The MegaPixel race is far from over, but there’s something really interesting happening in the smartphone camera space which is worthy of your time, unlike the mindless MegaPixels race. Image Refocusing. This was made popular by Lytro a couple of years back with their light field camera. Though the camera didn’t sell in millions, the concept was a roaring success. Now, the technology is trickling down to devices where it makes much more sense – Smartphones.
Nokia, who has always pioneered innovations in smartphone cameras, recently came out with their Refocus app for Lumia devices. As the name suggests, it brings the Lytro-like refocus ability to pictures clicked on Lumia devices. But the app isn’t utilizing any special hardware feature to achieve Lytro-like refocusing. Instead, it just shoots anywhere between two to eight photos to support the refocus feature afterwards. Check out the embedded picture below for a demo:
This is very similar to what the Focus Twist for iOS app does on the iPhone, albeit with little less success. Anyway, the point is, companies and developers have so far attempted to emulate Lytro’s refocusing magic using multiple shots and software tricks. But this is changing. Toshiba has just announced a dual camera module which can simultaneously output recorded images and depth data aka Lytro like refocusing.
This new camera module from Toshiba is awesomely named TCM9518MD, and is intended to be used on smartphones and tablets. It consists of two five-megapixel sensors and a dedicated processing chip that simultaneously capture an image and depth data. Toshiba says,
Not only does the dual camera module enable these advanced capabilities with fast digital focus and little shutter lag, the device doesn’t require any focus motors, so it can be built much thinner than today’s 13-megapixel camera modules
Toshiba is making the TCM9518MD camera module available in small samples to device vendors and OEMs, with a price of $50 per unit. We can expect some smartphones to sport this new camera module by late 2014 or early 2015. Also, MEMS camera technology has been around for a while, and is expected to go mainstream very soon. Then there are startups like Pelican Imaging, which are also working on similar camera tech. Image Refocusing is the new buzzword you’ll be bombarded with this year.