December 14, 2003 update: In early December this page was featured on numerous popular websites (Slashdot, luminous-landscape, imaging-resource and others), and I was flooded with hundreds of e-mails as a result. Thanks to everyone who has written with comments, congratulations, suggestions and ideas. I am grateful for all the interest.
I have read all of the e-mails and am starting the process of responding. However, I will not be able to respond to all the e-mails, so I've added a "Frequently Asked Questions" section at the bottom of this page. If you don't get a response from me, it isn't personal! It is probably because your question is answered below, or elsewhere on my site.
Introduction. This page contains what I believe to be one of the highest resolution, most detailed stitched digital images ever created. It is the view from Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. It consists of 196 separate photographs taken with a 6 megapixel digital camera, and then stitched together into one seamless composite. The final image is 40,784 x 26,800 pixels in size, and contains about 1.09 billion pixels...a little more than one gigapixel. I have been unable to find any record of a higher resolution photographic (i.e. non-scientific) digital image that has been created without resizing a smaller, lower resolution image or using an interpolated image.
How was it created? The first step in the creation of the image was to choose an appropriate subject. There are a number of technical issues that I had to consider that are not normally encountered when taking single images. For example, it took me 13 minutes simply to take all the photographs, and I was shooting as fast as my camera could write images to its memory card. So, I needed a subject that was relatively static. Secondly, I knew that I would have to use a very long focal length lens to take the image, otherwise the final composite would end up with an extremely wide field of view...something I didn't want. This also presented challenges due to the extremely short depth of field when using very long lenses.
The second step was to assemble the images. This was a complex and lengthy process. My normal procedure (using PTAssembler, Panorama Tools and Photoshop) was not sufficient in this case for a number of reasons because of the size and number of images I was working with. For example, the version of Photoshop that I use cannot work with images with pixel dimensions of more than 30,000. So, my solution was to modify some of the existing programs in my workflow, and write a number of new software programs to create this image.
Technical Details. Here are some facts and figures about this image:
How much detail does it contain? Much, much more than would be captured by any conventional digital camera...even those that cost more than a new car. For example, the Canon 1Ds (about $8,000) captures 11 megapixels, while the BetterLight Super 10K-2 scanning back (camera not included!) captures 140 megapixels, but costs about $25,000. I also believe that a gigapixel image surpasses what even die-hard admirers of large format photography argue is possible with large format cameras. For more thoughts on this subject, you might also want to read this essay.
Here's another way to think about it. Given that the resolving power of the human eye (under ideal conditions at the center of the retina) is about 1 arcminute (1/60th of one degree), this image captures considerably more detail than I (or any other normal sighted human) was able to see with my eye when standing on the overlook at Bryce Point. Assuming one pixel per arcminute, an image with dimensions of 3780 x 2485 would suffice to capture the amount of detail that the naked eye could resolve. This image has more than 100 times this detail. Looking at the full sized digital image, one is able to see things that might have been difficult or impossible to spot, even when using binoculars.
Here is full sized crop from the original image. It is 40784 pixels wide, but only 100 pixels tall. It covers the entire width of the full size image, and illustrates the amount of detail captured. It has not been sharpened, and is saved as a low quality 380KB file (to save bandwidth). You may need to save it to your hard-drive and view it using an image viewer if your browser cannot open it successfully.
Below are some crops to simulate the amount of detail that would be captured using cameras of different resolutions (I don't own any of these higher resolution cameras, so the crops below are simulated, and due to the resizing algorithm used to create these crops, they may over-estimate the amount of detail actually captured by these cameras).
Why Bother? Good question. The short answer is "why not?" As digital camera resolutions have increased, and the hardware, techniques and software for stitching multiple images into composites have improved, there has been speculation about when gigapixel images would become possible. This seemed like an interesting challenge to me. (I still think that it will be a long time before true gigapixel cameras will become available.)
However, this isn't the only reason. I've been producing and printing stitched images consisting of 20-150 megapixels for several years. I've become addicted to the amazing detail that is visible in large prints from these images! Gigapixel images present the possibility of producing some of the most amazingly detailed prints at sizes of 10-15 feet wide. A 300ppi print of this image would measure about 11 feet wide, while a 240 ppi print would be close to 15 feet wide. Even printed at this size, the image would appear very sharp upon close inspection.
Another advantage to an image this size is the ability to crop very small portions of this image in a number of different ways and still produce extremely high resolution large prints.
How Do You Print It? Another good question. The short answer to this is that there appear to be a number of alternatives, but none that I've discovered that I'm completely happy with. So, I'm still thinking about it! However, I'm interested in hearing from anyone who would like to partner with me on printing this image. I think it would be an excellent match for (and an excellent demonstration of) large format printing technology. If you have an idea or a proposal, please let me know (e-mail me).
Comments/Suggestions? Feel free to post a question or join the discussion in the forums.
Frequently Asked Questions. In an attempt to answer some of the questions that I've received since I posted this image, below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.