A sample image from the gigapixel camera, showing the device's extraordinary detail and resolution. Duke University

Engineers from Duke University and the University of Arizona have created a camera with a resolution five times better than perfect human vision, able to take pictures with an unprecedented amount of detail.

In a paper appearing in the journal Nature on Wednesday, the team describes their AWARE-2 camera, which can potentially capture up to 50 gigapixels of data - or 50,000 megapixels. That's a huge leap ahead of most digital cameras on the general market that take photographs between 8 and 40 megapixels in size.

The AWARE-2 measures two and a half feet square, and contains 98 tiny synchronized cameras.

Each one of the microcameras captures information from a specific area of the field of view, lead author and Duke University photonics researcher David Brady said in a statement on Wednesday.

Only about three percent of the camera is made of the actual opical elements - the rest is electronic equipment and computer processers that work to stitch the information from the individual cameras into a single, highly detailed image.

In many instances, the camera can capture images of things that photographers cannot see themselves but can then detect when the image is viewed later, Brady said.

Brady and his colleagues think that gigapixel cameras will find their way to the general public within five years as the electronic components of the AWARE-2 model become smaller and more efficient.

The new camera has the potential to revolutionize not just consumer photography, but to aid science as well. The researchers pointed to a picture they took of tundra swans on a lake. Though the photograph was taken from far away, one can zoom in on swans that were flying 350 meters (1,148 feet) away and see them in crisp detail.

Likewise, one can zoom in on a gigapixel picture of a city scene and pick out license plate numbers, signs, and even faces.

In an interview with the magazine Wired, Brady compared it to a scene the scifi movie Blade Runner where hero Rick Deckard zooms in on miniscule details in a snapshot.

I remember seeing that and thinking that would never happen, Brady told wired. But here it is.

SOURCE: Brady et al. Multiscale gigapixel photography. Nature 486: 386-389, 21 June 2012.