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University researchers develop 1 billion pixel camera

If you think HD close-up shots can reveal a little too much information about the state of your favourite TV star's complexion, wait until you get a load of an experimental camera built by Duke University researchers that can produce a still or video image with a whopping billion pixels.

The 'Aware-2' camera uses 98 14 mega-pixel sensors placed around a sphere to stitch together images in excruciating detail - five times as much, in fact, as a person with 20/20 vision sees, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

Conventional digital cameras operate by decreasing lens speed and field of view as lens scale increases. But the Duke researchers decided to disregard that relationship and said their experimental camera system confirms the idea that the shutter speed and aperture can be independent of the lens scale in 50 giga-pixel microcameras.

The Aware-2 is also a step away from 'point-and-click' photography-shutterbugs armed with one of these cameras would simply have to turn the thing on and let it capture the world around it, the Duke team said.

"Ubiquitous giga-pixel 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," the researchers said in a Nature article published this week.

Each of the experimental camera's 98 microcameras is independently focused and exposed, with captured data combined into a single composite HDR image.

Though it isn't the first giga-pixel camera, the Aware-2 has a far wider field of view than any of its predecessors. Instead of panning across a landscape to record a series of images, the Duke researchers' camera is crafted to take pictures that average about 1.5GB in size of dynamic, large field of vision scenes.

Don't expect to be toting the Aware-2 around on your next vacation, though.

Standing at a height of two stacked microwaves and weighing in at around 100 pounds, the camera requires cooling fans during operation, according to the WSJ. The scientists did say they can reduce data loads and power requirements to take the camera out into the field, however.

While the Aware-2 shoots only black-and-white photos, the researchers is working on a 10 giga-pixel color version of the camera they hope to build by the end of the year, the WSJ reported. After that, the team will get to work on a 50 giga-pixel device.

The $25 million (£16 million) project was funded by the US Department of Defence's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).