Pelican Imaging shows first pictures from its light field camera for smartphones

by Felix Esser

posted Friday, July 25, 2014 at 1:24 PM EDT

When Lytro first announced its original light field camera, it created quite a bit of a stir in the photography world. For the first time, it was possible with a consumer device to create pictures that contained depth information, and that could be refocused after they were taken. With the advent of Lytro's latest offering, the Illum, it became clear that light field photography is maturing and becoming serious.

What both of Lytro's offerings have in common is that the resolution of their resulting images is rather low. Even though the Illum made a giant leap from about 1 megapixel to about 5 megapixel (Lytro doesn't count megapixels, they count megarays,) it still doesn't provide a lot of fine detail. The major selling point of the camera remains the ability to refocus your image after it's been taken, to slightly alter its perspective and of course the huge zoom lens.

In early 2013, we first reported about another contender on the market of light field cameras, Pelican Imaging. Their approach to the subject is a little different from that of Lytro. While both Lytro cameras use specialized sensors that can be equipped with single lenses just like any other camera, Pelican Imaging's first product makes use of a small array of miniature cameras, each consisting of an individual sensor and lens.

Deep depth of field -- Image courtesy of Pelican Imaging.

Same image, but adjusted to a shallower depth of field -- Image courtesy of Pelican Imaging.

Since that array is comparatively small and thin, it can in theory be fitted into mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (see the image top right.) This would make it possible to experience refocusing on your smartphone, without a lot of extra cost added -- the modules are about $20 each. What makes them ideal for use in smartphones is the fact that they're virtuall focus free, which means no waiting for autofocus to snap onto a subject, and that they can record video, unlike Lytro's cameras.

The technology still isn't available in end-user devices, but Pelican Imaging has recently shared a number of images taken with its module as proof that it actually delivers what they promise. Over at the company's website, you can take a look at and play with a couple of images that can be refocused right on your screen. (Also note the resolution, which is much higher than what we've seen from Lytro so far, even from the new Illum camera.)

It appears as though Pelican Imaging still has to work on the algorithms that create the out-of-focus blur, as it still looks a bit artificial compared to what you'd get from a nice, fast prime lens. But so far, the results look promising, and we can hardly wait to see one of these implemented in an actual device. Would you buy a smartphone with a Pelican Imaging light field camera module? And if so, what would you do with it? Let us know in your comments!

(via Image Sensors World)