Letter | Published:

Multiscale gigapixel photography

Nature volume 486, pages 386389 (21 June 2012) | Download Citation


Pixel count is the ratio of the solid angle within a camera’s field of view to the solid angle covered by a single detector element. Because the size of the smallest resolvable pixel is proportional to aperture diameter and the maximum field of view is scale independent, the diffraction-limited pixel count is proportional to aperture area. At present, digital cameras operate near the fundamental limit of 1–10 megapixels for millimetre-scale apertures, but few approach the corresponding limits of 1–100 gigapixels for centimetre-scale apertures. Barriers to high-pixel-count imaging include scale-dependent geometric aberrations, the cost and complexity of gigapixel sensor arrays, and the computational and communications challenge of gigapixel image management. Here we describe the AWARE-2 camera, which uses a 16-mm entrance aperture to capture snapshot, one-gigapixel images at three frames per minute. AWARE-2 uses a parallel array of microcameras to reduce the problems of gigapixel imaging to those of megapixel imaging, which are more tractable. In cameras of conventional design, lens speed and field of view decrease as lens scale increases1, but with the experimental system described here we confirm previous theoretical results2,3,4,5,6 suggesting that lens speed and field of view can be scale independent in microcamera-based imagers resolving up to 50 gigapixels. 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.

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The AWARE programme is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract HR0011-10-C-0073. The project was initiated at DARPA by D. Healy and is managed by N. Dhar. The AWARE-2 microcamera optics design team includes D. Marks, E. Tremblay and J. Ford. Microcamera optics were fabricated by Rochester Photonics Corporation under the management of P. McLaughlin. P. Jansen, J. Hughes and S. Gewalt developed the parallel processing framework, data routing and hardware interface. H. Son and J. Kim developed the optomechanical layout.

Author information


  1. Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics, Duke University, PO Box 90291, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

    • D. J. Brady
    • , D. L. Marks
    • , D. S. Kittle
    •  & S. D. Feller
  2. ECE Department, University of Arizona, PO Box 210104, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • M. E. Gehm
    • , D. R. Golish
    •  & E. M. Vera
  3. Distant Focus Corporation, PO Box 7857, Champaign, Illinois 61826, USA

    • R. A. Stack


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D.J.B. and M.E.G. wrote the paper. M.E.G. wrote Supplementary Information, section 1. D.L.M. wrote Supplementary Information, section 2. R.A.S. and M.E.G. wrote Supplementary Information, section 3. D.S.K., D.L.M. and D.J.B. wrote Supplementary Information, section 4. D.S.K., D.L.M. and S.D.F. collected resolution test images and modulation transfer function data. D.S.K. and D.J.B. collected the images shown in Figs 1, 2 and 4. D.S.K. and S.D.F. collected the image shown in Fig. 3. D.R.G., E.M.V. and M.E.G. formed composite images for Figs 1, 3 and 4.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. J. Brady.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text 1- 4, which also includes Supplementary Figures, Supplementary Tables and additional references as follows: 1) System Comparisons, which compares AWARE-2 with other high pixel count imaging systems and provides, in Supplementary Table 1.1, system metrics for these systems. 2) System Design, which describes the AWARE-2 optical system. 3) Electronics and Processing, which describes the AWARE-2 electronics and image processing architecture. 4 System Performance, which includes more example of images in 4a, resolution test target and modulation transfer analysis in 4.b. 4.c and also test images and resolution metrics, using glass microcamera optics, demonstrating pixel-limited resolution as discussed in the main text.

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