Having a quick look at several panorama software packages for stitching ultrawide frames used in astrophotography.

This isn’t a full review of each package, just a “quick” first feel for many of these packages.  I’ve been using PTGUI pro for awhile after photoshop failed to stitch a 2 layer panorama.  The challenge that we often have with the ultra-wide angle panoramas include the significant distortion that causes problems for the stitching.

The software programs that I’m having a quick look at are:

Testing methodology:

  • System – windows 10 64 bit CPU i5 4590(3.3Ghz) 32Gb RAM.
  • I used a 30 image 2 layer panorama.  Tested as 30 image (shifted 15 degrees per image) panorama and 15 image panorama (missing alternative images to represent 30 degree shifts)
  • Tested as single layer panorama
  • Images have been pre-processed in lightroom for lens profile correction applied (Tamron 15mm on a full frame), sharpening removed and 20 for noise correction.

For serious testing, I should be testing different panoramas with/without parallax issues and also at different focal lengths.  This is an ultra-wide test at 15mm  on a full frame camera.  With enough experience with some of the packages, I’m sure I could yield a superior result to the initial stitch.

Starting off with lightroom and photoshop as these are the two software packages are more common.

Lightroom – I dont’ really like using lightroom for ultrawide.  The panorama process means that you select the frames and the type of panorama and if it didn’t stitch right, you had to start again.  I don’t know if there is a faster way of restitching.

Spherical with 15 frames didn’t stitch properly (30 degrees per frame).

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Spherical with 30 frames managed to stitch.  So the increased amount of overlay helped (15 degrees per frame)

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Spherical with one layer of the panorama for 15 frames worked – but has the same style of stitch.

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I note that sometimes I don’t like using the spherical stitch due to the shape and/or star stretching- so this is a limitation of lightroom.   With spherical – you can see at the top of the image that in order to stitch the ultra wide together it pulls the stars like a rubber band. Cylindrical didn’t work and perspective didn’t render.

Photoshop – has the same sort of issues as lightroom.  You create the panorama and if it doesn’t work, start again.  I can’t help but think I’m missing something 😛

Automated 2 layer with all 30 images – wow that looks like I ate something bad.

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I’ll have to confess – PS just didn’t manage to stitch the panorama properly.  Since lightroom could do at least something – I think I must have been doing something wrong.

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I tried automated 2 layer with 30 images, 15 images and single layer with 15 images and for this particular panorama it failed.

PTGUI Pro – I really like this software.  It had a bit of a learning curve to begin with, but now it’s a bit second nature to me now.  When the panorama doesn’t stitch together properly, the use of control points to match between images is great and the masking ability.  It can also do HDR panoramas.

First initial stitch said that it couldn’t match all the points and needed me to connect them manually.  What happens then is I add the connecting points to each other and restitch it.  Depending what is missing, this can be a timely process.

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This is what the initial stitch looks like after the warning notice – so you can see where it can’t place the points.  This is the default stitch pattern.

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Using just a single layer of the 2 layer panorama – it stitches neatly.

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This is one of the reasons I love PTGui is you can just change the type of the panorama immediately and see the results rather than going back and restitching.  Also you can pick up the image and shift it about and see the changes immediately.  So in this instance can level the horizon, change the shape by shifting the panorama to the left or right and it will reassess and restitch on the fly.

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The masking ability allows you to include or exclude what you use from each of the frames.  So in my panorama self portraits, can ensure the frame with all of myself is in the frame and it doesn’t chop me in half with the blend.  Helps also when you see meteorites that you want to include in the panorama or remove duplications of satellites.  PTGui pro however comes at a cost – so the next two options are free options that are also quite powerful.  Having said that, I’d still use PTGui pro.

Hugin – is free software (but I’m sure they’re open to contributions).  Seemed very slow to stitch initially, but I found the options to be quite powerful.  You can use control points and masking and shift the image quite readily.

The initial stitch however was a bit of a fail – using all the images for a 2 level panorama.

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But in a very short time of just picking up the image and shifting it within the screen, brought the whole stitch together properly.

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Single layer panorama was also an easy stitch in this instance.

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So Hugin is free and looks pretty powerful but slow.  It has the ability for control points and masking.

Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor) – is also free software and comes with good recommendations.  Looks like you can instruct the software how to use the frames in sequence to stitch it together.

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Stitching went fine with the 2 layer 30 image panorama.

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Also it’s easy to change the style of panorama.

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It didn’t seem to like using less frames though (ie less overlap).

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I quite liked Microsoft ICE – it did have some different panorama output types but not some of the primary types that I like.  Notably the fisheye effect that I use.  The panorama movements also felt a little bit more limited in being able to pick up and re-orientate the image.

Despite PTGui Pro not being able to stitch immediately without additional work.  It remains my favourite at the moment, probably because I’ve gotten accustomed to it’s usage and it’s features.  I quite like Hugin – seems very much like PTGui pro, but is a bit slower and initially the learning curve is quite high – but then again, so was PTGui.

There is another software package that I haven’t included here that I do use.  Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) (note – I’d add a link, but at the time of writing, it doesn’t work) – is a specific astrophotography program that aligns stars.  It is a bit inconsistent for me in working and requires a lot of hard disk drive space, but can yield fantastic results as a mosaic.

What’s been your panorama stitching experiences?

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