While not necessarily one of the major players in the camera tech arena these days, Hitachi has apparently been working on an exciting new way to capture photos without a lens, and then use software to focus the images in post. Lytro made headlines a few years ago with a light field camera which allows a similar workflow, but so far it doesn’t seem that many serious photographers are jumping into the Lytro system. This new tech from Hitachi, however, is a different animal altogether. The chief aim is to create a smaller, thinner camera for very specialized uses.
The technology is complicated, but essentially works by placing a thin filter comprised of concentric circles directly in front of the image sensor. This filter separates light, and projects it onto the sensor in a very particular pattern. A proprietary algorithm involving a particular moire pattern is then used to translate the data collected by the sensor to reconstruct the image. This process is able to ascertain depth information as well as color and brightness, allowing the photos to be refocused after the fact.
Hitachi doesn’t plan to use this technology to replace existing digital cameras. The image quality of this lensless system will be inferior to what is currently possible with CMOS sensors and traditional lenses. Instead, they are intended for use in devices where cameras could not previously fit, and for technical applications, such as driverless cars, or robotics.
So, as appealing as it sounds to never have to worry about focusing a camera again, this particular development is not the magic bullet that will bring about that particular change. However, perhaps with more time and advancements in the field, this can be a piece of the puzzle that will enable post-processable focusing in the future.
The full press release is available here.