User:Klaus/Hugin 0.8.0 comment

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Hugin 0.8.0 is out

The panoramic stitching software Hugin 0.8.0 version has been released, and once again creating panoramic images has become smoother. Being a faithful user since years, convinced by the virtues and merits of this programme suite - and one should know about the Panotools and Enblend engines under the hood as well - I am happy to see the improvements from the last months put together into the current release.

Sometime in 2005 my new camera came with a piece of stitching software, and although I shall not mention any names, that piece was crap. Really. So I was looking around, and rather sooner than later came across what was then Hugin 0.5beta. It was already doing a reasonable job then. One can learn quite a lot how software and commerce do work, quite often not to the benefit of the user, but instructive as this may be, let's leave these aspects alone for now and look at much more pleasant things, Hugin's achievements that is.

Remember the days when you could still see the seam lines in a panoramic image? Even Hugin's output did show such seams, although not as badly as others, and at least the alignment was about right. But already then there was this extra piece of software called Enblend which could do away with seam lines most of the time. And with the quailty bar rising, I discovered that panoramic images did benefit if one corrected the vignetting before feeding images into Hugin, although these external programmes could cause banding in the image in exchange for removing the vignetting.

Then came the introduction of vignetting correction within Hugin. First it was a simple add-on window, and one had to provide either the parameters or a flatfield by oneself. But no longer had one to pre-process the images, so on top of the original images the pto file was all that was needed to revisit a stitch if one wished to do so at a later time. And the next step was that Hugin was empowered to compute the vignetting correction out of the image material itself. It already did so for the lense parameters, and this self-contained parameter determination is pretty damn useful.

Enblend was there as well. It has picked up processing speed since then, beyond the CPU speeds getting faster. And it has become smarter. There always is a seam line between images, although with Enblend you usually do not see it. In the few cases where one did, one could resort to editing the alpha channels of the intermediate image files. Still manual intervention. But then Enblend got that extra bit smarter with the capability not to determine the seam from geometry only, but to look at the image content to find a good placement, a seam line across areas where the images to be stitched differ as little as possible.

A fair number of technical improvements have happened as well. Remember the times when the output was TIFF, large TIFF files into and out of Enblend? Some changes had to wait for their time, for instance the LZW algorithm lost its shackles when finally the patent expired, and one could think about using compressed TIFFs without perils. There are now compressed cropped TIFFs saving on memory and hard drive space, and JPEG is now possible as well hence one saves evoking a converter program after the Hugin run.

Improvements on the GUI side? Yes indeed! Most recently the introduction of a fast interactive preview. And fast really means in real time. Even better, this new preview has some added features, and personally I do like the cropping tool which allows me to select the rectangular frame I want to have for the output JPEG image. It means Hugin is a one stop shop for panoramic image creation in most cases.

Of course there are still some small quirks. I am confident the thriving Hugin community will iron them out in due course. And surely there are features I have not mentioned. Enfuse opening the door into HDR, perspective correction of single photos, proper interpolating algorithms, a wide choice of output perspectives to choose from, and more. And certainly there are several aspects which deserve my constructive criticism, and I plan to write these down in due course. But I have left the most important thing for last, and that is:

Hugin is free. It is not a piece that sellers try to strip of features and then endeavour to sell to you at a premium. Being free software means that most probably Hugin is here to stay. You may even compile and modify your own copy if you deam it necessary. And the aspect I want to look at last: I have Hugin 0.8.0 (well, the release candidate) running on both Windows XP and Mac OSX Tiger, with Hugin looking pretty much the same on these different platforms, and I am looking forward to seeing the 0.7.0 to 0.8.0 upgrade on my debian Linux box. But whatever the platform, Hugin is there.

2009-07-20 Klaus Föhl