Friday, January 4, 2013

Giant Panoramas with Microsoft ICE

Final Image, half size. Click to enlarge, and please be patient

As part of my end-of-year ritual, I am going through all of my photos from the year, deleting outtakes and clunkers, and finishing up some personal work that I had let slip during the bustle of the rest of the year. One of the things I happened upon was a 161 image panorama of San Francisco's City Hall from a nearby rooftop. After the shoot, I had thrown the images into Photoshop to stitch, which promptly crashed Photoshop and locked up my computer.

After the reboot, I moved on to other images and left the 161 photos sitting on my hard drive. These are 22MP files from a Canon 5d Mark III, and each one weighs in around 26MB. Because of the way Photoshop works, each image in a panorama lives on its own layer, which makes for gigantic working files.

So, while going through these images, I decided to take one last stab at it, and you won't guess what happened! Yup, it broke Photoshop again. However, a quick search on Google led me to discover Microsoft Research's ICE (Image Composite Editor), download here. Now, it doesn't seem to do quite the same as Photoshop, but it was drag and drop easy.

Basically, just take all of your photos, drag them onto the interface, and it will automatically process and stitch the files together. When I first tried, ICE notified me that it needed 16GB free space to stitch. It took about two hours to spit out an image, which measures 42,111x18869, equivalent to 794.59 megapixels.

Here's the output. The crop is completely flexible, and dimensions displayed in the export are for the crop only, a relatively modest 518 MP.
I cropped the image down to remove some of the choppy edges, intending to use content-aware fill in photoshop to fill in the sky, resulting in a 231MB jpeg that Photoshop refuses to read. Resaving as a PSB takes even longer and results in a 2.2GB file.

I have a fairly modest computer - I believe it's now about three years old (AMD Phenom X4, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 250), but with enough patience, even my machine can handle creating huge panoramas.

Also, if you remember Microsoft PhotoSynth, the quasi-3D website that let you "move" through pictures on a screen, it appears that ICE is integrated with it for quick uploading, but it is only compatible with the "rotating motion" mode.

Small jpeg of the original output - 3000x1000px. 

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