Getting clear and sharp images in poor conditions has been an obsession of camera companies since photography was invented and yet another leap forward seems to have been made very recently.
This newly developed method for curving image sensors is delivering results well beyond its flat-censored cousins with Microsoft reporting that they have developed a prototype camera that allowed for higher resolution images than today's expensive DSRLs across the entire field of view.
Now, the idea of a curved sensor is not new (Canon and Sony have worked on this in the past too), but the breakthrough here was that Microsoft's work has allowed it to have up to 3 times the spherical curvature of previous sensors. In previous work, the process to make those curved sensors… curvier… were not as successful.
What's So Good About That?
Well, with today's equipment, there is a lot of work put into the optical engineering of a camera to allow it to display something that can be interpreted by a flat sensor. Getting that image to a state that looks ok on a flat surface is quite a challenge and required the optical elements to be designed in quite a sophisticated manner.
This new method would basically greatly diminish the optical engineering gymnastics required for that and potentially greatly simplify lens and camera design. It could also possibly result in much much smaller cameras.
“We showed that you can take an off-the-shelf sensor, curve it and dramatically improve the performance of the optical system. This can be done with relatively low costs and effectively no downside,” said Brian Guenter, one of the researchers who published their findings in the journal, Optics Express.
The Bad News
Now, while this is a great advancement, it also comes at a cost for current photographers.
The bad news is that such a curved sensor is very unlikely to work with your current lenses which are designed to project images onto a flat plane rather than a curved one. There is also the potential issue that each lens would require a sensor with a differing degree of curvature ideally which throws up its own set of problems. So for many of us, who own tens of thousands of dollars worth of lenses, there might be mixed feelings.
How Will This Pan Out
Let's be honest here. Companies like Microsoft are playing for bigger fish than the DSLR market, so we would be likely to see technology like this in camera phones well before it makes its way to the DSLR or advanced camera market. Cameras with fixed lenses would also be easier to fit with such technology. That is not to say deals between companies can't be done, and while this is obviously a wonderful breakthrough, we still have some hoops to jump through before we see this widespread in the advanced amateur or professional camera markets.