I had been reading and downloading panorama stitcher and HDR programs for quite a while but never really installed it and played with it. Hence the programs had evolved through many iterations. Just today I downloaded the latest version of Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor (ICE), a panorama stitcher program and the dated Autostitch demo program plus two HDR programs, Luminance and Picturenaut. They were all freeware.
Both the stitcher programs did really surprised me. They were fast and easy to use. I just opened the required files and they did the rest automatically. No other input from me and the results were pretty stunning and very well blended. Autostitch demo version was pretty dated and very basic but still good. It came with some sample pictures to try on. The only downside was that some blurring on a portion of the stitched picture. It was part of the foliage on the left side. I then used the same set of pictures and let Microsoft ICE to do their things. It turned out better. The blurred foliage part that was apparent in the result by Autostitch was gone, it was perfect. Its understandable since Autostitch demo version was dated and was the first automatic 2D image stitcher as claimed by the authors. It has now became the engine behind the stitchers Autopano Pro, Serif Panorama Plus and Calico.
I made three stitches with Microsoft ICE. I then took one of it and made two over and two under exposed pictures at one EV each using RawTherapee, another fabulous freeware raw converter. The five pictures were then turn into HDR picture using Picturenaut and Luminance. Both were fast and the results were quite similar but I used Picturenaut to tonemap it into LDR and later with the help of Faststone Image Viewer enhanced the colours. Faststone Image Viewer was also initially used to convert the original raw files into jpeg.
and this one an HDR done with Picturenaut;
Note: I am just trying out hdr using 8-bit jpeg files. For serious job on hdr 16-bit files should be used. Jpeg or tiff raw filetype depends on the hdr program. Photoshop CS5 can even produce an hdr look-alike image from a single image file besides also capable of producing an hdr image from multiple image files of different exposures.
Update: Another marvelous freeware HDR program noteworthy to mention is the FDRTools Basic which will get the job done nicely and as the name implies, basically. Worth a try.