Friday, December 30, 2005

The First 4 Gigapixel Landscape Camera

Popular Science has a fascinating article about Graham Flint's conversion of a World War II era spyplane camera into the highest resolution landscape camera ever - the digital equivalent of 4 Gigapixels. Yes, "Giga", as in 1,000 times the resolution of your everyday handheld digital camera.

Flint is, as the article describes, "a hobbyist photographer with an extensive knowledge of optics, physics, astronomy, and military aerial-reconnaissance cameras." With a degree in physics, an impressive career in the aerospace industry and military, and a list of hobbies that makes one wonder if he ever sleeps, the Gigapxl Project is his 'retirement project'.

The conversion of a camera system from taking pictures from high-altitude airplanes to taking them from a tripod was not just a matter of running down to the local photography shop and picking up a tripod and some lenses. Flint had to make his own compound lens, tripod, and other parts. The film itself is 9x18 inches (23x46 cm), so he has to have it processed at a lab in Ohio and then digitally scan, correct, and print it himself. However, the results are more than worth it - the images it produces are so incredibly detailed that they can be blown up to zoom in from a city skyline shot all the way into someone's window to see the poster hanging on the wall. Of course, the guys from Google Earth are interested, along with many others. Not bad for a manually focused, analog (i.e. film-based) camera. His accomplishment is a very dramatic retort to the 'CCDs are now as good as film' assertions made by the digital camera crowd.

The interview for the article occurred at the end of a photographic shoot of the USA that Flint and his wife, Aves, undertook. The article has an impressive shot that he took of the Grand Canyon as well as images of the camera itself. I highly recommend reading it if you have any interest at all in photography.

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