July 1, 2005 One lone physicist hopes to create an ultra-high-resolution portrait of America by taking a series of gigapixel images with his own custom camera, created from parts of old spy planes and nuclear reactors. Each image fills an entire DVD with data.
SAN DIEGO -- From Polaroid to digital, our cameras have come a long way. One man is now capturing even more detailed images than ever before.
"You could go onto the roof gardens and see all the details of people's lives," Graham Flint says. "Where they had left their slippers under the table and their cups and saucers on the tables."
Flint has captured more than 1,000 images across North America. His wife, Catherine, uses photo editing computer software to combine the individual focused shots of every major object in Flint's pictures. As a result, you can zoom in on the final image, such as the one from the Space Shuttle Discovery, and see the signatures on the banner.
To take a picture, Flint uses a laser range finder to focus, while a vacuum sucks the film flat against the camera to keep the details crystal clear. "It's a film that is used by the military for reconnaissance and surveillance," Flint explains.
As time and Mother Nature wear down America's history, Flint hopes his images will preserve her beauty for future generations. He has spent much of his career designing military spyware and surveillance cameras.
Flint's next step is a partnership with Google. Together, they will capture the roughly 800 world heritage sites to display online. People will be able to zoom in to any part of the photo for more detail.
Graham flint's pictures will be on display at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts through September 18.
WHERE TO SEE THE PICTURES: Graham Flint's giant photographs have appeared at San Francisco's Exploratorium, and San Diego's Museum of Photographic Arts will display eight or nine of them this summer.
HOW CAMERAS WORK: Photography freezes a moment in time by recording the visible light reflected from the objects in the camera lens's field of view. The reflected light causes a chemical change to the film inside the camera, which is coated with grains of silver-halide crystals. These crystals are naturally sensitive to light. By opening a camera's shutter for a split second, you expose the crystals to light and transfer energy from the photons to the silver halide crystals. This induces the chemical reaction, forming a latent image of the visible light reflected off the objects in the viewfinder.
WHAT ARE PIXELS: "Pixel" is short for picture element, and represents a single point in a graphic image. Graphics monitors display images by dividing the screen into thousands (or millions) of pixels, arranged in rows and columns. A megapixel equals one million pixels. Pixels are a measure of digital image quality: the more pixels, the better. The modern digital camera works on the same principle as a conventional camera, but instead of focusing light onto a piece of film, it focuses it onto an image sensor array -- called a charged coupled device (CCD) -- made of tiny light-sensitive diodes that convert light into electrical charges. It turns the fluctuating waves of light (analog data) into bits of digital computer data. The more sensors that are packed onto the CCD's surface, the higher the pixel count, and the higher the resolution of the final image.
CUSTOMIZATION: Flint has built a large-format camera, similar to those used in military spy planes, filled with large rolls of high-resolution film typically used for aerial photography and geological surveys. His custom-designed lenses are mounted with screws and dials that can be adjusted to within one thousandth of an inch. To focus his lens accurately, Flint measures the distance to every major object in the field of view with a laser range finder, then calculates how to adjust the screws.
ON THE WEB: Graham Flint's Gigapixl Project
The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.