Megapixel, schmegapixel: GIGApixel cameras coming soon

While some camera geeks are salivating over the possibilities of the new Nokia 808 PureView smartphone and its comparatively beefy 41-megapixel camera, researchers have recently unveiled a technique for capturing 50-gigapixel images, which they predict may hit the public in as little as five years.

Let's put those numbers in some perspective: if you're happy with the camera on, say, your iPhone 4S, that comes with a relatively standard 8 megapixels. Have fun with that. Meanwhile, 50 gigapixels is 50,000 megapixels, which also happens to be five times better than 20/20 human vision.

A joint team of researchers at Duke University and the University of Arizona — with support from DARPA — have developed a prototype that synchronizes 98 tiny cameras to produce one ginormous image:

Duke-gigapixel-image-01.jpg

Duke University Imaging and Spectroscopy Program

As researchers dipped into the problem of capturing super high quality images, they found the barriers to overcome were less one of optics, than of computing power.

"Our current approach, instead of making increasingly complex optics, is to come up with a massively parallel array of electronic elements," Michael Gehm, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, commented in a release by the institution.

He continues: "A shared objective lens gathers light and routes it to the microcameras that surround it, just like a network computer hands out pieces to the individual work stations. Each gets a different view and works on their little piece of the problem. We arrange for some overlap, so we don't miss anything."

The research team's initial prototype is 2.5 feet square and 20 inches deep. Not quite ready for the consumer market. However, researchers predict that as camera technology and electronics continue their pace towards miniaturization and energy efficiency, consumer grade gigapixel cameras will soon follow.

Curious about the potential of gigapixel photography? Click here and here to see examples of photographers digitally stitching together thousands of photographs to produce super high resolution images.

Duke, via PopSci

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