Hi there Jerseybean,
sorry for not responding earlier but have just returned from London and have not been online.
- is it worth spending the extra $ 200,- ? Well in my opinion yes. Why? 1. because you can maually adjust the image (which is required 2 ot of 10 times) if the software can't give you a clean stich. 2. Because of being able to make a 3 image stich. The 3 image stich will, even if u use the full fish eye image, only use the middle 120deg of image. This means that the other 30 deg per side, which tend to be softer due to the lens structure, are removed. Thus leaving a better quality image to stich with. You also have more overlap which can save you the odd frustration if when taking the images you made a minor error and don't have enough overlap for a 2shot.
-3 shot image improvement:
To further enhance the image quality you can try my way of taking 3 shot images. This will also deal with "window overexposure". I set my CP4500 to M and set f to 8.0. I select an exposure time that'll give me a mid range of exposure. I set the focus to infinity and tend not to use auto white bal due to the fact that each 120 deg will have white bal change and therefore won't result in equal colour of the shots required for clean stiching. I then zoom in (the camera being in portrait mode) until the top and bottom of the circular image touch the top and bottom of the LCD screen. I now have a cropped image i.e. 183 vertically and approx 140 horizonatly (Don't forget that u jsut need 120 deg across). This has 2 main benefits. 1. You just take what u really need and can also see better through the LED screen of cam. 2. U actually are useing more pixels of the cam ie around 85% instead of only around 45%. This menas better quality image and larger (for example for full screen work) end image. (just using fishey results in image approx 1500px in diametre. Usieng the above method u have an image of 2100x1575). I tend to take 3-7 shots in each direction with differnt exposure time so that I import the images into PS and useing layers highlite darker areas or blend in overexposed shots. I save the resulting images as bmp to avoid jpg loss and stich. The result is saved as bmp. The base bmp is my archive image which I'll then resize to say 1500x750 for web work, do whatever colour correction and cleaan up work required and will finally sharpen the image useing unsharpen.
Please drop a line if u require further assistance.
If I only had an hour to chop down a tree... I'd spend 45 mins sharpening the axe.