Super Resolution Images

The past several posts have been on panoramas. While classic landscape panoramic images are interesting, they are hard to display at a size where they can be appreciated and enjoyed. However, the technique used to make classic landscape panoramic images has other uses even for those of us without a 30 foot long wall.

Here’s a good non-panoramic image application for image stitching software, specifically a program capable of stitching multi-row, multi-column images – like ICE mentioned yesterday. Have you ever looked (drooled) over the digital medium format cameras – maybe a top of the line Hasselblad with 60 megapixels and a $42,000 price tag? Me either, but that sort of resolution could come in handy for some users. I’m a volunteer national park service photographer and may soon have access to a Hasselblad (roughly half the price and resolution of their top of the line). The park service has this Hassey because of their requirement for very large prints in places like visitor centers.

Well that’s interesting, but what does it have to do with panorama stitching software? Using stitching software, I could turn my 12 megapixel Nikon D300 into a high resolution monster extending into the gigapixels if needed. (If you’re not familiar with the GigaPan rage check it out.) All that it takes is a little time (to shoot lots of images that will be stitched together). Or, I could make the same 31-megapixel image with the D300 as with the park service’s Hassey by shooting something like nine overlapping images – 3 rows x 3 columns. There are some drawbacks using my little SLR besides having to make nine images rather than just one. Most notably – the subject can’t be moving (much). And, of course, there’s the extra post-processing. There are some pluses though – one notable advantage (with today’s designs, at least) is that higher end DSLR’s have far better noise performance than the Hassey (ISO in the 10,000’s vs. 800) meaning that there may be shots that could be made with the stitched approach that the Hassey would miss.

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To illustrate my point, consider these two images. The top image is a single wide angle shot made with a 16mm lens. After making this shot I changed lenses to a 135mm lens and reproduced this scene (actually only the top half) with 51 (17×3) stitched images for a resulting 250 megapixel image (500 if I’d finished the entire scene). The 2nd image below is a segment from the stitched image showing the view at the end of the street. This “slice” is 12 megapixels in size (exactly the same WxH dimensions as the original wide angle shot).  The benefit of the greater resolution is obvious (and, trust me, the names on the street sign are readable when viewed at full size) – and this is at 135mm, just imagine what you’d see with a long telephoto.

Unless someone has some questions or suggestions of things to try, this is probably it for panoramas and stitching software. Have fun!

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For some mind boggling panoramic images (click on the slide show button for some amazing examples of the detail available – in 10 gigapixels!).

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Panorama Stitch Software Winner (& it’s free)

Yesterday’s post described several hours spent fighting with Photoshop’s Photomerge Panorama software. Enough already – I looked for an alternative and found it in a program which is blindingly fast and free! It ingested 25 files and processed them in under 30 seconds. Also, once the files had been opened,  it took only ten seconds to reprocess the files using another of the five available stitching options. Saving the resulting nearly 170 megapixel file (41344 wide x 4040 high, 11 GB) took a few minutes but I’m not complaining.

By the way, in case the resolution of the image snuck by you – 170 MEGAPIXEL. That’s a good size; even the five $-figure medium format cameras are only in the 30-40 MP resolution range.

Full disclosure – done on a pretty fast PC, specifically a Core i7 processor with 8GB of RAM running a 64 bit capable program in 64 bit Windows 7.

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So what is this free speed demon? It’s called Image Composite Editor and is developed by Microsoft Research. Among several nice features it includes an Automatic Crop (if you’ve ever done a panorama this will make sense). Check it out – you’ll like it and the price is right.

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Here’s a demonstration of the detail available in a panoramic image. This one is 17 stitched images (vertical with 1/3 overlap) resulting in a final image 28,889 pixels wide by 4042 pixels high for a total of 117 megapixels (8 seconds to process once the 17 files were opened). The version displayed below is only 4000 pixels wide (when enlarged by clicking; 450 pixels as you are viewing it now). If you enlarge the image (click it) you’ll see two red boxes. Below the panoramic image you’ll see two images showing the contents of those boxes at a 100% view (click each to enlarge). If I had used a longer lens (50mm here) and zoomed in tighter you could count the water droplets in the fountain at the left.

NOTE – If you enlarge the panorama you’ll see that your cursor becomes a zoom tool. Click to zoom and then you can scroll using the horizontal cursor.

PSE8 Photomerge Panorama Problems

and PSE8 preference settings

This is the third post on panoramic images. The first two were here – Making Panoramas and here – Macro Panoramas. This one is as much for Adobe tech support as anyone (as you’ll see below in the section in blue).

Yesterday I attempted several large (for me) panoramas in terms of horizontal coverage and the number of image files required for that coverage. The example below, of a golf course hole, is slightly over 180 degrees and is made up of 27 stitched images. The camera was mounted vertically on a tripod. The lens was a 50-135 2.8 zoom set at 50 mm. The camera controls for focus, exposure and white balance were all set to manual (for reasons discussed in the previous posts).

What I wanted to learn was –

  • Capture – getting the camera precisely level (more or less)
  • Processing – the limits, if any, of Photoshop Element 8’s Photomerge Panorama routine

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For a wide single row panorama like my example, you’ll need to get BOTH the tripod level and the camera level – in that order. One or the other doesn’t get the job done. To level the tripod, hopefully your tripod has a bubble level – if not, you may have a problem. Once the tripod is level, leveling the camera is simple – providing you have a dual axis bubble level that mounts in your camera’s hot shoe. This series of articles at Really Right Stuff describes the procedure in detail (while trying to sell you on some of their specialized gear).

Once everything is level it’s time to shoot. My suggestion is to shoot from left to right. The reason is that Photomerge (and other stitching packages apparently) assume (at least initially) that the images are in order from left to right. This helps the process of ordering and aligning the images along their way rather than throwing 27 randomly ordered images into the pot and saying “Here, figure it out.” Of course this assumes that your image numbering system is consistent with this left before right shooting style. I rotated my ball head exactly 10 degrees between each shot – about a 1/3 overlap. So far so good. Off to process the files……….

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Adobe Tech Support – start here……….. (the rest of you might want to skip to the next section unless you plan to use Photomerge)

Photomerge had problems immediately. After humming to itself for a few minutes it reported that some images could not be aligned ( Core i7 Win7 8GB RAM, nothing else open but PSE8). This was true whether I fed it all 27 files or less than ten. I knew there was a rat when it reported the same problem with the images that it successfully processed for my first panorama post a few days ago – why then & not now?? As it turns out – after wasting nearly 3 hours researching the problem(S) – there was NO problem with my files (I knew that). The fix was to reset the entire Photoshop preference settings file. Even then it would not handle all 27 files, but it would handle 14 – so I did two sets of 14 (the center image repeated so that I’d have an overlap between the two) and then stitched those two stitched files together. I might add that this bizarre behavior occurred regardless of the Photomerge options chosen such as Auto, Perspective, ….

If the above wasn’t enough, I had to reset the preferences EVERY time I ran Photomerge or it would return to the “align error”. So – do a successful run, shut down PSE8, restart PSE8 WHILE holding down shift-control-alt which brings up the window while starting PSE8 asking if you really want to remove your preference settings (no but do I have a choice if I want to use Photomerge?). Absolutely ridiculous!

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And my story ends here with this panorama which only took me nearly fours hours to stitch AFTER I downloaded the files from my camera. This link takes you to a version scaled to a typical monitor. For a better view, click on “O” in the “Sizes” area above the image (for the original 4000 pixel wide version, 3-4 monitor widths wide) and then do a Ken Burns’ scroll down the fairway using your horizontal scroll bar). The actual image is 10X this long (and high) and the geese on the fairway, that are barely visible in this reduced resolution web version, are clear & sharp as can be.

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Macro Panorama

After yesterday’s post on panoramic images, illustrated by classic landscape panoramas, I went out to photograph a water lily in my container water garden. After shooting a close-up of the lily, I wondered if the stitching software I used (Photomerge in PS Elements) could handle a multi-row, multi-column image. I also wondered about camera leveling techniques for this – but decided to deal with that tomorrow if Photomerge was up to the stitching task. It was.

For the purists among us, this image is actually a close-up, not a macro.

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Here’s the 3-row, 11-column macro panorama (camera with 105mm macro lens focused at 1:1 magnification and mounted vertically on the tripod). Next to it for comparison is the single shot macro I’d just finished shooting. The coloring and appearance differ slightly because of the way they were processed. The macro comes from a fully processed RAW file and the “panorama” is made from jpeg preview extracts. Said another way – the panorama could be made to look better if I took the time to start with the 33 RAW files.

You might ask a good question – my wife did – why bother with the panorama when in this case a perfectly fine single image macro is possible. Well, the single image is 12 megapixels since that’s my D300’s sensor size. The panorama is over 70 megapixels. One would do the multi-image version if a very large print was required. The 70 megapixels will allow a print of a much larger size than will the single image macro.

Click to enlarge.

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The next time, I’ll see if I can get the camera leveling done better. As it is here, a square crop without cutting of parts of the lily isn’t possible. (In my defense I’ll say that I made no attempt at leveling. I did use a tripod – as always – but wanted to know if PS Elements could even do this. It was shot “manual everything” though to get a seamless final image.)

Panoramas

There is a lot of information on the internet that tells how to make panoramic images. Try it; you may like it.

Last week at Skyline Drive (Shenandoah NP) I made one of my rare (3 total) panoramas. It consists of 12 images covering a bit less than 180 degrees – wanted lots of overlap to aid the stitching program in putting this together (camera was oriented vertically).  Manual settings for everything (focus, exposure, white balance) and a tripod are the keys. Put any setting on auto and you’ll end up with each image having slightly different exposure and/or WB. This will result in a final image that looks like a bunch of individual stitched images and not a seamless whole.

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The first image below is last week’s 12 image panorama looking east over the Virginia Piedmont from the Buck Hollow overlook on Skyline Drive shortly after sunrise. The image below it is my first panorama – a 7 image panorama made in the Grand Tetons NP in 2007 (camera was horizontal). Click to enlarge.

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If you like weird & unusual check out this version. I stumbled across this when the blog’s formatting did me a “favor” in terms of fitting the panorama to the page – It compressed the image width by a factor of about 5 but left the height unchanged. Wow that’s interesting, I thought. Maybe a picture of the scene eons ago when the Blue Ridge mountains were youngsters. Like something from Tolkien or a sci-fi movie. It definitely solves the problem of finding wall space suitable for a panorama 😉

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I plan to do a personal project making panoramas in Shenandoah National Park over the next year (I’m a volunteer photographer with the national park service). Panoramas and Skyline Drive are almost synonymous although display space may be a problem. Maybe a slide show for the visitor’s center using the Ken Burns horizontal scroll effect? Or maybe the compressed width version 😉