Just getting started in panoramic tours so after getting my Nodal Ninja hardware and shooting some sample sets both indoors and outdoors, I downloaded trial copies of 6 or 7 different stitchers - Panavue, Autopano, Panoweaver, Panofactory, PTgui and one or two others. After trying each one with all my sample image sets, I bought PanoramaStudio2 Pro from www.tshsoft.com. After telling Paul about it, he encouraged me to share my findings here.
This program stitched every image set perfectly - on one set where I had accidentally left my lens set at 24mm instead of 18mm, the program warned me about minimal overlap and asked if I wanted to continue, but still delivered a perfect stitch. It's almost as fast as AutoPano, and about the same as PTgui. Panavue was a close 2nd in terms of stitching quality - but was literally 10 times slower. Autopano was far and away the worst in terms of stitching accuracy.
It does single- or multi-row panoramas, full or partial. It also stitches "Merge Documents" - multi-part scans or photos where the camera moves parallel to a flat surface. And you can import existing panos for further editing.
The workflow involves more steps than some of the others, but is very intuitive as the steps are laid out in order on the toolbar.
Step 1: Import your images - it supports a wide variety of file types including most common RAW formats.
Step 2: You can rotate all the images if necessary, and you can batch resize them for faster stitching. I didn't find any significant quality difference between pre-reducing my image sizes and doing it at the final render. But it worked quickly enough on full-res 6MP JPEGs from my D40 - about 1.5-2MB at Normal quality.
Step 3: Set parameters - it will auto-detect focal length from EXIF data, but you can also choose auto or manual correction of lens distortion and vignetting.
Step 4: Run the "Align" step to generate a preview stitch - this takes under 2 minutes with full-res images on my fairly slow machine.
Step 5: You can step through the individual images and adjust brightness manually, or adjust it globally for the entire pano. You can also fine-tune the alignment between any image pair using two different adjustments - one moves the adjoining edges up/down or left/right, the other is really unique. Instead of using flags, it divides the overlap regions into a grid. You click the grid segment you want to adjust, then drag it or use the arrow keys to move it one pixel at a time.
Step 6: When you're happy with the preview, you run the "Render" function to perform the full stitch - at this point you set the output size. Again, this runs in about 2 minutes on my machine.
Step 7: Now you can make brightness/contrast, sharpening (basic weak-normal-strong or more advanced unsharp mask with selectable radius and threshold) and color enhancements - color adjustments include a variety of control panels, including levels (simple sliders) and curves. You can also resize.
Step 8: Finally, you save the resulting image (again, lots of formats to choose from) and you can set the JPEG compression.
This sounds like a lot, but the whole process takes about 5 minutes per scene and like I said, it's very intuitive and I can't argue with the results.
Another cool feature - you can select a portion of the pano and output it with the perspective corrected for printing or online display as a still. And it includes a very nice Flash viewer with fullscreen (non-commercial license - you have to pay $59 per domain for commercial use) which I find works well for doing a local preview before uploading.
And perhaps the best part - it was the cheapest of all the options I looked at - about $90 with tax. There's a free trial available, so check it out!