This camera lens breakthrough could lead to smartphones that outperform DSLRs

By Shawn Knight ยท 51 replies
Jun 4, 2016
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  1. A few years back, I decided to ditch my trusty DSLR and take an entirely different approach to digital photography. I wanted something that didn’t feel like a chore to haul around but could still take respectable images.

    The camera itself wasn’t so much the problem; it was the lenses. With rare exception, the heavier a camera’s lens, the better its quality (and the higher its price). Smartphones didn’t offer the image quality I was after (they still don’t) so that was out of the question.

    I ended up going with a micro four thirds system and haven’t looked back although recent developments at Harvard may one day change my mind.

    Researchers there have developed a lens built of transparent quartz that’s coated with millions of microscopic titanium dioxide towers arranged in specific patterns to focus light. The end result is that light focused through a 600nm “metalens” can achieve the same resolution and magnification as a traditional 5-6cm glass lens.

    Best yet, metalenses are far cheaper to produce than traditional glass lenses and are fully compatible with silicon chip technology. Once researchers focus the entire visible spectrum into the same focal length using metalenses, they’ll be able to place them into smartphones, microscopes, DSLRs or any other imaging devices.

    Assuming everything pans out, we could see smartphones with DSLR-quality cameras arrive sooner than we think.

    Permalink to story.

  2. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,325   +1,429

    So if they make DSLR lenses like this smartphones will still out perform them? seems like a silly claim that this would only appear in smartphones and not in higher end models
  3. BingoFishy

    BingoFishy TS Rookie

    That's what I was thinking. Why not do the same in a DSLR? Of course smartphones will one day outperform our current DSLRs, but that's expected. It's unlikely for smartphones to be better than DSLRs in the same time period.
    FPSChris, p51d007 and alabama man like this.
  4. Jamlad

    Jamlad TS Booster Posts: 113   +93

    Goddamnit, I hate "science" journalism.

    This will never be able to improve on normal lenses as the meta-material is specified to a unique wavelength. If you want it to focus all wavelengths it will do so at a sacrifice of quality and you're back to where you started.

    The chromatic aberrations will be TERRIBLE.

    Perfect for scientific experiments where the sources are typically monochromatic.

    edit: BTW, visable light is approx. 800nm-400nm. They did this for ONLY 600nm.
    Tanstar, FPSChris, trgz and 4 others like this.
  5. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 3,350   +1,999

    I'll have to take the stance that I'll have to see it before I believe it. The same was made about 35mm replacing large format camera's, yet today's most discriminating commercial photographers haven't given up their 4x5 and 8x10 view cameras. Granted, cell phone cameras are pretty good and in some instances, even a little bit better but the real acid test will be a comparison against a Sinar or Zeis lenses .....
    trgz likes this.
  6. namesrejected

    namesrejected TS Guru Posts: 398   +299

    I agree.... Except for the Goddammit part. I agree.

    They may be able to make lenses that focus one wavelength cheaper, and more accurately using this method. This technology may be very useful with nightvision, laser technology, and other areas that a single wavelength is desired, but making lenses in this manner that will collect the entire light spectrum is going to raise the complexity tremendously.
    LiveResistance likes this.
  7. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +903

    Remember that at one time we had walkmans? That were slowly replaced by thumb like stuff that can reproduce music at better rates...

    Well now think in cameras, why is it so difficult to embrace the concepts that at one point everything that you used to know will not be anymore and will be replaced by new technology and ideas?
  8. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Addict Posts: 182   +114

    I don't know if this matters but they said the lense is 600nm as compared to 5-6cm lens. So I don't think they are talking about focusing the certain wavelength frequencies. Just thats how thin/tall the lense is. Nothing was said about only focusing certain frequencies.
    Mikael_r likes this.
  9. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,666   +1,951

    I like the entry speech, after a good bong...

    Wait, what?! Smaller phones? LOL.

    All my phones did nothing but grow in size over the years, like a tumor. I'm no longer wearing them in my pockets - not sure whether it is more to do with the size or to reduce the chance of the neighboring device malfunction. LOL.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2016
    trgz and dogofwars like this.
  10. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 2,108   +1,286

    That sounds really good for every section of the market. Now they can make really low exposure lenses that get great detail and still manage to do well in lower light conditions.
  11. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,935   +764

    Because it is much, much, much easier to deal with wavelengths of radiation that are very long - like those in audio. Wavelengths in the region of visible light are very short and, at this time, are very difficult to deal with. It comes down to physics, and the physics of dealing with light is much different than the physics of dealing with audio - the two are so different that they are, essentially, considered different areas of science.

    Besides, any breakthrough applied to smart phones will almost certainly be applied to DSLRs keeping DSLRs the go to technology for the best possible photographic quality.
    trgz likes this.
  12. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,383   +172

    I agree that this will likely need a lot of work to get into commercial devices, but it will probably be adopted quite quickly by intelligence agencies. A tiny lens that can outperform the best full size lenses, even for limited wavelengths, would be very attractive. I'm sure it will also find a place in anything from astronomy to medicine.
  13. PurpleYoda

    PurpleYoda TS Member Posts: 24   +7

    Bla bla bla.. Give me better batteries so I don't have to charge my phone daily and I will be a happy camper! Rest is just a gimmick in my book.
    namesrejected and trgz like this.
  14. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 747   +357

    Remember how that one time making music required mountains of specialized analog hardware? That were slowly replaced by generalized silicon hardware that can facilitate more complicated productions...

    Ultimately, anything you do to improve the 'bottom', is first going to happen to - and be financed by - the top. Regardless of specific technology or industry, the best tech will always be at the top segment of the market, and will get filtered down by further advances. Even now, modern camera lenses are the most advanced they've ever been. We've improved the geometries, coatings, materials, and arrangements. We've also miniaturized, with things like cell phone cameras.
    But one thing that will probably never change is that DSLRs will have larger, heavier bodies, since the larger mass facilitates a steadier hand.
  15. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +903

    Wrap your head around the fact that technology improves and from time to time they reach a breakthrough. What's so hard about thinking that one day phone camers will be better?

    And why is every ducktard out there complaining about this?? What is there to complain about?

    Oh boy you don't say...
  16. RobStow

    RobStow TS Enthusiast Posts: 45   +9

    This TechSpot article said absolutely nothing that would give anyone reason to think that "the meta-material is specified to a unique wavelength", let alone the 600 nm wavelength you stated.

    And TechSpot is far from the only place reporting on this - others have said it works with all "visible light" without, unfortunately, being any more specific that that. I'm sure more detailed information about this material will eventually be published in free sources like this - this article and others I've seen don't seem to report much more than the free abstracts of articles on the pay sites.

    Slightly more detail is in the abstract at but, again, you have to pay to see the full article. There does not yet appear to be new articles on this topic on Arxiv but I'll try to remember to check again in a week or so.
  17. bmw95

    bmw95 TS Maniac Posts: 199   +164

    Clickbait title :D
    Lionvibez likes this.
  18. mantissteam

    mantissteam TS Member Posts: 54   +21

    So can this also get telephoto lenses performance if you make it a bit larger or place a number of those tiny things
    could have the hubble telescope in your pocket
    trgz likes this.
  19. dogofwars

    dogofwars TS Enthusiast Posts: 59   +20

    It is not a toomah! :)
  20. atcapistrano

    atcapistrano TS Member Posts: 30

    Great for 'watching'... next article title: peeping tom with ultramodern cameras finally caught. ;)
    dogofwars likes this.
  21. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 747   +357

    Because You step-up the lowest level of the tech, and the top is going to get better too. That is the way it works until a technology plateaus. By the time that happens, tech has almost always been replaced by something different all-together. Claiming cellphone cameras will be better than DSLRs implies that the entire top section of the market stands still for several years. That won't happen unless something new comes along, like actual holograms.
  22. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,310   +651

    Another day, another story on multiple websites about how smartphone cameras will have image quality equal to or superior to a consumer grade or commercial grade dSLR.
    HA! Just the physics alone will tell you that it is impossible. The SIZE of the sensor, and the SIZE of the lens matters more than pretty much anything else.
    Pinhole sensors, no matter what they are, are 10's of times smaller than even a APS-C sensor. The bigger EACH sensor, the more LIGHT that strikes said sensor. The LARGER the lens, and quality & sharpness of the lens plays into it also.
    Maybe at some point, smartphone cameras, which, do an adequate job of snapping photos, will be able to match the quality of a pocket or larger camera, will never replace an SLR, just as a dSLR cannot equal the warmth of a full frame film camera.
    maui Bob likes this.
  23. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +903

    Sure, then DSLR cameras will be better, but we might have WHAT WE CURRENTLY KNOW AS DSLR QUALITY CAMERAS in our mobile phones, I still don't see where all the ducking itching comes from...

    For the slowest readers out there... you will have "huge" lenses really expensive camera quality in your phone "cheaper" (Since they don't say how cheap it is.. they only say it's cheaper than the current form). Stop the ducking itching now.
    Yeah, it's silly because they are making it in a way normal people can understand, expensive cameras = cheaper, expensive camera quality in your phone. What if they end up making the DSLR quality better? Currently, for the common people a phone camera is more than enough.

    A couple of days ago I compared my high-end phone camera to cameras in the range of the $500 to see if it was worth it to get one and you know my conclusion? Yes, you can gain and do some stuff a phone doesn't have can't acchieve, is it enough difference to spend that ammount to get a camera? Not at all.
  24. maui Bob

    maui Bob TS Rookie

    Anyone who thinks smartphone will be better than DSLRs are not professional photographers or have absolutely no idea what they talking about. Its more than lenses. They would never install the sensors needed to have great images in smartphones. Smartphones do so many things and DSLR cameras do one thing: take freakin photos! Comprende? Try taking the milky way at midnight with a smartphone. There are new types of DSLRs being developed now. Check out Phase One mirrorless cameras that take 100mb photos. The author is completely clueless.
    p51d007 likes this.
  25. maui Bob

    maui Bob TS Rookie

    Because smartphones do so many "other" things. Why would they install the necessary sensors found in the highest quality DSLR cameras? DSLR cameras do one thing...take photos, eh? Take a look at mirrorless, Phase One cameras that now take 100mb images. Look at Sony a7 series. You don't take photos for a living so please sit down.

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