After seven years of research, Microsoft has opened up about the advances their Project Vermont has made in curved sensor technology that has the potential to change the face of digital photography. From Microsoft:
“Microsoft Research and our partners have spent several years coaxing deeper bending out of commercial silicon sensors. We’ve built numerous prototypes and our latest significantly outperforms a premium 35mm DSLR in both sharpness and uniformity of illumination using a much smaller cellphone-sized sensor. As of this writing, our prototype camera system is sharper than any known commercially available camera at the same field-of-view and lens speed.”
Microsoft isn’t the only company invested in curved sensor technology. In 2014, we saw buzz about Sony’s work toward implementing human-eye mimicking curved sensors and actually saw a novelty product that same year produced by Sony utilizing a curved sensor – a perfume bottle style selfie camera.
The reason for this race to a usable curved sensor? Many common lens aberrations are derived from lenses projecting images onto a flat sensor, like vignetting and edge softness. The solution has been adding corrective elements, but this results in bigger, heavier, and more expensive lenses. A curved sensor could use physics to combat this problem in the camera’s body, allowing higher image quality from smaller, less expensive lenses.
“Curving the image surface can dramatically improve performance along many axes — resolution, light-gathering, and illumination uniformity — while also reducing system size, cost, and complexity. While the amount of improvement is dependent on many camera system variables, including focal length, sensor size, and lens complexity, Project Vermont showed substantial progress over previous approaches.”
For some heavy, scientific reading detailing Microsoft’s experimentation and results with their sensor compared to a Canon 1Ds Mark III and a 50mm f/1.2L, check out this article from The Optical Society, and for a more workingman’s breakdown, head to Microsoft’s blog for more information.