I’m not sure how I found it, but AutoStitch does a fantastic job of creating photo panoramas out of a collection of overlapping pictures, and best of all, its easy — just point it at the files and it figures the rest out for you.
In the past I’ve used various other tools, including the PanoTools package, and a few that came with my digital cameras, none of them acheived the same quality in terms of distorting, aligning and blendin the images, and none of them was as easy to use. In 3 out of 4 cases, all I had to do was select the right set of files and autostitch did the rest. In the 4th, there were complications because sailboats in the photos were moving between each frame I snapped, so I had to tweak some settings once to get it to focus on the big picture, rather than the little parts.
Also kind of cool, I accidentially selected a dozen or so photos of my dog wrestling with another dog. The software managed to match the overlapping peices of the background and blend all the photos together, leaving the dogs looking like weird smears of fur.
Another nice feature of Autostitch is that it can work with overlapping two dimensional grids of photos, rather than just overlapping strips, so you can easily build a composite image that is tall and wide.
Lastly, its free, though it looks like they are hoping to have the technology licensed for incorporation into another product. I think that would be a shame. Its so good at what it does, it would require very little additional work to polish the UI enough to appeal to a wider audience. I’d rather pay $20-30 for a commercial version of autostich than $40-60 for a fuller featured image manipulation product that included autostitch technology.