Ask any camera operator about their lenses and they’ll likely go on for hours about how great they are for getting the perfect image. But Hitachi has the idea to get rid of the glass altogether. You read that right: A lensless camera.
This camera technology makes it possible to make a camera lighter and thinner since a lens is unnecessary. It allows the camera to be more freely mounted in devices such as mobile devices…” – Hitachi press release.
The lensless camera from Hitachi is based on the two different design concepts, the Flat Camera being developed at Rice University, and the Sheet Camera, being researched at Columbia University. Whatever you call it, it’s basically a camera that uses no lens to set aperture or focus, or even zoom, but promises to be equally as precise, fast and sharp.
How does it work? Well, the basic idea is that the image is captured using both “moire fringing,” and a complex algorithm called the “Fourier Transform,” which works in concert to figure out the light and focus information during image processing to yield the captured digital image.
The irony is, that this new lensless design needs a special kind of film. Yes, that’s right, film, which has a concentric circle pattern printed on it. This circular printed film is sandwiched on top of the image sensor, and it is used to create moire shadows on the image data, which is then used by the algorithm to compare the moire shadow data to the image during processing.
The difference between the image’s native moire and the moire fringing determines the angle of light, depth, and focus on the image and then it’s processed into the final, reconstructed image that is written to the data file. The use of this mathematical photography also carries the added benefit of being able to adjust the focus and depth of field much like the Lytro light field camera does.
“Moreover, since it acquires depth information in addition to planar information, it is possible to reproduce an image at an arbitrary point of focus even after the image has been captured.” – Hitachi press release
The benefits of such a device can easily be seen for smartphones and action cameras, which are always seeking to eliminate older technologies in order to make room for brand new features and more powerful processors and graphics chips. That power also requires more battery life, which means making room for larger power cells, as well.
So if a mobile phone can have a camera that doesn’t need a multi element lens array, it means that the phone can be made even thinner, and maybe even bendable. It also means that from a mobile filmmaking perspective, the benefits of being able to adjust all image details in post gives the director and editor even more options.
Since mobile phones don’t really have a great deal of depth of field, then using a concept like this could be that way around it. Suddenly, we can enjoy a kind of bokeh, with sharp focused subjects and an blurry background. We all love it, and we wish we could have it in our mobile footage without having to do some crazy post-processing using a separate app.
As mobile devices get more powerful, they will also be easier to use as all-in-one editing platforms, and using algorithms like this to adjust focus and aperture will certainly make mobile filmmaking far more cinematic. And if John Lasseter is right and mobile devices are the future of filmmaking, then breaching depth of field in a mobile device is key. The iPhone 7 Plus does this, but in stills mode.
Hitachi will be making a presentation on the lensless camera at the International Workshop on Image Sensors and Imaging Systems in Tokyo this week. For more information, check out the official press release here.
Hat Tip – Peta Pixel