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posted by martyb on Friday October 28 2016, @12:22AM   Printer-friendly
from the who-would-want-a-camera-that-was-heavy-and-dark? dept.

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.

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by edIII on Friday October 28 2016, @02:34AM

    by edIII (791) on Friday October 28 2016, @02:34AM (#419697)

    Not so sure. I carefully read the whole thing, and the approach is amazing. I would even say this is an entirely new class of camera.

    To take pictures at 70 mm, we move the mirrors so that the five 70-mm modules now point straight out from the camera; all of them cover approximately the same field of view but from slightly different perspectives. We now enlist the 150-mm modules as well, adjusting their mirrors so that they capture four images that tile the 70-mm modules’ field of view. And once again, we combine the many images digitally to provide a better picture than a single-module camera could possibly take, one that rivals a DSLR image.

    I can imagine quite a few hatchet jobs being rushed out. If this thing is affordable for the masses, we will be able to see for ourselves how good it is.

    UNLIKE many other fluff pieces, this one is extremely technical:

    We can even use our technology to zoom anywhere in the range of 28 to 150 mm. Traditional zoom lenses change focal length by physically moving the lens elements with respect to one another when you rotate the zoom-control ring. Our modules are too small to have either the space or the mechanical precision to accomplish this synchronously across multiple camera modules. So we took a systems approach to solving the problem, using fixed-focal-length lenses.

    Suppose you wanted to capture an image with a 50-mm field of view, smaller than what a 28-mm lens captures but larger than that of a 70-mm lens. We activate all the 28-mm camera modules and crop each of the images to the 50-mm frame. (Cropping is not ideal because we lose some sensor area and light.) We also simultaneously use the 70-mm modules. But before we do that, we move the mirrors on four of the 70-mm modules so the captured 70-mm images overlap enough to cover only the 50-mm frame. This way, we retain all of the light collected by the 70-mm modules.

    Well that explains why it can replace a high dollar DSLR, and how it can it zoom. It's one huge image to begin with carefully reconstructed by software

    With all the modules working together it provides a depth map for software to provide even further artistic effects, one of them not easy or cheap to do, and this does all of them that are possible:

    The software can also change what is called the bokeh, which refers to the aesthetic quality of the blur that appears in the out-of-focus parts of an image. Traditional cameras adjust their lens apertures by opening and closing an iris of sorts made of plastic leaves, overlapped to try to mimic a circular opening. As a result, small, bright, out-of-focus objects appear as regular polygons or circular disks. This is the effect most people are used to. Many photographers consider the ideal bokeh as having a very gentle roll-off, with no sharp edges defining the circle—a Gaussian blur.

    Photographers will pay a lot of money for a lens with the right bokeh. In our design, the camera uses software to add blur with the right bokeh to those parts of the scene that are outside the selected depth of field. This approach means that users can get whatever bokeh they want. They can choose the conventional disk-shaped bokeh or one with a Gaussian blur. Or they can get creative—for instance, picking a star-shaped bokeh for use in holiday photos, making small decorative lights appear as stars.

    Just, perhaps, they may have a shot at the title. Ohh, and it's an equivalent 52 megapixels.

    Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
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  • (Score: 2) by Zinho on Friday October 28 2016, @03:58AM

    by Zinho (759) on Friday October 28 2016, @03:58AM (#419709)

    If this thing is affordable for the masses, we will be able to see for ourselves how good it is.

    I can get behind that. Unfortunately, from TFA:

    Our first-generation L16 camera will start reaching consumers early next year, for an initial retail price of $1,699.

    So, it's still vaporware, and will be inaccessibly priced when released. He's obviously trying to recover his R&D expenses, since the article itself asserts that the hardware itself will only cost ~$64; the rest is just software. His margins will have to come down a long way before it will get traction in the smartphone market.

    "Space Exploration is not endless circles in low earth orbit." -Buzz Aldrin
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Friday October 28 2016, @04:31AM

      by Immerman (3985) on Friday October 28 2016, @04:31AM (#419719)

      Well, $64 for the cameras and lenses - the actuated mirror system probably adds at last several bucks to that. And then there's the LCD display, and fast enough processor and RAM to capture, analyze, and merge between 4 and 16 simultaneously taken 13MPixel images into a single final image in near real time. Plus all the electronics, buttons, chassis, patent-encumbered memory slots and file systems, etc.

      I doubt it costs anywhere close to $1700, or even $800, to build the thing, but wouldn't be overly surprised at $200, maybe even $400. And there's the design, tooling, etc. to consider as well - none of that is cheap and it's all a sunk cost before you've made even one unit. While the cost essentially disappears when spread across millions of units sold, if you're only betting on selling a few thousand of your "prototype" product, those costs are thousands of times greater per unit, and you need to plan on recouping that cost if you're going to have a remotely viable business plan (unless you have enough cash reserves to afford to sell the first model or two at below cost as "advertising" for later models)

      Also, I didn't see anything to suggest this is targetting the smartphone market directly, though there's obvious long-term potential for the technology there if it catches on. For starters, I didn't see anything suggesting it's a phone. Seems instead to be designed specifically as a camera, and one designed specifically for photographers who already own thousands of dollars worth of bulky cameras and lenses that are often left unused in favor of the convenience of crappy cell phone cameras. Even if it's inferior to a "proper" high-resolution DSLR camera in terms of image quality, it still has the potential to more than make up for it in convenience, not to mention the ability to tweak many parameters in post-production in ways completely impossible with traditional digital photography.

      Bottom line, it sounds like it has a lot of potential (we'll see how well it delivers), and from what I recall as a non-photographer, $1700 is barely past entry-level pricing for a decent "pro-sumer" camera.

    • (Score: 2) by edIII on Friday October 28 2016, @04:31AM

      by edIII (791) on Friday October 28 2016, @04:31AM (#419721)

      Good point, but at that price point we may find at least enough buyers to verify some of the claims. If you had a major photography magazine for instance, this guy will probably send it there.

      Let's wait and see. On paper it looks good, and it didn't clock in at some insane price point like $50k or something.

      Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 28 2016, @11:37AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 28 2016, @11:37AM (#419801)

    Not that new: []

    And that's not including those creatures with compound eyes :).