Today’s LightField technology uses either of two methods to record a LightField: it either reconstructs a single low-resolution LightField image (e.g. using microlens arrays or coded masks), or requires several individual pictures to be taken and combined for a high-resolution LightField (e.g. using camera gantries or coded apertures).
In a recent publication, Kshitij Marwah and colleagues introduced a new LightField camera prototype that combines the advantages of these two methods, to reconstruct higher-resolution LightFields from a single, coded image. To do so, they have co-designed the prototype camera to incorporate both of the main aspects of LightField technology: camera optics and computational processing.
Following their surprising press release at the turn of the year, Toshiba has now given some more details regarding its new tiny LightField module, which may bring Lytro-like LightField capabilities to Smartphones within a year.
The company even showed off a test unit and exciting features at its research lab in Kawasaki, Japan.
IDG News Service reports that the current version of the module, which is scheduled for production “at the end of this year or shortly after”, is a little cube that measures just 8 mm on its sides. Toshiba uses a traditional 8 Megapixel CMOS sensor to create still images with 2 Megapixels effective resolution, as well as LightField video at 30 frames per second (no word specifically about video resolution, though). A future version will use a 13 MP sensor and produce 5 to 6 MP LightField images.
LightField technology is not just interesting for scientific use and as a gimmick for early-adopters. Plenoptic imaging has been shown to have a great potential in manufacturing processes and quality assurance, 3D modeling, and more.
But there’s more: LightField video is probably one of the most exciting things to come in the near future. The ability to choose the point of focus (or focus gradients) after the fact, slightly move perspective, or get single-lens 3D footage, makes it interesting enough for television producers to look into.
Lytro’s LightField Sensor consists of an ordinary CMOS imaging sensor, and a so-called microlens array mounted on top of it. Using this combination, it becomes possible to not only record a flat representation of a scene, but also the direction of individual light rays (using complex algorithms).
But what does that really mean, and what exactly does the sensor see?
LightField tech is slowly conquering new fields of photography: Less than a year ago, Lytro shipped the world’s first consumer LightField Camera, which represents the miniaturization of an entire room full of cameras, the Stanford Multi-Camera Array.
Just before the end of the year, Toshiba announced a camera module that is again a miniaturization of the Lytro LightField Camera: The tech giant has packed a microlense array of 500,000 lenses (30 µm diameter each) into a camera module that measures just 1 x 1 cm, which makes it potentially suitable for inclusion in Smartphones and other mobile technology.