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Gigapan – The Photography Robot

Sunday December 13, 2009

The bikes have got me back into photography.  When I go out on long rides I take my Canon Ixus 40 with me to capture the ride, the sights and the memories.  Then I bought my Canon G11 as I wanted more control – the same level of control I had when I used my Minolta SLRs in the past.

Now I’ve bought a Gigapan Epic – a robotic camera mount for taking huge, high resolution images.

What?!

Okay, here’s something cool:

The GigaPan Imager uses the same panoramic photo technology as the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, used to collect amazing panoramic images of Mars.

GigaPan Systems was established in 2008 as a commercial spin-off of a successful collaboration between researchers at NASA and Carnegie Mellon University that developed the breakthrough GigaPan System for creating high-resolution panoramic images. GigaPan Systems was founded to bring this powerful, high-resolution imaging capability to a broad audience.

The Gigapan system consists of the robotic mount, stitching software and the Gigapan.org website which hosts the resulting massive images.

The mount itself ($300) fixes to the top of your tripod and then holds your digital camera nice and tightly in its special fixture.  There’s a small amount of setup to perform, so that it knows the field of view of your specific camera, and that’s it.  You then put your camera on maximum zoom, lock the focus, lock the exposure, then tell the Gigapan what to do.  It’s simple: you point the system at the top-left corner of your scene, then the bottom-right corner, and the Gigapan will then work out how many shots it needs to cover the entire scene.  Everything set, you start it off and it pans and tilts until its taken loads of individual photographs of the scene: x-number of rows and x-number of columns.

You then go home and download the images from your camera and into Gigapan’s stitching software.  This software really ‘uses’ your computer and all its processing and memory capacity to blend the photos into one huge image.  This can take a long time to compute, my initial (relatively small) capture took around 30 minutes – it’s complex and demanding for the software/computer to merge and blend these images automatically but it does it fantastically well.

Once it’s done its thing you upload to the Gigapan.org website, into your account, and then it’s available for the world to see.

Initially it looks like a normal photograph, but then you move your mouse over it and you realise that you can zoom into the image, pan around and explore it – in a similar way to the way you navigate in Google Maps.  Find something of interest in the middle of the image? Just zoom in and take a look.  As you do, the Gigapan viewing software adds the more detailed images as you get in closer until you reach the full resolution, then just keep panning.

The Gigapan hardware was shipped to to me from the USA.  I ordered it late on a Sunday night (UK time), the Gigapan team shipped it on Monday afternoon and it arrived at 1045 on the Wednesday morning!  Really quick shipping and a high quality product.

It’s a great bit of kit and I’ve only just started playing with it.  The weather yesterday curtailed my trials but I managed to get a couple of giga-images captured: the Castle and the Cathedral.  I’ve just exported the castle image to a TIFF file and that image is 450MB in size!  It is a 261 mega pixel image!  Oh, and it took my computer 1hr 55mins to stitch it together – that’s 56 images in a grid of 7 x 8.

The images below are small copies of the exported TIFF files, if you want to see the Gigapan images then click the links below each photo and you’ll be taken to the images over on Gigapan.org.

I’ll post updates of my Gigapan experiences as and when they happen.


Click here to view the Gigapan image of the Castle


Click here to view the Gigapan image of the Cathedral


My Gigapan Epic set to take the images of the Cathedral

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