While developing MultiStitch we’ve searched for the best stitching software to assemble the captures. We have purchased, downloaded, and licensed many panorama tools programs over the years. Few made the grade. Initially even Photoshop fell short. Many programs do one thing well, and most have trouble with large areas of soft focus or open space. Some are only capable of side-to-side stitches.
Most stitching software is based on Panorama Tools, an open source project that you can learn more about at: http://panotools.sourceforge.net/. My two favorite programs are PTGUI and Microsoft ICE. With the release of Photoshop CS6 Adobe is back in the game as well.
PTGUI is a fully developed digital stitching program that you can license and download online. There are two levels, regular and Pro. PTGUI works well in most situations and allows for manual control. I have used PTGUI for 12-frame digital stitching with excellent results. You can download a trial version at http://www.ptgui.com/.
A great feature of PTGUI is the Mask tool for removing vignetting. Instead of blending shadows it “promotes” non-masked pixels from overlapping frames –very handy. The latest version (9.1) adds “Align to Grid” for pre-placement of frames to help with areas of soft focus or minimal detail.
Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor) is a free program (for now) for stitching in two dimensions. If you can get over the need to rotate and number your images before loading them, Microsoft ICE does a nice job for free. I’ve had soft-focus images ICE assembled that PTGUI could not. Microsoft ICE is available for download at http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/ If you have questions, there is an active online forum at: http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/ice/threads
I keep shortcuts to both PTGUI and ICE on my desktop.