published Thursday, August 29th, 2013

In Tune: Eyeing the world at 150 gigapixels

A bit of prep work on your part is necessary before we begin this week. Go visit 360GigaPixels.com, and look at the recently uploaded panorama of Tokyo by photographer Jeffrey Martin.

Choose anywhere in the massive image -- which was shot from the top of the 1,093-foot-tall Tokyo Tower -- and start zooming in.

And zooming in. And zooming in.

With a flick of the mouse wheel, you can bring what at first seem to be unimaginably distant subjects into sharp focus. From mere hazy pinpricks on the horizon, blocks of buildings resolve themselves into defined shapes, revealing details that seem impossible to have been captured from so far away.

Naturally, the closer you look, the more intimate the details become: a man working in his walled-in backyard, laundry air-drying on an apartment balcony, a couple hugging in an alley.

What seems at first to be an impersonal, "Where's Waldo"-esque urban jumble becomes a patchwork quilt of millions of all-too-human moments.

This astonishing level of detail was achieved by a Canon 7D digital camera equipped with a telephoto lens and mounted to a motorized platform. A computer later stitched together thousands of photos taken from three locations atop the tower to create the panorama.

The resulting "image" weighs in at 150 gigapixels. In perspective, 150 gigapixels contains 18,750 times more detail than a picture taken with the 8-megapixel cameras in many smartphones.

The Tokyo image isn't even the record holder for the world's largest photo. That distinction belongs to a panorama of London, also taken by Martin, that tips the digital scales at 320 gigapixels -- 40,000 times more detailed than a smartphone image.

If you can spare enough brain power to formulate thoughts more complex than "Wow" in the midst of the inevitable gawking, you'll realize you easily could lose minutes, maybe hours, scrutinizing these images.

Like all technology, however, this achievement is a bit of a double-edged sword. Everyone to whom I have shown these images has followed a similar path of exploration. First, they zoom in on objects as far away as they can. Then, they look for things that are closer.

Eventually, however, they start looking in windows. They start peeping into bedrooms. I doubt anyone does it maliciously -- I didn't -- but rather out of sheer curiosity.

A bit of harmless voyeurism? Sure. The thing is, though, you can find what you're looking for.

I'm not decrying these photos as dangerous or misguided. On the contrary, I find them to be gloriously fascinating, but it makes you wonder. In an age when an estimated 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, how many are of you?

More importantly, who's looking at them?

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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