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

You wouldn't need bulky, expensive glass to take sharp photos.
Tiny 'metalens' could bring SLR camera quality to your phone
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|June 7, 2016 10:20 AM

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.

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