from the can-you-picture-this? dept.
Xiaomi and Light, a computational imaging firm, have announced at Mobile World Congress that the two companies will be working together to develop new multi-module cameras for smartphones. The two companies promised that the jointly-developed cameras will feature DSLR-level capabilities, but did not disclose when the first product from the joint project is expected to come to fruition.
Light specializes on computational imaging solutions using multiple camera arrays. The company has gone so far as to develop their own chip that can work with 6, 12, or 18-camera arrays. And while Xiaomi and Light aren't specifying just how big of a camera array they're looking to develop, we're likely looking at something in the lower-bounds of those number, if only due to the limited size of smartphones. For reference's sake, a 6-module camera would be very similar to what Nokia has done for their Nokia 9 PureView.
Cover the entire back of a smartphone with cameras, then gingerly hold it using the corners.
Related: Meta-Lens Works in the Visible Spectrum, Sees Smaller Than a Wavelength of Light
A Pocket Camera with Many Eyes - Inside the Development of Light
Caltech Replaces Lenses With Ultra-Thin Optical Phased Array
Nokia (HMD Global) Partners with Zeiss for Optics Capabilities
Google Reportedly Acquires Lytro, Which Made Refocusable Light Field Cameras
LG's V40 Smartphone Could Include Five Cameras
Leaked Image Shows Nokia-Branded Smartphone With Five Rear Cameras
Curved lenses, like those in cameras or telescopes, are stacked in order to reduce distortions and resolve a clear image. That's why high-power microscopes are so big and telephoto lenses so long.
While lens technology has come a long way, it is still difficult to make a compact and thin lens (rub a finger over the back of a cellphone and you'll get a sense of how difficult). But what if you could replace those stacks with a single flat -- or planar -- lens?
Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated the first planar lens that works with high efficiency within the visible spectrum of light -- covering the whole range of colors from red to blue. The lens can resolve nanoscale features separated by distances smaller than the wavelength of light. It uses an ultrathin array of tiny waveguides, known as a metasurface, which bends light as it passes through, similar to a curved lens.
The article's description of the lens sounds reminiscent of a Fresnel lens. Perhaps Soylentils more familiar with the field can comment?
The creator of the new Light digital camera explains how he made it work:
The best digital cameras today are SLRs (single-lens reflex cameras), which use a movable mirror to guide the same light rays that fall on the sensor into the viewfinder. These cameras normally have precisely ground glass lenses and large, high-quality image sensors. In the right hands, they can shoot amazing pictures, with brilliant colours and pleasing lighting effects, often showing a crisply focused subject and an aesthetically blurred background.
But these cameras are big, heavy, and expensive: A good digital SLR (DSLR) with a decent set of lenses—including a standard 50 mm, a wide angle, and a telephoto, for example—can easily set you back thousands of dollars.
So most photos today aren't being shot with DSLRs but with the tiny camera modules built into mobile phones. Nobody pretends these pictures match the quality of a photograph taken by a good DSLR; they tend to be grainy, and the camera allows very little artistic control. But smartphone cameras certainly are easy to carry around.
Can't we have it both ways ? Couldn't a high-quality yet still-tiny camera somehow be fit into a mobile device ?
The Light camera starts with a collection of inexpensive plastic-lens camera modules and mechanically driven mirrors. We put them in a device that runs the standard Android operating system along with some smart algorithms. The result is a camera that can do just about everything a DSLR can—and one thing it can't: fit in your pocket.
Caltech has created a camera without a lens:
Traditional cameras—even those on the thinnest of cell phones—cannot be truly flat due to their optics: lenses that require a certain shape and size in order to function. At Caltech, engineers have developed a new camera design that replaces the lenses with an ultra-thin optical phased array (OPA). The OPA does computationally what lenses do using large pieces of glass: it manipulates incoming light to capture an image.
[...] "Here, like most other things in life, timing is everything. With our new system, you can selectively look in a desired direction and at a very small part of the picture in front of you at any given time, by controlling the timing with femto-second—quadrillionth of a second—precision," says Ali Hajimiri, Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech, and the principal investigator of a paper describing the new camera. The paper was presented at the Optical Society of America's (OSA) Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) and published online by the OSA in the OSA Technical Digest in March 2017.
"We've created a single thin layer of integrated silicon photonics that emulates the lens and sensor of a digital camera, reducing the thickness and cost of digital cameras. It can mimic a regular lens, but can switch from a fish-eye to a telephoto lens instantaneously—with just a simple adjustment in the way the array receives light," Hajimiri says.
Does this have implications for astronomy?
"The applications are endless," says graduate student Behrooz Abiri (MS '12), coauthor of the OSA paper. "Even in today's smartphones, the camera is the component that limits how thin your phone can get. Once scaled up, this technology can make lenses and thick cameras obsolete. It may even have implications for astronomy by enabling ultra-light, ultra-thin enormous flat telescopes on the ground or in space."
HMD Global and Zeiss on Thursday announced that they had signed an agreement under which upcoming Nokia-branded smartphones will use Zeiss-branded optics exclusively. The companies said that they would co-develop imaging capabilities of future handsets, but did not elaborate when to expect actual devices on the market.
The collaboration announcement between HMD and Zeiss has a number of layers, all of which seem to be significant. First off, Nokia's future phones will use optics co-developed with a renowned designer of lenses. The important upshot here is that HMD is actually investing in the development of custom capabilities for its Nokia phones. Second, the two companies are talking about "advancing the quality of the total imaging experience", involving optics, display quality, software, and services, but do not elaborate. From the announcement, it looks like HMD will put R&D efforts not only into optics but will design its own software enhancements to improve imaging capabilities beyond those offered by vanilla Android. A good news here is that certain future phones carrying the Nokia brand are not going to rely completely on off-the-shelf hardware, software, and reference designs. Third, HMD announced that imaging is one of the areas that it considers important for its future smartphones. Finally, Zeiss will be used on Nokia-branded devices exclusively, which means that future halo smartphones from Microsoft (if the company decides to launch them) will have to rely on other optics.
Multiple sources tell us that Google is acquiring Lytro, the imaging startup that began as a ground-breaking camera company for consumers before pivoting to use its depth-data, light-field technology in VR.
One source described the deal as an "asset sale" with Lytro going for no more than $40 million. Another source said the price was even lower: $25 million. A third source tells us that not all employees are coming over with the company's technology: some have already received severance and parted ways with the company, and others have simply left. Assets would presumably also include Lytro's 59 patents related to light-field and other digital imaging technology.
The sale would be far from a big win for Lytro and its backers. The startup has raised just over $200 million in funding and was valued at around $360 million after its last round in 2017, according to data from PitchBook.
Despite a lot of hype, Lytro had little success with its expensive, ergonomically challenged, and low resolution light field cameras for consumers.
Related: LinkedIn's Top 10 Silicon Valley Startups for 'Talent Brand' - Note: Both Lytro and Theranos are on the list.
A Pocket Camera with Many Eyes - Inside the Development of Light
It's tough to stand out in the premium smartphone world, but LG may have a solution for its upcoming V40 flagship. There's a rumor from Android Police that says the company is throwing caution to the wind and putting five cameras on its new phone, a device that will surely succeed where last year's V30's (and its V35 variant's) paltry three cameras did not.
According to Android Police's source, the V40 will feature three cameras on the back of the device. It's similar to the Huawei P20 Pro, which was the first major smartphone to offer a triple-camera system. The V40 will also feature dual cameras on the front of the device (like the HTC U12 Plus), in what's rumored be a stereo system to follow for 3D face mapping and unlocking. While both the dual-front camera and triple-rear camera configurations aren't new, the five-camera system would the first time we've seen both on a single device. If the rumor is correct, this would be the most cameras on a smartphone.
HMD appears to be working on an impressive camera array for a future Android-powered Nokia handset. Leaked design sketches and images hint that we could be about to see a Nokia-branded phone with five cameras on the rear. The penta-lens setup first appeared in rumors about a Nokia 10 device earlier this year, and now an alleged photo has leaked of the handset.
The camera module includes five lenses arranged in what looks like a circle, with prominent Zeiss branding. HMD Global, the Finnish company that licensed the rights to produce Nokia phones, teamed up with Zeiss last year to reunite the Nokia and Zeiss brands for the Android era. HMD has started to use Zeiss optics in its latest Android handsets, and the lens maker has even patented a miniaturized zoom camera system that looks very similar to this leak.
F*** Everything, We're Doing Five Rear Cameras.
But you still have a long way to go.
Also at Engadget.