Electrical engineers at Duke University and the University of Arizona report the new camera has the potential to capture up to 50 gigapixels of data, or 50,000 megapixels.
Most consumer digital cameras, by comparison, are capable of taking photographs with sizes ranging from 8 to 40 megapixels.
The multiple cameras provide resolution five times better than 20/20 human vision over a 120-degree horizontal field, researchers said.
"Each one of the micro-cameras captures information from a specific area of the field of view," Duke engineer David Brady said. "A computer processor essentially stitches all this information 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."
The prototype camera is 2 1/2 feet square and 20 inches deep, but the researchers said they believe that within five years, as camera components become miniaturized and more efficient, gigapixel cameras should be available to the general public.