BLURRY smartphone photographs could become a thing of the past, as 2013 will see the introduction of new camera technology that will allow snap-happy owners to focus on any object in the frame, after they have taken the shot.
Toshiba, the Japanese electronics giant, has revealed it is working on a camera module for smartphones and tablets that contains half a million tiny lenses. Each captures the field of view with a different focal length, so that photographers can choose how to focus the image after the fact.
The compound lens structure has been compared to an insect’s eye and the whole camera component, which is due to go into commercial production by the end of the year, currently measures roughly one cubic centimetre.
Similar plenoptic, or light field, technology is already available to consumers from Lytro, an American start-up spun out of Stanford University that introduced its fist camera at the end of 2011.
The development prompted a wave of excitement among photography enthusiasts but has so far failed to take hold in the mainstream, where smartphone photograph is increasingly dominant. Lytro’s devices are cameras only and a relatively unwieldy oblong shape to accommodate their pioneering optics.
It is Toshiba’s breakthrough in shrinking light field optics to a size suitable for smartphones and tablets that has excited the gadget world. Although at one centimetre thick the module would bulge the latest smartphones and tablets, the history of electronics shows that further miniaturisation is likely.
“Here's hoping that it finds its way into a device outside of Japan,” said Engadget, a leading consumer electronics news website.
Smartphones have driven sales of standalone digital cameras down by a third since the introduction of the first iPhone five years ago, according to market analysts.
While the quality of the images smartphones produce remains well short of what a dedicated camera is capable of, their convenience and connectivity of a smartphone has seen them become many owners' main camera.
Manufacturers have continually introduced improvements in hardware, with higher-megapixel sensors, and software, such as shake correction, in an effort address the shortfall.