Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gigapixel Photography

Gigapixel technology has only existed within the last few years, but it is expanding exponentially. So, what is it? A gigapixel image consists of one billion pixels, which is 1000 times the size of a 1 megapixel image. Typically the size ratio for a 1 gigapixel image is 44,000 x 22,000 pixels in size. It is created digitally by stitching together hundreds, or in some cases thousands of single images taken in a specific sequence to create one huge mosaic that you can easily zoom into to see intricate details. Gigapan Systems created mechanized cradles made to fit compact cameras and DSLR's that allow you to easily create your own gigapixel images. Just mount your camera, input the top left corner and bottom right corner of the panoramic area that you are photographing, and the system starts taking photos in rows and columns to then be stitched together by their software.

An example of a record breaking gigapixel photographer is Jeffrey Martin from 360cities.net. In Manchester City at the FA Cup final, he wanted to be a part of history and create the first ever 360 degree panoramic photograph of the Wenbley Stadium. His tools were a Canon DSLR and a custom designed, programmable, robotic tripod head that allowed him to take a few hundred shots in a complete circle. The process of transferring and creating the final 10 gigapixel image took a computer packing 192 gigabytes of RAM and 24 CPU cores.

But why would the world need such high resolution photos? Art curators were some of the first to see the purpose of gigapixel technology in their field. The Google Art Project was launched in February of 2011 to showcase some of the most famous works of art in the world, in detail like no one has seen them before (except for in person of course). The site allows you to explore and study masterpieces such as Van Gogh's Starry Night, right down to the individual brush strokes.

This technology has also been used for advancements in many other fields such as medical, astrological, analytic purposes in surveillance, and also by visual effects artists. The military has even started to use gigapixel photos to pinpoint close-up and detailed GPS tags around the world. This is a rapidly growing trend that will eventually lead to future advancements in digital information storage upgrades. NASA, in conjunction with Gigapan Systems, is currently offering an uploading and storage service for these large photographs so that they can be viewed online and zoomed in to see all the tiny details. According to their studies, it has grown from around 1500 images in 2008 to 45,000 by 2010 which amounts to about 25 terapixels!

Ready to see some of these amazing shots?
Paris 26 Gigapixels
Yosemite 17 Gigapixels
Harlem 13 Gigapixels
Dresden 26 Gigapixels
Shanghai Skyline 272 Gigapixels (yes, 272!)


- Mollie Clark