Gigapixels and a changing view of the world

I blush not to extol the virtues of digital technology despite moaning in my previous blog about the demise of bookshops that is in part due to e-publications, e-readers and e-obsession. My eye has been caught by today’s astonishing digital cameras. Doubtless an offshoot of spy-in-the-sky military applications (pause for thought), they have transformed the way people see the world around them.

Gigapan_beta500GigaPan Systems is a global, privately owned technology company that provides the hardware, software, and services to create and share high-resolution, panoramic, interactive gigapixel images.

Gigapan’s EPIC series of robotic camera mounts can capture ultra high definition gigapixel photos using almost any digital camera. By setting the upper left and lower right corners of the panorama desired, the EPIC works out how many photos the camera needs to take and then automatically organizes them into rows or columns. The separate photos are then digitally “stitched” together to produce a seamless whole.

Using this technology, photographer Jeff Cremer has taken an extraordinary picture of Machu Picchu. The 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres above sea level in Peru’s Cusco Region must be one of the most photographed locations on Earth. Cremer’s photo contains 15.9 gigapixels. One gigapixel equals 1,000 megapixels. In comparison, the iPhone5 has 8 megapixels and a Canon Rebel DSLR camera has 18 megapixels.

The extraordinary resolution achieved means that Machu Picchu can be viewed in unbelievable detail. Viewers can also zoom in on the ruins and each individual tourist clambering around the site. Cremer, who is a tour director with Rainforest Expeditions, used a Canon 7D with a 400mm lens mounted on a robotic camera to take 1,920 photos of the site. They were then stitched together to form a single visual tapestry.

In an interview Cremer said, “I believe that a good photo is one that allows the viewer to see the world in a new way and Gigapan does just that. I think that people get more out of the images by being able to explore them and discover things rather than just taking a quick look then moving on to something else. I also like the way that Gigapan combines science and technology to create art.”

All technology changes the way we perceive the world. Digital publications have changed reading habits and digital photography has changed viewing habits. But what matters, of course, is the content. The quality of what we are reading and viewing is still – fortunately – at stake.

Machu-PicchuDenis Dutton (1944-2010), philosopher of art and web entrepreneur, was professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, and co-founder and co-editor of three websites: Arts & Letters Daily, ClimateDebateDaily.com and cybereditions.com. He proposed six universal signatures in human aesthetics: Expertise or virtuosity; non-utilitarian pleasure; style; critical appreciation; imitation that simulates direct experience of the world; and special focus – in which art is set apart from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of human experience. Gigapan has the potential to match all six.

After the great flood of Inca legend, the supreme god Viracocha fashioned people out of clay and devised languages and songs for them. It was he or she who also created the sun, moon and stars and assigned them places in the sky. But not even Viracocha saw Machu Picchu the way we see it today.

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