20 Jun 2012
Developers predict that "next generation" of gigapixel cameras should be available to the general public within five years.Duke University and the University of Arizona have developed a prototype camera that can create images with unprecedented detail. The camera’s resolution is five times better than 20/20 human vision over a 120˚ horizontal field.
The new camera has the potential to capture up to 50 gigapixels of data (50,000 megapixels). By comparison, most consumer cameras are capable of taking photographs with image sizes in the small tens of megapixels.
The researchers believe that within five years, as the electronic components of the cameras become miniaturized and more efficient, the next generation of gigapixel cameras should be available to the general public. Details of the new camera were published online in the journal Nature. The team’s research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The camera was developed by a team led by David Brady
“Each one of the microcameras captures information from a specific area of the field of view,” Brady said. “A computer processor essentially stitches all this information into a single highly detailed image. In many instances, the camera can capture images of things that photographers cannot see themselves but can then detect when the image is viewed later."
“The development of high-performance and low-cost microcamera optics and components has been the main challenge in our efforts to develop gigapixel cameras,” Brady said. “While novel multiscale lens designs are essential, the primary barrier to ubiquitous high-pixel imaging turns out to be lower power and more compact integrated circuits, not the optics.”
The software that combines the input from the microcameras was developed by an Arizona team led by Michael Gehm
“Traditionally, one way of making better optics has been to add more glass elements, which increases complexity,” Gehm said. “This isn’t a problem just for imaging experts. Supercomputers face the same problem, with their ever more complicated processors, but at some point the complexity just saturates, and becomes cost-prohibitive."
Altered images: Duke's Imaging and Spectroscopy Program.
The prototype camera itself is 760mm square and 500 mm deep. Interestingly, only about three percent of the camera is made of the optical elements, while the rest is made of the electronics and processors needed to assemble all the information gathered. This is where additional work to miniaturize the electronics and increase their processing ability will make the camera more practical for everyday use.
“The camera is so large now because of the electronic control boards and the need to add components to keep it from overheating,” Brady said, “As more efficient and compact electronics are developed, the age of hand-held gigapixel photography should follow.”
Co-authors of the Nature report with Brady and Gehm include Steve Feller, Daniel Marks, and David Kittle from Duke; Dathon Golish and Estabon Vera from Arizona; and Ron Stack from Distance Focus.
About the Author
Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org