One of the really fun exercises in photography is to take a series of photographs, especially of a landscape, and then use special software to stitch them together into a panorama picture. ArcSoft's Panorama Maker Pro ($80, 15-day free trial) makes the process quite simple, with its auto-stitching, which works with both still images and video. However, the software lacks the tools to fix things when the auto-stitch doesn't quite work.
The most important key to making a good panorama is to photograph it well, with lots of overlap between shots, consistent exposure, and, when possible, the use of a tripod. Panorama Maker's opening splash screen offers useful tips to help you capture appropriate raw material for the best results.
The initial window is a browser that acts as a basic picture organizer. All you do is select the photos you want included in the panorama, click the Next button, and let the software take over. If your series of pictures are properly shot, the auto feature can work well, producing a nice panorama. If it doesn't, you have the option to try to assign alignment points between overlapping pictures. However, it works only on adjacent sections. So, if the program stitched a photo into the wrong portion of the panorama, there's no way to move it into position correctly. Also, in our tests, the program ignored our edit of the alignment points of adjacent images, regardless of how carefully we set them.
A handful of other tools will allow you to adjust the blend where photos overlap, to straighten your image, and to use sliders to alter the brightness and contrast of the overall panorama (but not of the individual components). When you're done, you can order panorama prints from ArcSoft, as well as save it to your hard drive.
Panorama Maker Pro supports input from several RAW still formats, as well as JPEG and TIFF, MPEG, AVI, MOV, MTS, M2TS, and MP4. It outputs to QuickTime movie, PT Viewer, Flash, TIFF, JPEG, Targa and BMP.
The simplicity of Panorama Maker Pro is both its advantage and its downfall. But it is a fun, basic program that might be all you need for your panorama projects.