Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Want Tech: Stitching Folio Size Documents

Rencher's Photo Stitching ExampleAt the 2010 NGS Conference GenTech Luncheon David Rencher presented “The Top 10 Areas Where Technology Can Still Make a Real Difference in Genealogy : Could You Please Hurry?” David, I have good news. Some are already available, at least in infant form. Today I look at:

#2 - Imaging Folio Size Documents

It’s a common occurrence to find oversized documents that can’t be captured legibly in one photograph, even with today’s high resolution cameras. Genealogists need software that can stitch together photos of parts of the document, such as Rencher’s example (to the right), a map divided into nine individual photographs.

I had previously played with Image Composite Editor (ICE) from Microsoft Research with moderate success. I felt it was up to the task of stitching Rencher’s map. And it is free.

It failed. I was surprised.

Was Image Composite Editor the problem? Or was it the images?

I decided to give the editor a test, a really big test. The descendancy wall mural on the ground floor of the FamilySearch Family History Library seemed a worthy opponent. Some ten feet high and twenty feet wide.

I took 15 photographs and fed them into the editor. The result? Impressive. Here’s a low resolution copy:

Descendants of Robert White and Bridget Allgar

  • The stitching is nearly flawless. (You can see a couple of errors in the border. More subtle errors are not visible above.)
  • Nearly all the text is crisp. (The smallest font furthest from the camera in the darkest areas is marginal. For example, look at the biographical information for Lucille Ball.)
  • Image quality is good (though grainy in places.)

Microsoft Photosynth

Wall Mural Icon on the FHL in Bing MapsThe result of my little experiment was not little: a whopping 49 megapixels! Fortunately, Microsoft Photosynth provided free storage space online. To see the stitched image, click on the image above.

If you don’t have Microsoft Silverlight, you’ll be prompted to install it.

One way to organize and share your images is to assign them to locations in Bing Maps. See a map showing the location of this wall mural. Click the green camera icon on the FHL to open the image.

So what gives? Why did the editor handle this huge test near flawlessly? What about Rencher’s map? If images are not suitable for stitching, are there no alternatives?

Stay tuned… And if I don’t see you again before tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Interested in the stitching of large images but not sure about the ICE and Microsoft Photosnyth programs. You say ICE failed, but then go on to show how it worked!
    Or did you use Microsoft Photosynth instead? Thank you for the details. ETM

  2. Dear Ellen,

    ICE failed to stitch the map example from David Rencher's NGC Conference presentation. It successfully stitched my photos of the FHL wall mural.

    Next Wednesday I revisit Rencher's example.

    -- The Insider

  3. I have been using ICE to stitch scans taken from microfilm at my local FHC. Some of the documents scanned are too large to easily scan even with the lowest magnification on the microfilm reader scanner. But if I carefully scan the documents in parts then ICE puts them back together perfectly. How can it not? The parts it has to work with are all parts of a single image. It works well for that. Thanks for writing about it.


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