There’s a variety of options for creating panoramas. Lightroom and Photoshop both have it built in, not to mention the variety of standalone programs. One, however, stands far above the rest: here’s the best program to get if you want to create panoramas.
PTGui belongs to the category of in-depth panorama stitching programs that offer a huge library of features, complex projections (the way your set of images are actually mapped), and powerful tools for adjusting how those images are blended. To get a sense of how much more control is offered, consider these two screenshots comparing the controls offered by Lightroom when stitching and one of the dozens of screens you can access when working in PTGui.
Now, don’t confuse this depth for it being cumbersome or unusable. With the wizard, you can load images, align them, and create a panorama in about three clicks. You can really choose how much you want to dig into the different features. I still haven’t touched some of the projections, the HDR functionality, or the masking tools, but I appreciate that they’re there.
When you first open the software, you’re actually greeted by that Project Assistant wizard. From here, you can load images, align them with one click, then save the resulting panorama. It's an incredibly easy flow that still gives you the same convenience as Lightroom or Photoshop’s pano assistant, but with far more power under the hood. What’s even nicer is that you can dig deeper as necessary, tweaking the masking, crop, projection, or other settings as needed.
The overall interface is very clean, with a contemporary dark theme. The layout is customizable, to an extent, with the primary interface really being two windows, with one controlling project settings and the second being a resizable viewport for seeing the panorama and making adjustments directly on it.
I personally love this level of control. I feel it would work well on any screen size. On small screens, flip between the two windows maximized to full screen, while on a single large screen, you can run them side by side and give each a dedicated monitor on a multi-monitor setup. There’s a slight learning curve to some of the buttons, especially if you’re new to panoramas, but fortunately, the hover-text is usually pretty explanatory.
PTGui is available for Windows and MacOS, with a personal license able to be installed on three computers. The recommended hardware includes 16 GB of RAM, an SSD for image storage, and a card with support for OpenCL — these are all essentially required for a positive panorama stitching experience with any software solution, in my opinion.
The actual process of creating a panorama with PTGui is remarkably simple, at least for the workflow I’ve developed. With my images in Lightroom, I grab one frame with representative highlights and shadows and apply the basic adjustments. While PTGui supports raw files and a 16-bit workflow, I find it easier to work with the single shot, rather than try and do basic adjustments to a 500-megapixel finished image. With the basics done, I sync the settings across and export 16-bit TIFFs to my SSD. From here, it’s easy to load the images into PTGui and begin the stitching process.
In PTGui, the first step is to load the images. If your images have EXIF metadata, PTGui should be able to automatically recognize your lens and camera, calibrating those specific settings for you. From here, you can click to align images: this aligns the images via control points, connecting each pair of images at specific points. While you can tweak these points manually, I’ve not yet found an image out of place. If needed, you can then mask out parts of individual images (think pedestrians, cars, or a blurry tree branch).
For the basic panoramas, the last step is choosing your projection. PTGui offers a wide range of projections, from the essential rectilinear to the obscure Vedutismo. You can also create spherical, “little planet,” and cube face projections. One of my favorite features is the ability to quickly and dynamically adjust the projection, rotation, and centering. I’ve shot a number of panoramas with a sloppy, handheld technique, so being able to tweak the framing is essential.
One major takeaway from using the software: it’s fast. It opens almost instantly, buttons are incredibly responsive, and even dynamically adjusting the panorama in the preview happens instantly. I was primarily testing on a midrange 3700x and RTX2070, with 32 GB of RAM and NVME SSD, but it scaled down well to an older unibody Retina MacBook Pro, and remained perfectly usable. Continuing with the topic of speed, some of the processes are so quick that when I first ran them, I thought they failed to load, only to realize they actually are already done. Stitching 20 45 MP images and generating the resulting PSB can be done in 20-ish seconds. Somehow, it can stitch and save a PSB faster than Photoshop can save the file alone.
I typically will finish my panoramas in Photoshop, so I love the PSB option. As a bonus, PTGui can output the individual frames as layers atop the finished panorama, letting you easily blend in singular elements or touch up any problem areas.
As I mentioned, you probably have a number of options available to you for stitching a panorama, and they’re ok for what they are. Stepping up to a dedicated panorama program, however, brings a number of advantages. If you’re just learning the techniques, it’s a lot more forgiving of errors in the field; I’ve been able to go back and successfully stitch sets that Lightroom and PS balked at. If you’re experienced, the greater depth and feature set will let you create even higher-quality images at a faster rate.
In the actual user experience, I’ve got nothing but good things to say. It’s incredibly fast, even when working with large data sets. It’s very user friendly, particularly when it comes to adjusting the panorama to look “right.” The workflow is easy to learn and integrates well into the existing asset manager and Photoshop paradigm. Since getting the software, I’ve stitched dozens of panoramas with zero issues.
Overall, it’s a phenomenal piece of software. It’s available for purchase from PTGui’s website. In the US, a personal license costs $156, while the Pro version is $311. The differences are viewable here, but in summary, the Pro version adds more features for masking, batching, and HDR-style imaging. Both licenses are perpetual, with free updates for one year.
What I Liked
Quality of results is the best out of any panorama stitching method I’ve used.
Customization of mapping and projection is easy and effective.
Speedy. Every step is surprisingly fast, with good utilization of resources.
Perpetual licensing is a nice touch for this style of program.
What Could Be Improved
Setting defaults is a bit unusual.
Allowing the “Save New Project” prompt to be disabled would save time.