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Gigapixel Photography: Another Promise of Camera Revolution

Duke University's Aware-2 camera uses 98 sensors of 14 megapixels each to stitch together images of extraordinary detail.

Photographers are used to thinking in megapixels, but researchers at Duke University have gone even bigger with the first gigapixel camera for general use.

Duke's Aware-2 camera uses 98 sensors of 14 megapixels each to stitch together images of extraordinary detail. The pixel count is high enough that even faraway objects can be cropped to look like close-ups from a conventional camera. From 1 kilometer away, the camera can spot objects as small as 1.5 inches wide.

The researchs say that the Aware-2 uses a 16-mm entrance aperture to capture snapshot, one-gigapixel images at three frames per minute.

“Ubiquitous gigapixel cameras may transform the central challenge of photography from the question of where to point the camera to that of how to mine the data,” the researchers say in an abstract for their article, which was published in Nature.

Multi-Sensor Approach Widens the Field

The Aware-2 isn't the first gigapixel camera, but as Gizmodo points out, other cameras can only capture a narrow field of view, so photographers would have to record a sequence of images while panning to make up a whole scene. The Aware-2's multi-sensor approach allows it capture the entire scene at once.

Already, news outlets are throwing around the word “revolution” when referring to the camera--reminiscent of the raves about Lytro's light field camera--but it'll be a long time before the Aware-2 is ready for real-world use.

It's not exactly consumer friendly. The current version weighs 100 pounds, and is roughly the size of two stacked microwave ovens, the Wall Street Journal reports. Each photo takes about 18 seconds to record--a limitation of today's computers, rather than the camera itself--and is only in black-and-white, though a 10-gigapixel should be ready by the end of the year.

The researchers currently operate on $25 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, whose Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is interested in gigapixel cameras for surveillance purposes. There's no word on when the technology will become portable.

In the meantime, there's always the Nokia 808 PureView smartphone for consumers who want the biggest pocketable pixel count. Unfortunately,at 41 megapixels, it's still 959 megapixels short of Duke's new toy.

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