New Light Field Camera Can Focus Up-Close and Far Away Simultaneously

A new nanophotonic lightfield camera, based on the eyes of a Cambrian-era marine creature, can combine macro magnification and telephoto magnification to create a lens with unlimited depth.

Researchers have created a camera that can simultaneously focus on both the near and far. The idea was inspired by the optical structure of the Dalmanitina trilobite from the Cambrian-era. Nanophotonic light-field cameras use a bifocal metallic array to capture high-resolution images at a distance of a few centimeters to a kilometer.

Scientists believe that the Dalmanitina Socialis‘s deep field allowed it to simultaneously focus on nearby prey as well as far-off predators.

How a metalens works

The researchers state that this compound-eye visual system is the only one that Dalmanitina Socialis has, which is contrary to the single focal system found in all living arthropods today,” according to their paper, published in Nature Communications.

Metalens and camera

Using Metalens Technology

Researchers used a metalens (a flat lens technology) to focus light using what are known as metasurfaces. Optic metasurfaces are sub-wavelength-level and use small nanostructures to scatter light rather than the traditional propagation and refraction of light seen in glass optics. Because they can define the phase, spectrum and polarization of light, these nanostructures can capture and re-emit it with incredible accuracy.

Researchers took inspiration from the vision of the ancient trilobite and created millions upon millions of nanopillars that pointed perpendicularly to the sensor and subject. Researchers were able to shape and size the nanopillars so that they can send light through different parts of the lens.

These nanopillars bend light to make near and far objects seem focused on one plane. The camera’s sensor. Two focal points are actually illuminated by the light, creating incredible depth of field.

Metalens and depth of field

Researchers then used multiple metalenses to create a series of thousands photos. This is a kind of high dynamic range photography. The focus was only on the objects closest to the subject. However, algorithms can sharpen the image by using artificial intelligence.

Computers are crucial in understanding nanophotonic light field images. The metalens are eliminated by a neural network-based reconstruction algorithm. This reduces the pressure on the metasurface optics. The metalens isn’t perfect, but algorithms do the necessary editing to bring everything in focus.

This new optical technology has many applications, including 3-D photos and tracking moving miles. These technological advances will also be beneficial for everyday photography, optical microscopy and machine vision.

Researchers write that the “elegant integration of nanophotonic technology and computational photography here is expected to aid in development of future high performance imaging systems.”