Adobe may be the go-to maker of image editing and processing software, but Microsoft has some pixelsmiths of its own.
The company has released an update to its Image Composite Editor (ICE), which hails from its Microsoft Research division. While not as well-known as Microsoft's Windows, Office and Skype offerings, the free software has found some success, albeit largely under the radar. "ICE was first released in 2008, and every day it's downloaded around 1200 times, mostly by people who spend a fair share of free time behind a viewfinder," revealed David Chen, a Microsoft spokesperson, in a statement.
Photographers aren't the only ones who rely on ICE. Microsoft enlists the technology for some of its own projects and end-user offerings.
"The Interactive Visual Media group has done some amazingly cool stuff with ICE, such as the Gigapixel ArtZoom experiment, which stitched together nearly 2400 22-megapixel images (taken with a Canon 1Ds Mk III and 400 mm lens)," said Chen. "The result is a 360-degree view of the Seattle cityscape captured in stunning detail." Microsoft also calls on ICE to compose the aerial and Streetside (akin to Google Maps' Street View) images used in Bing Maps.
ICE 2.0 has a few new additions to its toolset, including Automatic Image Completion, which can compensate for missed areas when stitching together a panorama. "Say, for example, you poorly frame one of your pictures and are left with a void in one area of your panorama," said Chen. "Automatic Image Completion will use pattern recognition technology to fill it in."
Users can also now craft panoramas from video footage. A new video-to-panorama feature "helps you quickly select frames from a video and stitches them together into a stroboscopic motion panorama, where the person in the video appears intermittently across the entire range of the static image," he said. Images created with this technique resemble some of the action-packed pictures produced by Samsung Galaxy smartphones with the Drama Shot feature.
The software can also lend images a new, somewhat warped perspective. "You can also apply a variety of lenses or projections to your image creating nearly a dozen effects, such as fish-eye, spherical, orthographic and stereographic," Chen said.
Finally, the ICE team addressed one of the software's most frustrating shortcomings, said Chen.
"And with this version of ICE you no longer need to start over if you make a mistake half-way through creating a panorama. Hit the 'Back button, make whatever changes are necessary to the images you selected and continue from where you left off," he said.
Making panoramas in ICE has been streamlined into an "easy-to-navigate process" that involves four simple steps, namely importing, stitching, cropping and exporting images, he said. "In the final export step, the panorama can be saved as an ordinary image or a Deep Zoom web page, or shared on the Photosynth web site."
Windows 32-bit and 64-bit editions of ICE 2.0 are available for download at this Microsoft Research Webpage.