Microsoft ICE, Gigapan and gigapixel images

After my big rap for Google last month, its time I give the team at Microsoft Research a big rap for building ICE (image composition editor) and donating it to the world.

ICE is a very cool piece of very smart software that automatically stitches digital images together into one composition. I was interested in it as I often shoot panoramas with my Olympus E410 and can spend hours back home stitching them together. ICE will stitch a basic panorama in a few seconds. Whats really cool about it is you just have to drop your images onto the program (in any order) and ICE will work out how to arrange them – and it ALWAYS gets it right. Not only that but it will stitch them together almost perfectly without human involvement – something that even expensive licensed software like PTGui or Photoshop cannot do.

The new version of ICE released in March supports “structured panoramas” and robotic tripod heads like the gigapan. With this combination it is possible to combine hundreds or thousands (!) of digital images into one composition. Yes, there are people making multi-gigapixel (thats multi-billion pixel) super-high resolution images out there. Apparently its becoming quite a sport – the current record is a composite image of Dubai of 45 gigapixels made from 4250 images.

The fun in taking such images is not the quality of the composite end result (actually you can’t tell on a computer screen) or making REALLY REALLY big photos but being able zoom in to super-fine detail. For that of course you need software – like photosynth, HDView or zoomify. These online apps work like google earth allowing you to seamlessly pan around and zoom into a gigapixel image.

And there was me just trying to find a better way to stitch a handful of images into one panorama….

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