Panoramas with HDR

This Memorial weekend, I got the chance to add some more raw footage to my 360deg panorama Sebago shots. Multiple rows. Wide exposures for HDR footage. The camera is a $130 cheapo, but does have manual settings, so I can control the exposure. We were gusting to 50 mph, so all the trees were moving, making it very difficult to get good shots for blending.

My rule is very simple: I am not going to spend any money on software. The tools have to be free.

This is a significant handicap, and it sure takes a lot longer to get things done.

But … can it be done?

I’ve tried all the free stuff. The best simple approach I know of is Microsoft’s ICE editor and the HDView plugin. Download ICE from here, and HDView from here

Forget the “Structured Panorama” option. It doesn’t work without special equipment afaik … it certainly doesn’t work with rough footage and variable overlaps.

The latest ICE is supposed to handle HDR, but it doesn’t work for me. So I have to merge each angle separately with another tool. (More on that elsewhere, perhaps. Basically I use FDRTools despite its ghosting limitation in the free version. You can use Gimp and layer tricks or other free tools, or Hugin itself.)

So, you drop all your photos onto ICE, wait a bit, and see what happens.

If ICE takes all your photos, you are done. Export to HDView.

If ICE cannot merge any single photo, then you are screwed. It would be wonderful if the next version of ICE allows you to manually position photos and help the matcher, but until then we need to look elsewhere.

The Hugin tool is supposed to the best open source option, and it is very impressive. It does multi-row panoramas AND HDR. Unfortunately, every time I’ve used it in the past, it was very time-consuming and very fragile. I’d spend hours working on something, make a small change, forget to save, and bang I’d blown it. I got so frustrated I refused to use the tool.

And the documentation is very limited. Also out-of-date. For example, the Stitcher tab (which produce the final output) has new buttons and controls which are not documented anyway. Grrr.

But now I decided I was going to figure it out. Develop a workable, repeatable procedure.