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Sony and Light create multi-image smartphone designs

by Mark Tyson on 22 February 2019, 11:33

Tags: Sony (NYSE:SNE)

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qad4yh

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Smartphone makers are adding ever greater numbers of camera modules to their flagship smartphones to try and pull ahead in the pocket imaging race. The trend was clearly flagged in 2018 as Samsung released the Galaxy A9 with quad-rear cameras, and leaks of Nokia's PureView penta-camera designs, and LG patents of a 16x rear camera array came into view.

So how many cameras can a device maker stuff into the back of a smartphone without going overboard? It looks like 16 is approximately the sweet spot for portability and effectiveness, if the Light L16, as revealed in 2016, is anything to go by. Light designed the L16 based upon the optical theory of a deconstructed lens - many lenses working as one, rather than a large number of lenses covering various focal lengths in a completist manner.

Yesterday Light announced a joint development with Sony Semiconductors Solutions with the aim of developing multi-image sensor solution reference designs. Under the new agreement Light and Sony technology will be entwined in jointly developed reference designs for smartphone OEMs.

The partnership doesn't mean that we are going to get a flood of smartphones coming out with L16 style camera arrays on the back. Rather the two firm's technologies will work in concert for the development and marketing of multi-image sensor solutions. As touched upon above, Light doesn't just pick a few sensors that it feels will appeal to smartphone punters, there is an underlying theory of how best to combines lenses for enhanced imaging capability. It has designed an ASIC for computational imaging and smartphones packing up to 18 camera units.

Light's press release mentions that it has worked with Sony on smartphone camera arrays with "four or more cameras," so it must have been able to distil its tech or more narrowly focus it in a way that would be useful for smartphonographers.

The designs don't sound like they will be limited to Sony smartphones like the Xperia range, for example. My Asus smartphone is one of many, from other companies, that leverage Sony image sensors.



HEXUS Forums :: 14 Comments

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Why?
Why do you need a dozen cameras in your smartphone?

Why not just have one pretty good camera, and understand that any photography hound with fifty grands worth of DSLR and twice that in swappable lenses will always take snaps that'd make your Smartphone piddle in it's Otterbox?
Or are we transitioning away from Smartphones and back to Camerphones, now?

Also, if there is, somehow, an actual valid reason for all these cameras, why can no phone salesperson come up with an explanation?
I guess the reason is that the aggregated/composite result from a number of tailored lenses vs a single, albeit good quality, lens is going to be better across a variable range of photography scenarios.

I don't think anyone is arguing that this will be better than a £50,000 DSLR - but if the DSLR user sees fit to have specific lenses for specific scenarios, why shouldn't a smartphone user?

The difference here is that the smartphone user doesn't have to worry about changing lenses to suit the scenario, the software (hopefully) make all the decision to get the best shot whatever the circumstances.

One good lens might be great, but there's no way it can do the best job in all circumstances (zoom/macro/low-light/landscapes/sports/portraits/HDR/video), whereas a multi-lens system has a better shot at it.
Ttaskmaster
Also, if there is, somehow, an actual valid reason for all these cameras, why can no phone salesperson come up with an explanation?
If my understanding of this is correct it's kind of similar to lytro. From what I can tell each lens is a different focal length and it can retroactively adjust focus etc after you've taken the picture.

Considering the lack of adjustment on a smartphone this is actually quite a good thing if it's implemented well.

Actually I suspect we'll be able to find out more when the Nokia 9 is released because rumours seem to suggest that it's going to have 5 lenses in a similar arrangement to the top image in the article and I wouldn't be surprised if this is what's powering it.
Salazaar
I guess the reason is that the aggregated/composite result from a number of tailored lenses vs a single, albeit good quality, lens is going to be better across a variable range of photography scenarios.
OK, sort-of understand that part… although half the scenarios I can think of still require the photographer to hump around a load of lighting kit and tripods and the like.

Salazaar
The difference here is that the smartphone user doesn't have to worry about changing lenses to suit the scenario, the software (hopefully) make all the decision to get the best shot whatever the circumstances.
So this is designed to be a smartphone with £50k DSLR capability, basically?
Sort of like a Leatherman Micra that incorporates a complete set of Marples chisels, a bandsaw, a thicknesser-planer, a tablesaw, and a pillar drill… but still requires the user to carry their own mains power source and workshop?
Ttaskmaster
OK, sort-of understand that part… although half the scenarios I can think of still require the photographer to hump around a load of lighting kit and tripods and the like.
So this is designed to be a smartphone with £50k DSLR capability, basically?
Sort of like a Leatherman Micra that incorporates a complete set of Marples chisels, a bandsaw, a thicknesser-planer, a tablesaw, and a pillar drill… but still requires the user to carry their own mains power source and workshop?

Not exactly in either case… I'm not trying to say that a cluster of lenses like this is ever going to replicate a DSLR, even a cheap one. But with a DSLR, the photographer typically does carry around a bunch of lenses to suit different circumstances (and tripods, lights etc.) and so a cluster of of lenses on a phone can be more adaptable to varying conditions than a single lens ever could (especially in the compact factor that a phone necessitates).

The Leatherman analogy is a good one, though I'd use it differently. The single lens is a good quality screwdriver (great at driving screws, okay at opening paint tins, not so good at much else) but the multilens smartphone is a Leatherman, it can do most jobs pretty well and slips in the pocket. And in this analogy the DSLR is a white van loaded with pro-tools, brilliant, but I'm sure not driving that to work ever day!