStitch directory and the program doesn't have any way to create a different default directory.

  • Although the program is packed with the Nikon 900S, stitching fine (high resolution) pictures from the Nikon can tax even a speedy Pentium computer. Stitching pictures from a Sony Mavica are much faster, due to the lower resolution and smaller file size. Start out by stitching lower resolution pictures.

  • Sometimes the program gives absolutely no results without any errors or explanations. When trying to create a large or jumbo output, the program sometimes displays a gray screen after several minutes of processing. I try to reduce the output size to see if that will get some output.

  • When working with large input pictures, the program can sometimes crash. Reducing the size of the output (and rebooting) seems to cure the problem.

  • With certain pictures, the program appears to become confused and the result becomes a scrambled mess. I have talked to other people who have used the program and they have had similar experiences. Certain pictures just don't stitch together. I have also found that if you have too MUCH overlap, the program can sometimes become confused. So far, the only way I have solved the problem is to reshoot the picture and when doing so, reduce the number of pictures to stitch so the location of the stitch area will change.

  • Although the program is fairly easy to use, constantly changing the input and output directories gets to be a pain. The program is also limited to six pictures, in width or height, so you have to make sure that you don't end up taking seven or eight pictures in your panorama.

    Conclusion
    Overall, it is an excellent program that does very well and I recommend it. I would like it to do more than 6 pictures across, so I could use it for several 180+ degree shots I have taken of Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas. (Yes, there is more to Vegas than Comdex and slot machines.) QuickStitch is like adding a new lens to your digital camera that allows you to better capture the experience, and drama of scenes, that you photograph.

    Pro
    Ability to stitch vertically as well as horizontally
    Ability to stitch more than one row or column of pictures
    Multiple output sizes
    Tall vertical building sides are straight when stitched.

    Con
    Inability to set working directories that remain from session to session
    Sometimes crashes or gets no result
    Sometimes gets "confused" and puts a picture together incorrectly
    Needs better exposure correction

    Requirements
    I have used the program successfully on a 486 laptop with 24 megabytes of RAM with Windows 95, but if you are doing lots of "stitches", use the fastest machine you can find. Even with a 486, most stitches will take only a few minutes.

    Copyright 1999 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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