Michal Dzierza
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London in 80 gigapixels - meet Jeffrey Martin

Image by Jeffrey Martin, www.360cities.net

My prayers have been answered. London eventually got its first decent gigapixel image this week. You've probably already seen what its creator calls the biggest spherical panoramic image in the world at the moment, the 80-gigapixel picture of London.

It's an amazing achievement. The level of detail is incredible - you can clearly see individual faces in the street, peer into cluttered offices and count the number of tourists in each of the London Eye's pods.

Jeffrey Martin who created this image, and who runs 360cities.net, took some time out of his very busy schedule to answer a few questions for this blog. Here's what he had to say about the image, but also about his other projects, including 3D and timelapse panoramas:

First of all, explain how you took the image(s) and how you worked on the final picture.

I took 4 panoramas (about 30 gigapixels each) from each corner of the Centrepoint skyscraper in London and stitched them teogher into a single 80 gigapixel image.

Many people cannot really imagine such a gigantic image. Could you explain what 80 gigapixels mean in the context of this project.

80 billion pixels is the equivalent of 400,000 x 200,000 pixels. A normal camera might give you a picture that is 4,000 x 3,000 pixels. I joined nearly 8000 images together. If you took this image to the photolab and printed it like you print your holiday photos at the photolab (or on a good inkjet printer at home) the image would be 35m x 17m in size - and not a billboard, which is just dots when you get close to it. this would be something you could press your nose against and still see detail.

So the next obvious question would be about your gear...

I used an 18 megapixel SLR camera (Canon 550D, but they didn't sponsor this image) and a 400mm lens. I used the 18 megapixel SLR because it has the smallest pixels (highest pixel density) of any digital SLR on the market, allowing the largest possible panorama in terms of pixel count.

I've written about many other gigapixel images before - it all started with Dresden and Paris, then there was Dubai and Budapest and many others. Did they inspire you in any way? What did you think about them?

I made another world record image last year, the Prague Gigapixel - http://www.360cities.net/prague-18-gigapixels at about the same time, the Dresden image came out, larger but not a 360. The Paris image is wonderful. Holger who made the Dresden image, and Alexandre Jenny (and his colleagues from Kolor) who took part in the Paris image I have met a few times. They are all great guys, once or twice a year we get a chance to meet at a panoramic photographer conference, and we get to talk about all this geek stuff :)

What was the most challenging part of the project?

The stress of not knowing if this was going to work at all! These other world record images were shot from a single point, and from that standpoint were much more straightforward to do (I won't use the word "easy") ;-) This image was shot from 4 quite different viewpoints, but the subject matter was mostly quite distant, but still the way to get them to fit together well is one of my trade secrets I guess.

Image by Jeffrey Martin, www.360cities.net

So we've had panoramic images, spherical panoramic images, what's coming next? 3D? Interactive panoramas?

Some people call spherical panoramas "3D" which they are not - they are 2Dphotos on a spherical surface. You can have 3D spherical panoramas also, and we have some on 360cities.net: www.360cities.net/search/anaglyph (you need red-blue 3D glasses to see these) It is geometrically impossible to make a completely spherical anaglyph panorama because when you look down the 3D effect breaks. But it mostly works. I personally don't like to wear these red-blue glasses. Until this can be shown without any glasses, I think it is kept to a very tiny niche.

I have dabbled in timelapse spherical panoramas - back in 2005 when I had more time on my hands. I shot 6 spherical panoramas from the *exact* same spot, every few days, for a whole year - there was even a flood! You can see them here. You need the adobe shockwave plugin to see these, and your browser might crash - but it's worth the risk ;-) http://www.vrlog.net/2007/11/timelapse-panoramas/

It's fascinating, but tell me a bit more about 360cities.net

I founded 360cities with my brother David, 4 years ago. It grew out of a local project called Prague360.com which I worked on with the supremely talented designer Adam Trachtman (of www.lucidcircus.cz)

After we made the Prague site, google maps came out and we thought "hey, we can clone this for anywhere in the world" so we did just that. I invited other panoramic photography enthusiasts to publish their own images, and it started with 7 cities. And it grew from there. In 2007 we received Angel funding, and it became my full time job (more than fulltime - running a startup is crazy!)

I can imagine. What's next for you and for the site then? Which city is next and are you hoping to set another world record?

I'd love to keep making world records, it's fun :-) Next could be Mumbai, or NYC, or Istanbul. Who knows? You'll be surprised!

All images in this post © Jeffrey Martin, used with permission. Thanks to @anniemole for help

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