Saturday, November 04, 2006

Panoramic Paranoia

I've discovered the single most essential photographic tool that's ever been invented.
Autostitch: leave your fish-eye at home.
(And hooray for Canadian university students! Vancouver might be rainy and miserable, but they do have a ton of good programmers down there.)

Here are some samples of what I'm talking about:
This is the scenic part of Broad Street: The Bodelian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre, and a Science Museum for which I cannot remember a name.
This is the other end of Broad Street, facing the same direction. Plenty of shops, some of which have good ice cream and pens. That's Emily's head on the right, and some random Cyclopath on the left, and a bunch of other tourists. I think the spectre is Megan.
Here's the back of the Sheldonian, with most of the OSP standing around listening to The Julian's witty remarks.

These are very easy to make. Just take a whole bunch of pictures of whatever you want to see in glorious panorama, and make sure you have plenty of overlap. Then when you get home, put all of the pictures on your computer and tell Autostitch to open a group of them. The rest is like magic!
After it renders the image, Autostitch will open it in the default program. I use Irfanview,
mostly because it's free and just as powerful as most image-adjustment programs that cost big bucks.

There are a few problems with this method:
First, it seems that my camera's lense is already distorting images quite a bit. Buildings in Oxford might not all be plumb-straight, but some of these pictures make it look like a set from a Muppet movie. There are settings to play around with that make the distortion less noticeable, but there's a corresponding loss of image quality and it takes a lot of monkeying.
Second, in heat-of-the-moment shots like these, you can't tell people to stand in one spot while you take all these pictures. That's why you see those ghostly apparitions; Autostitch is doing its best to make the images match.

There are a few commercial programs that use this software, Autopano Pro looks like an easier way to play around with the settings, but it still doesn't do everything for you. It's a lot of money to buy it anyway, so I'll just settle for guessing the difference between theta and phi settings.

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