How Smartphones Will Continue to Kill Cameras

(commentary)

I’ve been waiting for this one for awhile, and it seems that HTC may be the first one to try it. 

Who said that you can only have one sensor or one lens in a smartphone? 

twolens.jpg

What if you coupled two sensors together and put different lenses on them? You’d end up with a number of very interesting options, as it turns out: you could have a slider that switches you from Sensor/LensA—say a 20mm equivalent prime—to Sensor/LensB—say a 50mm equivalent prime. Or, you could just leave them in place and have two lens openings on the back of the camera and let the user switch in software. 

But here’s the kicker: if you have two sensors with different lenses simultaneously capturing information, you now have some interesting new abilities. Google, for instance, recently kicked off Project Tango, which uses a second sensor/lens to help do 3D mapping of the environment (note that I didn’t say 3D image, which is another possibility, but requires identical sensor/lens combos in a fixed relationship). But there’s more. An Israeli firm has demonstrated how to take two prime sensor/lenses and create a 5x zoom, which would make those smartphone cameras even more versatile. But you can also get HDR effects, faster focusing, and a host of other improvements by going the multiple-sensor route. 

This is once again getting us to the way that smartphones hurt cameras in the first place: software. 

Imaging sensors are ubiquitous and inexpensive. They’re just a building block part. It’s how you put those parts together and use them (software) that’s now the important thing. Because smartphones are selling in the billions and cameras are now selling well under the hundreds of millions, guess where all the action and money is going? Yep. Into smartphones. 

Fast focus, HDR, high resolution, zooming, and virtually all the things that people have taken for granted in serious cameras lately are going to appear in smartphone cameras, and soon. Plus some things that current single sensor/lens cameras can’t do. 

Look for nests of imaging sensors soon. It’ll start with 2, then move to 4. How far it goes from there is a bit unpredictable at this point, but what happens when you decide to use Bayer patterns with multiple small sensors (e.g. an all red sensor, two green sensors, and a blue sensor in groups of four)?  

text and images © Thom Hogan 2014 -- all rights reserved // @bythom on twitter, hashtags #bythom, #gearophile