OK, panorama stitching has been around for quite some time and there are excellent pieces of software out there. Do we need another one? The answer may be: “Yes, if you want to stitch from video.” I stumbled upon this software from Microsoft; it is called Image Composite Editor, or ICE. I think they started with the acronym and then made up the full name since it is an awkward name. But, as awkward as the name may be, the software itself is quite capable. Let me start with a simple example.
I shot the following three photographs of a nearby tree with my Canon G1 X Mark II, carefully hand-held. After opening ICE, I dragged the exported images on to ICE and clicked on “Stitch”. In short order, it produced a very nice vertical stitched image with the typical stitching distortion artifacts. It was relatively simple to fix the distortion in Photoshop and you see the corrected result in the fifth image. By the way, the panorama I created using Lightroom 6 was almost identical to this one with the same distortions. Here are the input and output files for the simple experiment:
On the ICE Web site, I had also read that it could create panoramas from video files. So I experimented with a very simple video of my house, dropped the file on to ICE, and clicked on “Stitch”:
Watch the video The result is the stitched and cropped file you see on the left. Not too shabby! Then I wondered if I could record a multi-row video to get a bigger angle of view and took the video from the rear window starting on an imaginary top-left corner and panning slowly to the right, then down a little and moving to the left and so on. Again, I dropped the video on ICE and clicked on the “Stitch” button for it to do its thing. I am showing the resulting stitched image with its jagged sides which stem partly from my hand-held camera movement and partly from the extensive angle coverage. Watch the multi-row stitch video. The resulting stitched image is below on the right.
This software has another ace in its sleeve, if you record a video with a moving object then it can render the moving object in multiple positions in the resulting composite image. To test this, we went to Salter Grove with Jim to see if we could find some landing birds. Not finding any, I volunteered to record Jim who in turn volunteered to run across a short path! Jim knew a skateboard park and thought there may be some people doing stunts. We drove to the park and watched a couple of guys do their thing. They were either just starting or trying to learn new moves, but they provided perfectly good test subjects. I recorded multiple videos and we returned home.
When we returned home, I again dragged and dropped the video file on ICE and let it stitch. Using its internal judgment it picked some positions of Jim on the flight path. Here is the first attempt at creating this type stitched panorama.
And then tried the skateboarder video with the following result:
We were puzzled why ICE picked those particular positions. “But, wait, there’s more!” (as my good friend Barry used to say in his famous Ginsu commercials.) ICE also allows the user to pick particular positions of the moving object for inclusion in the stitch, but the control took me a little time to figure out. It is actually on the initial video import screen where I was able to move the timeline slider and then draw a selection rectangle on the subject I wanted to include. This part requires some thinking and planning since overlapping selections may result in ghost images, especially if you want to include the subject on the return path as well. After a few tries I was able to get the following results:
Both of the last two images come from the same video file with different positions being selected in each.
Where to get this free software? Point your browser to Image Composite Editor site and download either the 32-bit or the 64-bit version depending on your computer hardware. Installation is simple and the software interface is quite simple. Here are some additional information, some good, some not so good.
- It can detect the camera movement method and use the appropriate alignment and distortion to merge images (or video)
- There are multiple mapping options which control the type of distortion ICE applies to match the images, they are click selectable and show the preview instantly
- ICE can handle multiple rows and columns of images and stitch them to a finished product
- The stitch window allows adjusting the result by changing its yaw, pitch, roll
- In the crop view it offers auto complete, but it is very rudimentary; it will probably do a good job on sky or grass, but I will not push it too far
- The process is rather quick
- There are multiple options for output, large files can be exported to “Deep Zoom” format or sent to Photosynth, another Microsoft technology which is probably driving ICE
- Price is right
- Can be fun
- The auto complete feature is very weak
- It can handle RAW files but the conversion is not that good and there are no adjustments, use TIFF or JPEG files
- Selecting particular object positions in video panorama cannot be changed after the first stitch attempt, or I have not been able to find how
- If anything in #3 needs changing, you need to cancel the session, import the video file again, and start over
- Documentation, well, it is sparse
In the following gallery you will see the interface in action. I have captions to indicate what is going on, so I will not elaborate here again. The tool is easy to use, the results are different maybe even fun, play with it with your subjects. It will be interesting to capture some large finches landing on water on video and show the landing path with the subject in different positions.