Panasonic patents light-field sensor with high-res capture

by Liam McCabe

posted Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 11:41 AM EST


2013 was a dead year for light field photography, but 2014 is already showing promise. The latest news: Panasonic just earned a patent on a sensor that captures full-resolution 2D photos as well as light-field depth information.

The trouble that many photographers had with the original Lytro light-field camera was that the effective resolution was just too low (about 1 megapixel) for anything beyond very casual use. There were plenty of pixels on the sensor, but the design traded off most of the “flat” resolution in order to maximize the “depth" resolution. The otherwise rough image quality and unfamiliar design didn't help the cause, either, but the main beef was the pixel count.


Panasonic’s new design tries to avoid that tradeoff. The micro-lens array, which enables a light-field camera to capture the direction of light as well as the intensity, sits behind the photosensitive layer. So as light enters the camera, it hits light-sensitive cells, which capture regular two-dimensional information at full resolution. The light then passes through that layer and encounters the micro-lens array, hits another reflective layer, and returns to the initial photosensitive layer as light-field information.

This design could be a big step forward for light field sensors, though it has some tradeoffs of its own. The depth information could be muddled, because some of the light will have already been absorbed by the initial layer. But even some depth information can be fairly powerful, enough to enable some degree of refocusing, or perspective shift, or data for 3D modeling.

In any case, it’s very exciting to see this tech start to heat up again. Whether light field cameras will make a splash among traditional stills photographers remains to be seen, but it will almost certainly find uses in medical, scientific, industrial, and design arenas, as well as among videographers. Check out the patent, plus more technical analysis at LightField Forum.

(Via Image Sensors World)