A critical analysis of gigapixel imaging: assessing workflow, time, and resulting image quality

Robert Stein, USA

Robert Stein, Deputy Director, Dallas Museum of Art
Ted Forbes, Multimedia Producer, Dallas Museum of Art

In the recent past, conversations among museums have centered on whether or not to offer digital images of our collections at all. Now, just a few years later, the tools and techniques for creating digital images of massive resolution and detail are easily within the grasp of many institutions. Still, the process of creating these images and the resulting implications on workflow, online presentation, and scholarship is still poorly understood and under-documented in the literature.

As part of an over-arching program of digital innovation and strategy in museums, the Dallas Museum of Art has embarked on an investigation of the methods and tools required to create these extreme resolution (gigapixel) images for works in our permanent collection. Frequently in excess of 1000 pixels per inch, these methods offer an amazing up-close view of museum objects, but questions exist about the benefits of extreme resolution and the diminishing returns of larger and larger images. In this paper, we will review the existing methods – both free and commercial – as well as sample results from these methods applied to two-dimensional objects in the museum’s collection.

Specifically, the paper will address a comparison of image quality results between each different method. We will discuss the required time, expertise, and equipment required to create such images and will look at the feasibility of comprehensive collection digitization given each approach.

Finally, we will examine the museological implications of resolution on the documentary, experiential, and research potential of extreme resolution imaging. Are gigapixel images simply a novelty, or something more significant? What exactly are the benefits and what upper limits exist to the useful application of these techniques for museum collections?