Gigapan is one such technology that is slowly creeping its way into the collective compact of photographers around the world. From getting extraordinary at the intricate details of massive images of stadiums and crowd views, produced by high-end photographers, and with the help of a few assistants, today we have come to the point where Gigapan images are within the reach of any enthusiastic photographer. .
Gigapan – Collaboration Between Carnegie Mellon University and NASA
The GigaPan system was founded in 2008 as a collaborative project between Carnegie Mellon and NASA, with support from Google. The development team was led by Randy Sargent, senior scientist at Carnegie Mellon. The project has grown into an independent company offering solutions for capturing gigapixel images, at very high resolution.
In simple terms, it is a series of images combined into one larger, high-resolution one. Wait, I hear you crying, isn’t that just a panorama? Yes it is, but also so much more. While a panorama may be 4 or 5 images that are panned around the scene and stitched together, Gigapan can combine hundreds of images to make one large image, and of course large file sizes with high resolution. This is not only in the horizontal plane but also in the vertical plane, like individual panoramas stacked on top of each other, with very high resolution.
Image of Massive Stitches
Like many technologies, Xerox for example, Gigapan, has become a catchphrase for high-resolution, massively composited images. Although there are other companies that produce similar technology, Gigapan, this company remains a technology leader and innovator. They use a special combination of hardware and software to create these impressive images at high resolution. Because of this, Gigapan is one of the most interesting side projects of Carnegie Mellon University.
Huge Gigapan image being created in Iceland, by Alan Levine, on Flickr
How are Gigap Images Created?
If you have the patience of a saint, lots of time and an unwavering ability for minute accuracy, you may be able to create Gigapan style drawings yourself, without the usual hardware. For us mere mortals, Gigapan Systems sells an effective motorized head that can automatically move your camera in pan and tilt directions.
You mount this head on a sturdy tripod then mount the camera inside the large gimbal attachment. At the base of the unit are all the electronics that control camera movement. Into this you program the details of the lens you are using. This is so that the computer can calculate exactly how much to move the camera. You then tell the unit where the outer borders of your drawing will be. This is done by programming the top left and bottom right corners. The unit communicates with the camera via an electronic cable that plugs into the remote shutter socket.
Once everything is set, Gigapan will start taking pictures, automatically moving the camera to the next position before remotely firing the shutter. As a photographer, you put your feet up and wait for things to happen. Once the process is complete, you need to stitch the images together.
Gigapan has become an affordable technology in recent years, by Alan Levine, at Flickr
The merging software is fully automated but of course, you have the option of using Photoshop or other third-party products. This will give you more control but will also be very time consuming. Whatever you use, you’ll end up with some pretty large files. For this you need a computer that can handle such files or a lot of patience while the images are being displayed.
A decent-spec computer is necessary for sewing, by Alan Levine, on Flickr
Gigapan Image Done
Viewing Gigapan that has been made is also not as easy as an ordinary picture. Its sheer size means it’s best to use the software provided to watch on your own computer or use a plugin to upload it to a third-party website. You can also upload it to Gigapan’s own website.
So Do You Need a Gigapan?
As an avid photographer, this is certainly not a necessary piece of technology. If you enjoy panoramic or landscape photography and have the eye and the patience, then you might find a new passion in massively composited images. From a commercial perspective, Gigapans are a highly specialized area. If you’re asked to shoot a Gigapan, you might consider renting the unit the easiest option although given the complexity of this particular head, it’s a bargain. Gigapan Epic, designed for compact cameras starts at $320 while for using DSLR cameras you will need to upgrade to Epic Pro which costs close to $1000.
In summary, Gigapan technology is capable of creating some absolutely stunning, very high-resolution images, but it is a niche area that some photographers may find interesting. Either way, it’s an interesting result of the Carnegie Mellon and NASA collaboration that photographers can benefit from.