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The digital darkroom's best kept secrets

A few of the best free digital imaging software for creating panoramas, reducing noise, adding frames or effects to images-and more.

Ashish Bhatia | November 19, 2010 | Updated 12:14 IST

Need to stitch a series of photos into a grand panoramic vista? Wish you could sort out those gigabytes of images littered across your hard drive in a matter of minutes? Want a rapid RAW file viewer to peek at monster megabyte files? Something magical to knock out the noise in your grainy, low light images maybe? Or a little something to add watermarks to images in batch mode? Just step into our digital darkroom for some of the best hidden FREE downloads on Planet Earth.

Microsoft ICE Panoramic Stitcher,
ICE automatically stitches sequential pictures together to make them look like one vast joint-free sweeping shot vertically or horizontally. It is capable of producing high (or full) resolution results in any size. To stitch images into a panorama, it only needs a series of overlapping photographs of a scene from a single location. It imports JPEG, BMP, TIFF, PNG and HD Photo files and exports panoramas to formats JPEG, PSD, PNG, TIFF, BMP, HD View and HD Photo. You can publish, view, and share panoramas on ICE also supports "structured panoramas".

Adebis Photo Sorter,
With all the profusion of images trickling into our PCs day after day, the hard drives get messy and disorganised. To cut the clutter and get everything in apple pie order, the Adebis Photo Sorter is an ideal tool. It can categories pictures by date, groups and type-in a new folder-leaving the original intact. You can rename a batch of pictures via a mask. Apart from popular formats like JPEG and TIFF, it can also handle proprietary ones like CR2 (Canon), NEF/NRW (Nikon), RAW/RW2 (Panasonic), ARW (Sony) and ORF (Olympus).

Noise reduction
Often the result of shooting in bad light or with high ISO settings, noise can mar the overall look of an image. Noise reduction filters reduce the speckled look to an extent but often at the cost of some image details. While NoiseNinja is perhaps the best noise reduction program you can pay for out there, Noiseware Community Edition ( and Helicon Filter ( are the top freebies you get. Noiseware is a dedicated noise program with sufficient controls even in the free edition. Helcon is a more broad-based image correction solution which curtails functionality after 30 days but still delivers very good output.

Those of you who've got over the freshman stage of photography and now want to analyse your photography statistically will appreciate this tool. Let loose this puny program in a folder and it will quickly glean the average focal length of the lenses you've been shooting with and show you the ISO patterns of your photos. And then there are similar analytical charts for your shutter speeds and aperture usage as well. While the utility is adept at reading EXIF information from specific cameras too if you so wish, its biggest drawback unfortunately is that it can read only JPEG files, and not RAW or NEF formats.

ExifPro Image Viewer,
If you are looking for a tool that can display, manipulate and help you browse your digital image collection but is not clunky and ponderous, try ExifPro Image Viewer. It displays images in different view modes, allows you to select them for copying, resizing, cropping, appending descriptions and tags, printing and adjusting them using embedded function tools. Correction of colour and aspect, magnification, panning and zooming are also possible. You can compare two photos side by side and also view EXIF info in JPEG photos. And yes, you can also create HTML albums or slideshows using ExifPro's built-in generators.

If you want to add borders, frames and shadow effects to your pictures without fidgeting around with a complicated, time consuming image editor, this is it. FrameFun can be used with BMP, JPEG or PNG images. You simply need to select the outer frame of your choice, a border around the image and a drop shadow for a 3D effect if you want. You can vary the colour and width of every frame, border and shadow as well as the direction of the shadow. When you need to create borders for several pictures at one go, hit Batch mode. Best of all, it can add a text-based or graphic watermark to images.

ePassport Photos,
You need to submit some forms or applications first thing in the morning. Suddenly you realise you don't have any passport pictures of yourself. What do you do? Deploy the Great Indian Jugaad! Go to ePassport- Upload a decent picture of yourself-even if it is a group photo. The site allows you to manually crop out everything that is redundant. In India you can't use ePassportphoto. com's printing services, but a single click will let you download the passport photo sheet image. The output is a decent resolution sheet containing your passport photos, adjusted to the necessary size for a standard 4x6-inches/10x15cm print.

Free Photo Viewer,
This a very neat lightweight tool for viewing not just JPEGs but those harder to view RAW/NEF images. The program works very well even on netbooks and older, slower computers. So it makes an ideal companion for road warriors who shrink at the thought of installing any heavy image manipulation tool on underpowered machines. Incidentally, it also allows you basic image enhancement (of gamma, saturation, brightness and contrast levels).

This story is from the November 2010 edition of Gadgets and Gizmos. Subscribe to the magazine for the Print Copy or iPad.

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