Monday, July 25, 2005

Disruptive Innovation: AutoStitch

Being an enthusiastic amateur photographer, I have always longed for the day when I can produce beautiful panoramic pictures. I have been reading about how to do it since years ago in magazines, newsletters and on the Internet. I have faithfully saved all the information I can gather. I believed I had learned enough to actually understand the whole process:
  1. Buy expensive equipment (such as this, this and this).
  2. Find the nodal point of your lens, which is not an easy process.
  3. Set up equipment to make sure your tripod is level and you only rotate around the nodal point of your lens, which is cumbersome.
  4. Make sure you have a certain amount (say, 50%) of overlap between shots. Probably the easiest to achieve among all the steps.
  5. Use a good stitching program (many choices, which one to use?) to stitch the pictures together into a panorama. Takes a fair amount of time to get right.
So before I went on my Alaska cruise recently, I was pondering point 1, Am I really ready for this? Am I ready to put down a couple hundred dollars for something I am not sure I can get right? After some struggling, I finally gave up the idea. I am so glad I did.

I discovered, even if I had bought the equipment, I would not have had the opportunity to use it, because the ship was always moving (well, most interesting scenes came by when the ship was sailing). So I would not have had perfect alignment for my pictures anyway.

I took some rough panoramic shots (roughly aligned horizon, overlaps between pictures, on tripod or handheld, same exposure across all pictures), thinking I might be able to do something with them. But the thought of the time needed to stitch them kept me from doing it after I came back. Until I saw a beautiful panoramic picture posted on When asked, the author said, I just turned around and took pictures one by one and then stitched them together with AutoStitch. That was the light bulb moment.

I immediately downloaded AutoStitch and started working. Here is the result:

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay, Alaska
Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay, Alaska

And this:
Inside Passage, Alaska
Inside Passage, Alaska

No expensive equipment, no nodal point, no perfect alignment, ship was moving, no fiddling with stitching software. All is automatic. Job was done perfectly. If I had known this, I would have taken many more panoramic pictures. Oh, well, next time for sure.

This is a disruptive innovcation as it is so much ahead of the rest of the pack (BTW, it's free, proving great things are not necessarily motivated by money). It's a whole new level of usability. I don't think I would have gotten into panoramic photography without it because I just don't have that much time to spare. We need this kind of innovations everywhere, everyday!

Thank you, Matthew!