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REALVIZ Stitcher Express

Panorama and QuickTime VR imaging application By John Virata

Stitcher Express is an imaging application that enables you to stitch together several photographs into one, and then save that image as a QuickTime VR cubic image cylindrical image, or panorama. The application runs on Mac OS X and Windows, and is a limited edition version of the company's Stitcher application.

The Stitcher Express interface is fairly simple, with just three tabs that you work within; Start, Stitch, and Render. The Start tab is where you import the images that you want to stitch together. The images that you import into the application appear below the project window in the Image Strip. This strip houses all the images that you may want to bring into the application. After you have imported the images that you wish to use in the project, you move to the next tab, which is the Stitch tab.

Here you drop the first two images that you want to stitch, align them as best as you can, and then click the stitch icon to stitch the images together. After you have stitched the first two images together, you can then stitch the rest of the images that will make up your composition.  When working with the images, Stitcher Express enables you to adjust for focal length before you close the panorama.

 The next tab, Render, is where you make adjustments and then render out the panorama. Here you can Auto-Align the panorama, Equalize, and then Render and Export.  In the Render tab, there are two other buttons that you are recommended to push, Align Panorama, which adjusts the perspective of the panorama, and Equalize, which equalizes each of the image's luminosity so the final image has uniform luminosity.

Render options include QuickTime Cylindrical and Cubic file types.

When you select Render and Export, a Render Options window opens, giving you the capability to select the render properties of your image. Here you give your file a name and select the type of file. Stitcher Express supports JPEG, TIF, PSD, and QuickTime files, of which your choices are cylindrical QuickTime VR, which creates a cylindrical QuickTime panorama or Cubic QuickTime file, both of which are good for Internet or CD-ROM use.

 You can also adjust the width and height of the image as well as cropping aspects; Cubic QuickTime VR creates a spherical QuickTime file. Cylindrical maps the entire cylinder on a flat image. Cylindrical renders out to a JPEG, TIF, or Photoshop file. Vertical lines in the image are conserved, but the horizontal lines are distorted; 

Three images were stitched together to create this image. Click for larger view.

Spherical maps the entire sphere on a flat image that creates what Realviz calls an equirectangular projection. Both the vertical and horizontal lines are distorted. Spherical renders out to a JPEG, TIF, or Photoshop file, and is more commonly used in other 3D software. All of the render types can be sized accordingly, so if you know what size final file that you want, you can have the software render out that size file.

QuickTime cylindrical image setup.

Once you build the panoramas, they can be used for such things as matte paintings, backgrounds, and occlusions; Stitcher Express enables you to create snapshots, spherical, and cylindrical panoramas for placement on websites, in 3D as well as print applications.

To create a panorama, I took photographs of a cul de sac with a Canon 300D digital camera mounted on a tripod. Each image was about 1MB in size. As I shot each image, I would set up the shot with a bit overlap on the next image to insure a seamless stitch. One thing I couldnt control was the wind, so in the final panorama, you will notice a U.S. flag on a house. The flag has a bit of blur do to it waving in the wind. I also didnt shoot below or above, what I call the first level of the camera. You can shoot above and below for a full 360 degree detailed image, but in this case I did not.

To get a successful stitch, I followed the directions and stitched together the first and second image and proceeded to stitch the next successive images, saving after each successful stitch. The software will tell you the image is stitched to the final panorama via a green box in the lower corner of the image. If a red box is noted, that particular image is not yet stitched. As you go on with the stitching process, lines will appear connecting the images. These lines tell you the complexity of the stitch, or how many images are stitched to the first and second original image.

On another project I wasn't as successful. Shooting with the same camera, I took about 10 pictures of the Newport Pier, in Newport Beach, California.  These images were 2MB in size. I was able to stitch the images together to create the panorama, but when I went to render the image out to a Cylindrical QuickTime VR, the software would crash.  Even after saving the Stitcher file, and relaunching in, the images in the project would appear in the image strip with the green lines denoting their stitched attributes, but the workspace would be empty. I don't have an answer for it, perhaps the images were too large, or perhaps it was user error.  It seems to have only occurred with this set of high resolution images. Other projects came out fine.

System Requirements
Stitcher Express runs on both Windows and Macintosh systems. Minimum system requirements for a Windows machine include an Intel Pentium III 500 Mhz CPU running Microsoft Windows 2000 SP2, XP   or equivalent, 256 MB RAM, 1024 768 24-bit resolution, an OpenGL compatible graphics adapter, and 50MB free disk space. Minimum Macintosh requirements are a minimum 300MHz Power PC G3 Macintosh with 256MB RAM, 1024 x 768 24-bit resolution OpenGL graphics adapter and 50MB free hard disk space. Keep in mind that these are minimum system requirements so your performance will vary dramatically. I tested Stitcher Express on a dual 2GHz Power Mac G5 with the ATI Radeon 9800XT graphics card and experienced superb performance. A Canon 300D Digital Rebel was used to capture the images used in the test files above.
First Impressions
If you need to stitch images together to create QuickTime VR panoramas, Stitcher Express ($120 USD) is the easiest software that I've worked with that enables you to do this. While the software can create still image panoramas, and enables you to combine images for relatively seamless stitches, the QuickTime VR capabilities is what makes this software unique. The interface is very straightforward and all the tools are easy to learn. Some things I do recommend is that you save the file each time you successfully stitch an image to a project, and if you don't want movement, try and take photographs of objects where there is little or no movement at all. You can see from some of the examples above where movement comes into play. This is if you don't want movement to show up in the final image. If you do want movement, then you can go ahead and stitch away. For more information, or to download a trial version of Stitcher Express, visit 

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at
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