New technology could make future smartphone cameras thinner
The development of smartphone cameras has made rapid progress in recent years. Some devices now achieve such good image quality that at least laymen can hardly tell the difference from professional cameras. The sensors are at the heart of a good smartphone camera. These are getting bigger and bigger and offer a better resolution year after year. However, the larger the sensors, the larger the corresponding lenses have to be. This is a well-known problem that has been driving many smartphone manufacturers and owners crazy for a few years now – bulky camera bumps. In the future, however, the annoying wobble on the table could come to an end. A new lens technology is said to be able to make camera bumps disappear.
It’s quite remarkable when you consider what has happened in the meantime in terms of smartphone cameras. It all started in 2007 with the very first iPhone. Its camera offered just 2 megapixels. What sounded like high-end technology back then now seems like an exhibit from a technology museum. After all, modern smartphones come with far more megapixels. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example, offers 54 times as many megapixels as the first-generation iPhone with its remarkable 108 megapixels. But not only the number of megapixels plays a major role in the far better picture quality. Smartphone manufacturers are also relying on ever-improving software solutions. Clever algorithms conjure up picture effects that sometimes achieve impressive results. One of the most popular features here is the so-called bokeh effect, which provides a depth of field.
Not everything has developed further
However, smartphone cameras are still at the same level as in 2007 in one respect, and that concerns the lenses. Here, more or less only a little tuning has taken place. One can by no means speak of revolutions here. Modern lenses may be better stabilized and have more lenses than in the past, but on the whole they still have the same basic design as they did more than ten years ago. Six or seven lenses are now stacked on top of each other. These have the task of transmitting light to the sensor. The sheer number of lenses is supposed to ensure that certain distortions are corrected. So if a lens has many lenses, the end result is as error-free as possible. However, as the number of lenses increases, so does the thickness of the camera. Now, however, things seem to be changing here. The lumpy lenses are to give way to a slim alternative.
The magic word is “metalenz.” The technology from the company of the same name uses a single flat lens. Its size is roughly between 1 mm x 1 mm and 3 mm x 3 mm. But this lens has a different composition than the classic variants in current lenses. Tiny structures run through the lens, whose task is to shape the light in a targeted manner. According to the developer, this collection of structures should be able to achieve the same result as the interaction of several lenses. But apart from the narrower dimensions, using only one lens also brings another decisive advantage. Since many lenses cause light to be lost due to reflections, the images can sometimes appear somewhat underexposed. This problem does not exist with just one lens.
New technology is within reach
We probably won’t have to wait much longer before we can look at the first smartphones with ultra-thin lenses. Metalenz production is probably set to begin as early as the end of 2021. Allegedly, a first customer for the ultra-flat lenses has already been determined. It is not yet known which company this will be. We only know that the technology is to be used for a 3D sensor. If Metalenz proves to be practicable, the groundbreaking technology should also be able to gain a foothold in other industries. For example, there are many possible applications in the field of virtual reality and smart cars, among others. We are curious to see whether the company can deliver what it promises.