Tiny 'metalens' could bring SLR camera quality to your phone

You wouldn't need bulky, expensive glass to take sharp photos.

Your smartphone's camera quality is limited for a number of reasons (sensor size, for example), but one of the biggest factors is optics: you need a lot of glass to deliver the pin-sharp photos of a DSLR or mirrorless camera. That's where Harvard researchers might help. They've developed a "metalens" that substitutes the usual glass with quartz plates full of microscopic titanium oxide structures, whose patterns guide light toward the camera sensor. The technology not only leads to a much smaller lens (it's just 0.08 inches across in testing), but focus that beats even the better lenses you find in stores -- it can resolve details 400 nanometers wide, or smaller than a wavelength of light.

It's much more affordable, too, since you don't need carefully polished, difficult-to-manufacture glass. You could make the metalenses in the same factories that produce semiconductors.

This doesn't mean that you'll be shooting gallery-worthy photos with your phone in the near future. While this is a breakthrough in using the technology for visible spectrum light, Popular Science says that the metalenses used in testing were only designed to refract light in specific colors. You'd clearly need a much wider color gamut for this to work. Still, it's a start. The scientists see a day when your phone camera can take professional-grade photos, and where dedicated cameras don't need big, heavy lenses to achieve top-notch results.