Panoramic photography has become wildly popular in recent years, due in no small part to the smartphone market getting flooded with devices that have the functionality built right in. These sorts of shots have never been a staple of professional or amateur photography, but they can help give a broad perspective on interesting scenes.
Stitcha, by Florian Denis, gives you the ability to merge several different photographs or video clips into a single wide-angle shot. This simple app aims to keep the process as straightforward as dragging and dropping.
As Single-Feature As They Come
There has been an explosion of very focused, single-feature apps on the Mac and iOS stores in recent years. While this shift has been met with criticism from some, I personally prefer to keep things simple. I enjoy the way even OS X has moved towards fullscreen apps, because of the concentration they offer. Perhaps the most appealing part of these single-feature apps is that they tend to be more stable. Adding features means adding new levels of complexity and more places for a bug to exist.
Of course, when a developer chooses to pare down their app to a single function, then the sole feature of the app better work correctly.
Stictcha is as basic of an app as I’ve ever seen. There is no preference pane or any sort of options you can choose. The menu bar doesn’t even show the nearly ubiquitous “File” or “Help.” All you get is a window with the stoplight buttons, and a few words to get you started.
Let’s Get Stitching
There is no import button (for better or worse), so you’ll need to drag some photos or a video onto the window to get started. I went to an eerily-empty park in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to snap a few shots with my iPhone. I got home, opened iPhoto, and accessed my Photostream.
Since there is no import feature, you may find the task of dragging out of iPhoto or another photo management app to be a challenge if you prefer running things at fullscreen. I personally prefer using Finder to import stuff into or export out of apps, so as to avoid having to move windows around.
I dragged almost 20 different shots onto the window, and it started working. You get a progress bar across the top of the window that lets you know what it’s doing. First, it analyzes the photos, then matches them to find where the seams should meet. Then, it “computes image decompositions,” which I assume means it is determining what gets cropped. Lastly, the layers are merged.
The whole process took a couple minutes, and the processor on my MacBook Pro never seemed to get too worked up.
Once the stitching process has completed, you are left with your final photo. You’ll get a thumbnail in the window, which you can drag wherever you’d like. You also get the ubiquitous Mountain Lion share button, with the option to send your photo via iMessage, email, etc. I would have liked to have some control over the output resolution or be able to choose from jpeg, png, or another image format.
Overall, the photos that Stitcha has produced for me are underwhelming. The seams generally look good, as you can’t really see any lines indicating where two photos were merged. However, the shapes of objects such as buildings get warped and distorted a bit more than if you use the iPhone’s built in panorama mode. The best results come when you all the photos you use have a relatively uniform level of brightness, so as to avoid the color-blending problems.
Using Stitcha for videos had slightly more disappointing results, but I believe the shortcomings have more to do with the nature of using video in the first place to create panoramic shots. Videos obviously use lots of individual frames that flow together to create movement, but when you look at a single frame it can appear blurry, and this translates into blurry shots when stitched together. For better results when using the video function, I would recommend moving very slowly to minimize the blur.
I reviewed version 1.1 of the app, and I experienced a few annoying bugs. The first had to do with the thumbnail of the final product disappearing a couple times when I tried to drag it out of the window. I clicked and tried dragging, and when the thumbnail disappeared, I let go and thought I had lost it. After moving the window around for a second, it re-appeared. I used Stitcha to create 5 panoramas, and it crashed on me once about halfway through the rendering process.
I don’t really take photos anymore with anything except my phone. Saying that just a few years ago would have meant I like taking terrible pictures. But as the quality of smartphone cameras converge with point-and-shoot cameras, using your phone as your primary camera is increasingly more appealing. Considering that most smartphones, such as the iPhone and many Androids, not to mention many standard point-and-shoots, already have built-in panorama modes. Something like Stitcha makes slightly less sense if you only take photos with your phone.
However, Stitcha becomes much more appealing if you are a DSLR user and want to make panoramas. The only issue with using a DSLR in this situation is that taking a series of high-quality photos with a professional camera, only to use an app like Stitcha that degrades the quality of the photos, essentially negates the app’s utility.
At a penny under five bucks, it is hard to complain about some of the app’s downsides. There are superior alternatives, such as ArcSoft’s Panorama Maker, but that will cost $80. Then, Photoshop has a very nice panorama tool, but it’d hardly make sense to buy Photoshop just for that. I wasn’t particularly happy with the final product that Stitcha creates, but if you are just looking to create a quick, easy panorama from pictures or videos, it works well enough. You may want to wait for a couple updates before jumping onboard, as the bugs that I experienced were enough to make it frustrating to use.