Billion pixels: gigapixel

Photographers from xRez Studio (Santa Monica, Canada) use a fairly compact technique, and then “stick together” many small photos into a panorama

Panorama of Yosemite National Park, California, USA. Photo: Gerard Maynard, 2008

In the illustration, photographer Clifford Ross demonstrates his invention - the R1 camera, which he built in 2004 and is able to create gigapixel photos in one shot.

Elfin Glacier Ski Lodge, Squamish, Canada. Photo: Eric Days, Gigapixel Photography Inc.

The effective resolution of the matrix of modern soap dishes reaches 12 megapixels, professional DSLRs - 16 megapixels. Among the serial cameras and champions. For example, the Hasselblad Swedish H3DII-50 camera provides a resolution of 50 megapixels, while the French Leaf AFi 10 camera can take a picture with a resolution of 56 megapixels!

The world leader in the production of cameras with huge resolution is the Swiss company Seitz. In 2006, she released the Seitz 6x17 Digital camera, whose matrix resolution is unparalleled among serial models - 160 megapixels. The camera is most similar to a spaceship with ears and weighs so much that it is impossible to hold it with one hand. If the canvas made by this camera is printed on a piece of paper, then you can not buy wallpaper, but paste over the apartment with photos of your own work. About two photos per room. True, there is one “but”. If you photograph a whole city with such a camera, you still will not see what is happening in the windows. They will remain blurry spots of light and nothing more. I want to achieve more, while there is a limit to the physical increase in the matrix. And then the Gigapixel project comes into play.

No limits

Naturally, the higher the resolution, the better and deeper the image. The depth of immersion in the photograph plays a significant role: after all, I want to take a closer look at many elements of the image - accordingly, when approaching, they should not turn into a set of points.

It is worth noting that it is incorrect to apply the concept of “resolution” to a digital image. Resolution may be on the scanner, printer or camera, and the image is characterized only by the number of pixels. That is more of a size than a resolution.

This is exactly what the creators of the Gigapxl Project studio thought - the world's first service for creating photographs larger than 1000x1000 Mpix. The project was conceived in 1999, and two years later, the first Gigapxl & Trade camera was completed and ready for testing. The camera was film: the creators of digital cameras of that period could not even dream of such matrices. The resulting negative was scanned in high resolution, and a “digital” photograph was obtained. The first experiment allowed us to get a picture of a mountainside with a resolution of 260 megapixels, and by the end of the year photographers had a photograph of San Francisco in resolution of 2900 megapixels. In 2003, it was demonstrated at an exhibition in Albuquerque - and it was then that the company received its first commercial orders. Gigapxl Project can be called family-owned: it consists of only two people, physicist Graham Flint and his wife Katherine. True, Flint is not an easy physicist. He used to be the chief designer of cameras for the Hubble telescope, and that says a lot.

A bit about technology

If we want to print a digital photo with a resolution of 3 megapixels in perfect printing quality, then its size on paper should be no more than 10x15 cm. With further enlargement, the technical components of the illustration will be visible. Actually, the pixel remains invisible to the eye on paper with a side length of not more than 0.35 mm. That is why the creators of illustrated books and magazines are constantly faced with the problem of the lack of necessary illustrations in the right quality. If you simply scan an ordinary photograph taken on 35 mm film, you get a digital photo of excellent quality, as if taken with a camera with a resolution of 12 megapixels! An increase in the photographic plate will lead to a further increase in image quality.

Gigapxl Project members take off with a special Kodak aerial camera. All adjustments are made manually based on data on the distance to the largest objects in the shooting area. Translation of the resulting photograph "into digital" is performed using scanners with a resolution of 10, 000 pixels / mm2.

No less ingenious is the process of editing a photo after scanning a negative. It is necessary to process the photo in parts, since no RAM can provide fast processing in Photoshop of a file larger than 300 GB.

Yesterday and today

Today in the world there are about a dozen companies that provide services for creating photographs with a resolution of more than 1 Gpix. In particular, when working on the material, we worked closely with the Canadian studio Gigapixel Photography Inc. and its owner Eric Dace. Unlike Flint, Days uses a slightly different technology for obtaining ultra-high resolution photographs. In his method, not a film apparatus is used, but several digital ones. They allow you to take more than 160 photos in a short period of time; then these photos “stick together” into the panorama. Such technology is not always effective: it cannot be used to photograph a rapidly changing environment, such as a river. But it avoids the lengthy scanning process and facilitates the work of the photographer.

Another large company engaged in such photography is the California team xRez (Extreme Resolution). xRez actively collaborates with Hollywood and is widely known for its US Cities project, during which 13 company photographers created more than 270 gigapixel images of 34 largest cities in the United States of America.

Modern technology allows you to take photos of huge sizes. About the "miserable" 270 megapixels of 2001 have long been forgotten. On average, modern gigapixel photography has a resolution of about 2-4 Gpixels, with the exception of very specific record projects.

Anyone can order such a photograph of their favorite summer cottage or view from the window. At least Eric Days of Gigapixel Photography Inc. assured us that he was ready to travel with equipment to any country in the world. It will cost, of course, a round sum. But how can you save on the beautiful?

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 1, January 2010).

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