Microsoft’s 196 megapixel camera

Redmond (WA) – Microsoft makes
cameras? Yes, but this is not your average consumer model. Topping out
at a whopping 196 megapixels and a native resolution of 17,310 x 11,310 pixels, UltraCamXp can take stereo images at 1 inch GSD with
up to 2.5 Gbps data throughput. The company touts the UltraCamXp
as the largest format camera available today for aerial photography and
will use it soon to improve the quality of terrain imagery used by its
Live Maps mapping service.

Popular online mapping services like Google Maps or Microsoft’s Live Maps rely on so-called orto-photography
to provide users with terrain imagery. Such images are taken
with expensive, ultra-high resolution cameras mounted to aircraft. Aerial
photographs are then analyzed for rich terrain data beyond pure pixels,
stitched together and uploaded to data centers. From there, a mapping
service that runs inside your browser, like Live Maps, simply fetches
the pixel data required by your current screen resolution and zoom

Thanks to its acquisition of Austria-based Vexcel Imaging, Microsoft is able to design and engineer its own high-resolution cameras tailored to aerial photography used in
Live Maps’ Bird’s Eye view. Whereas the company so far relied on its 64 megapixel UltraCamLcamera to map the Earth’s surface, the new 92 megapixel UltraCamLpis capable of taking photos in a native resolution of 11704 x 7920 pixels. The company claimsUltraCamLp to be “the largest footprint medium format camera system for small aircraft.” Microsoft plans to put UltraCamLp into service in 2010.

If you thought the resolution of UltraCamLp is high, consider the even higher-res UltraCamXpmodel
that supports 196 megapixels, or 17,310 pixels across track x 11,310 pixels along
track, with a pixel size of just 6 μm. The camera can collect stereo imagery
at just 1 inch GSD at a flight speed of 110 knots, with s supported  maximum data rate of 2.5 Gbps. Thanks to its computing unit with 14 CPUs, the camera processes raw images on board in real time, offers image quality assessment as well as quick views and histograms.

Leveraging the sheer amount of pixels it can register at once, there is much more onboard
removable storage that stores around 6600 uncompressed images (~4.2
TB) per unit.

Microsoft started offering UltraCam cameras to the general public in 2004 and plans to offer the UltraCamXp model to institutions, organizations and companies specializing in orto-photography. The 55 kilogram-heavy camera supports all standard gyro-stabilized camera mounts (PAV-30, Z/I T-AS, GSM3000) and most common GPS/IMU systems. High-tech aerial photography has recently came within reach of consumers, like this gigapixel camera composite that provides Google Earth like panoramas.


Microsoft’s 196 megapixel UltraCamXp
camera (left) produces urban maps with minimal occlusions and Digital
Elevation Models with no spikes or holes. The pixel size on the ground (GSD)
at an altitude of 1500 ft is 2.9 centimeters, or 1.8 cm at 900 ft altitude. The Office Processing Center software (right)
shows all images of a block, sub-assembly or strip, and enables easy


Pictured above is UltraCamXp-taken aerial shot of the Portugal coastline, courtesy of Aerodata International Surveys.