195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by BigPixel allows viewers to see street-level detail
195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by Bigpixel Technology

195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai allows viewers to zoom in on street-level detail

Faces and licence plates are among the details that can be clearly seen in an ultra-high-resolution bird's-eye photograph of Shanghai, created by Chinese company Bigpixel Technology.

Shot from 230 metres up the city's Oriental Pearl Tower, the BigPixel image offers a 360-degree panorama of Shanghai that users can pan across and zoom into, so that even people and objects at ground level appear identifiable.

The clarity comes because the image is made up of 195 gigapixels — that is 195 billion pixels, or 195,000 megapixels. As a reference point, the latest iPhone camera takes photos at 12 megapixels.

195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by Bigpixel Technology
The BigPixel image is made of 195 billion pixels

The image was created in 2015 but went viral last month, accompanied by rumours that it had been taken using new "quantum technology" fitted to a Chinese satellite.

The reality, according to Bigpixel, is that the image is stitched together from thousands of smaller photos taken by regular cameras with 600 millimetre telephoto lenses to capture close-ups.

195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by Bigpixel Technology
Viewers of the interactive photo can zoom in to see street-level detail

Still, the project required a huge amount of processing power. There are 8,700 photos adding up to 2.6 terabytes used in the piece.

The company told Dezeen that it takes a "high-performance professional workstation" to handle a project of this size.

195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by Bigpixel Technology
Individual people can clearly be seen on in the photo

"In order to be quickly accessed by mobile phones around the world, it is necessary to cut it into millions of small pieces, combined with high-performance global cloud computing functions," said Bigpixel, which spent two months on the project.

"When the user zooms in and out, the system senses the visitor's point of interest through the algorithm and automatically loads the corresponding image."

195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by Bigpixel Technology
Viewers can zoom in and out of the interactive image

Bigpixel says this is the largest image taken in Asia, and one of the largest in the world.

The company aims to "bring the world closer" by allowing people to explore foreign cities on the internet. It has already created slightly smaller versions of the project in sites including Hong Kong, Beijing, Tiananmen Square.

195-gigapixel photo of Shanghai by Bigpixel Technology
The image was taken from the Oriental Pearl Tower

Before the satellite rumours were debunked, interest in the image was driven partly by concern about Chinese government surveillance, particularly given what is already known about its espionage apparatus.

Anxieties about surveillance have cropped up repeatedly in the designs of the last year, with the USA exploring the theme through two installation at the London Design Biennale and Helm catering to increasing concerns about privacy with its personal server.

Images are courtesy of Big Pixel Technology.