27 Impressive Numbers About The World’s Largest Digital Camera


Thanks to a funding approval from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, construction of the world’s largest digital camera will start soon. The camera will be mounted on the National Science Foundation’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) on a mountain peak in Chile, where it will photograph, in exquisite detail, the southern night sky over the span of a decade. The camera will be assembled at the DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, operated by Stanford University. The sensor was designed by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, founded by University of New York Stony Brook and Battelle, a nonprofit applied science organization.

In this artist's rendition, the LSST primary mirror is seen through the slit of the dome at sunset. Image courtesy of The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope/ Department of Energy


The telescope’s mirror was built in a 6-story workshop beneath the University of Arizona football stadium. The world’s first dual-surface mirror for a telescope was molded in a 33-foot-wide oven at 2200 degrees F out of 22 tons of molten glass. The mirror measures 27' across.

Let’s run the numbers

3,200,000,000 pixels: Your Canon 5DR has 52MP of resolution? Yawn. This thing has 3.2 gigapixels of eye-watering resolution. That is 3200MP.

5.5 x 9.8': The camera is the size of a small car.

The LSST camera is designed to provide a wide field of view with better than 0.2 arcsecond sampling and spectral sampling in five or more bands from 400nm to 1060nm. The camera includes a filter mechanism and, if necessary, shuttering capability. Image courtesy of The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope/ Department of Energy

6,200 pounds: The camera weighs 6,200 pounds. That is more than a small car. With luggage.

201 individual sensors: There are 201 separate custom-built charged-coupled device (CCD) sensors (189 to take photos, 12 for guidance and focusing).

21 submosaics: Each sensor measures 1.5" across, and they are arranged in 3 x 3 grids of 9 sensors separated by creating 21 submosaics. The assembly must be completely flat with no more than a 10-micron tilt in any direction.

250 microns: The distance between each submosaic to minimize light loss between the sensors is 250 microns.

10 microns: The size of each pixel.

0.2 arc-second sampling: This provides optimized pixel sensitivity versus pixel resolution.

25.2 inches: The imaging surface is more than 2' in diameter.

A three-dimensional rendering of the baseline design of the dome with a cutaway to show the telescope within. Image courtesy of The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope/ Department of Energy

3,000 channels of data: The image from each CCD is divided into 16 segments for parallel processing. The 9-sensor submosaics provide 144 read-out points for over 3000 channels of data.

11,000,000,000,000 bits of data per hour: When it is switched on, the telescope will produce 11 trillion bits of data per hour.

6,000,000 gigabytes: All of those trillions of bits add up to 6 million gigabytes per year—the equivalent of taking 800,000 pictures with an 8MP digital camera every night.

200,000,000,000,000,000 bytes: I never heard of a petabyte until today; this thing is expected to produce up to 200 petabytes of data.

1,500 HD TVs: If you wanted to display one of the LSST images, you would need to arrange 1,500 high-definition televisions in your living room. B&H sells HDTVs.

2,000 square feet: The clean room constructed to build the camera measures 2,000 square feet and is 2 stories tall.

15 seconds: Most astronomical telescopes require several minutes to capture an image in the dark of night. LSST will take 15-second exposures due to the fact that it has custom-designed electronics behind every sensor, and the information is getting split into thousands of discrete bits.

$168,000,000: Amount allocated for the construction of the camera, in US dollars.

The LSST’s camera will include a filter-changing mechanism and shutter. This animation shows that mechanism at work, which allows the camera to view different wavelengths; the camera is capable of viewing light from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared (0.3-1 μm) wavelengths. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) 

800 panoramic images: The telescope will combine those exposures into 800 panoramic shots every night to track galaxies at the edge of the universe, as well as nearby asteroids roaming the night sky.

5,000,000,000 galaxies: The LSST’s camera will ultimately image 5 billion galaxies in unprecedented details.

8,858 feet: The telescope will be mounted on the Cerro Pachon mountain peak at an altitude of 8858' (2700 m) above sea level.

3.5 degrees: The 3.5° field of view allows the LSST to produce a complete survey of the entire night sky every 3 days.

In one shot, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope's 3.2-gigapixel camera will capture an area of the sky 40 times the size of the full moon, or almost 10 square degrees of sky. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

40 moons: The total field of view coverage of the camera could contain 40 full moons.

25 percent: A quarter of the universe is made up of dark matter. To observe its effect on space, the LSST will witness how gravitational lensing bends the light from distant stars.

70 percent: Scientists know the universe is accelerating as it expands. Dark energy, a force that might account for 70 percent of the universe, might be the cause. LSST will be able to measure the expansion and acceleration.

3 dimensions: LSST data, in conjunction with Google Earth, will create a 3D map of the universe and allow anyone with an Internet-connected computer to virtually fly through space.

A baseline design rendering of the LSST Camera with a cut away to show the inner workings. Image courtesy of The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope/ Department of Energy

10 years: The LSST’s survey of the cosmos will take 10 years, starting in 2022.

1 writer: The person writing this article cannot wait to see the photos!


Information provided by the SLAC National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the LSST website (www.lsst.org).

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only, because we are impressed with the technology. At no time will B&H be selling this camera.


Great article. Chile will reach the 75% of earth based observation time. Nice opportunity to the local astronomers and astrophysicists if you consider they have the 10% of the total time. 

Hey Andres,

Thanks! Yep, it looks like Chile is the primary destination for stargazing these days. If anyone wants to fly me down, I am packed and ready to go!

Thanks for reading!

"6,200 pounds: The camera weighs 6,200 pounds. That is more than a small car. With luggage." That's more than 2 small cars, a Nissan Sentra weighs 2,859 pounds x 2 = 5,718 pounds..... A 4x4 Cadillac Escalade wieghs 5,840 pounds.              11,000,000,000,000, bits of data per hour = W0000000000000W !!!!

Hey Steve,

Who knew the Escalade was so lightweight?! No wonder it gets great gas mileage. Not!

Thanks for reading!

And I thought stepping up to 24mp from 12 was a giant leap.

Appreciate the astronomy related info.

As always, BH doing good work.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Thanks for reading, Axle!

Thanks for reading, george! We will keep an eye out for related stories to share!

Mr. Vorenkamp. It's just impossible to read your articles keeping a straight face... I thought we would end up in awe for the sheer quantity of information you wrote here, and also wind up speechless. Ok, I AM speechless, not only because of the data, but also because you made me laugh ;) Thank you

Thank you, Ignacio, for the kind words. Mission accomplished! I try to make the articles fun to write as well as fun to read!

I'll get one. IF it comes with a Selfie-Stick!

I don't see how it wouldn't come with one. If it is not standard equipment, I am sure B&H will look at accessorizing this camera with a multitude of must-have accessories!

Thanks for reading, Norm!

This was pretty awesome. Love this piece. You put a lot of thought into putting it together.

My one question is: How is the bokeh. Because that's always what is most important (not really).

Hey Mike!

Bokeh and sharpness are supposed to be unreal! Stand by for a big bokeh article later this fall, because that is always what is most important!

Thanks for reading!

With the ISO set to 120,000,000...  It's guaranteed to turn the night sky into day.  lol!!

And it even comes with filters for the lense.  Wow. 

Hey, I wonder what kind of shot it could take of the Space Station?  You could probably see the scratches in the paint!

Hey SgtBarrett,

It might be cool to take a photo with that camera during daytime. I wonder if you could see who is in the window seats of the airliners streaking above the desert at cruising altitude!

I didn't see anything about the camera coming with a close-up lens!

It might make for an intriguing macro camera, if you could get a subject in the right place!

Todd....Wow!!!!! I'm looking forward to the 3D virtual fly through space! 

Thanks for this utterly fascinating story!

Thanks for reading, Tom! See you in the virtual southern skies in a few years!

Damn (or yippee)! I was thinking of picking up a 14" cassegrain telescope to use for astrophotography (to replac a 6" APO refractor).

Now I can save $7,000 and simply wait for Google to upload the images.

Hi Miki!

Yep! Save your money for making prints of their photos instead! But, if you want to get a head start, get your scope now. You know how those government contracts sometimes go!

Thanks for reading!

meh. It has a mirror, already obsolete and not even built yet. :-)

Yeah, Milosh. But, it has a super cool mirror!

Thanks for reading!

I so want to see those pictures! Hope I live long enough. Thanks for a great article.

I'm with you, Christian! It sounds like the images will be absolutely amazing!

You know all the info  & stats they listed but they never listed the type of computer or the processor it would take to work with an image that size. Its bad enough when you have a Nikon with 36MP or that new Canon with 52MP & the computing power you need to work with those file sizes but this thing is rediculous

Hey Bike,

Yeah, I am sure this thing isn't running on a few laptops! No matter how you look at this project, it is going to be very cool and very expensive and very high-tech!

when you describe data in BITs it looks like a lot but it would take a couple days of data to fill a standard 4TB hard disk. Also, it is only 60 times more powerful than a quality off the shelf camera - i just don't get it it should be 1000x to get  your moneys worth. sounds like a rip off to me. i'm sure it will have much better quality in other specs compared to a canon 5dr.

Hey Bruce,

I expect that this represents the best digital technology that money can buy...today. I am looking forward to seeing what it captures!

 Now, this is what I call "Reach".

But can you take a selfie ? bit useles if you can't !

Yep, Adrian. I guess you have to travel deep into outer space in the southern night sky to get imaged by this camera. Really inconvenient!

Yep! Thanks for reading, Scott!

But does it have an automatic clean function like my D-800?

I think it is super that B&H continues to offer in depth articles about things that have to do with photography, but aren't exactly just about items they sell.

Thanks for doing such a great job and including the renderings and animations.

I look forward to more, these are great.


Hey Dale,

Thanks for the kind words. We try to keep our ears and eyes to the ground of the photo world and, speaking for myself, I love astronomy and space stuff, so I very much enjoy the opportunity to write about such things and share them with our customers.

I also hope we can continue to produce content like this!

Oh, I have no idea how they will keep this thing clean! Blower brush?

Thanks for reading!

If an order for 1500 HDTV's came in, would there be a volume discount? ;-)

Of course if you order UHDTV's, that cuts the number required to a mere 375.

Hey William,

We do do price matching, but, if interested, I can ask some of the higher-ups about a volume discount for your upcoming TV purchase! Thanks for reading!

Great news! Fits easily into your gadget bag. Since I'm a way-back SLAC'er (28 years), it almost makes me want to go back to work. Almost.

Hey PackSaddle Jack,

Yep. Supremely portable! I am jealous you got to work at a place like SLAC! Thanks for reading and writing in!

11,000,000,000 bits of data per hour: When it is switched on, the telescope will produce 11 trillion bits of data per hour.

Friends you need to add 3 more zeros to that number for trillion, or it is "just" 11 billion.

Hey Jeff! Who is counting? 

Just kidding. Thanks for catching my error. We will remedy it immediately.

Thanks for reading and keeping us on our toes!

This recalcitrant and unapologetic English major thanks you, Mr. Hammaker.

~ HG, Copy Editor

Not buying unless it accepts EF lenses and has adequate liveview focusing.



Yep, you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere! Stand firm!

Thanks for reading!

Cool, but does it have built in NFC? But that's pretty cool.

Hey Donald,

Ha! I don't know if it has NFC, but I cringe thinking about the size of the "mobile" device you would need to hold up next to it to transfer a file! Thanks for reading!

Knowing B&H, if they carried it in stock, they wouldn't bat an eye if you ordered it, and it would ship out and arrive the next morning with typical B&H efficiency LoL!

Hey Seth! Thanks for reading! We will let you know if it comes in stock! 

Free, expedited shipping, of course!


Of course! Thanks for reading!

Do you at least carry a bag for this thing?

Hey Bill,

I think we might have, in stock soon, a shoulder bag, back pack, wheeled hard case, and messenger bag option for this camera.

Thanks for reading!

Sure! didn't you hear about the new 'grounds sales department' at B&H store...?

and they would throw in a bag and a CF card too.

But of course, jon! Maybe a free USB cable too!

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