Flat Lens Invention To Bring Phone Cameras to DSLR Level

A new metalens has been developed that could make DSLRs obsolete. Thin enough to replace the lens in smartphone cameras, the technology can offer 19th-century optics a serious upgrade.

New smartphones practically phase out run-of-the-mill digital cameras, but the technology still doesn't compare to what DSLRs offer. A newly-developed metalens could turn the tables, though, affording smartphones with portability and high-end performance.

The lens is flat and very thin, and it's better than the best optics the market can offer. The metalens is made up of transparent quartz, a thin layer with nano-pillars arrayed to focus and redirect light that passes in between the grooves.

The design is simulated with computers; with light arranged in specific patterns, developers are able to maximize performance well beyond the current standards of optics.

Curved Lenses Rendered Obsolete

The curved lenses in use today are functional, but there's a trade-off in sharpness and focus. These also have flaws and inconsistencies that prevent the development of smaller and thinner upgrades. Federico Capasso, senior author of the paper written for the technology, confirms the potential of metalenses in a BBC report.

"The quality of our images is actually better than with a state-of-the-art objective lens. I think it is no exaggeration to say that this is potentially revolutionary." Capasso also said production won't be a problem, since the lenses can be manufactured with existing foundries, with equipment used to make computer chips.

Mass Production Immediate, Feasible

Mass production of the metalenses can commence as soon as the technology is fully developed. The existing equipment can already create components smaller than the nano-pillars on a metalens, so transitioning to the upgrade won't be a problem.

BGR reports industries no longer need to choose between performance, cost, and portability if metalenses are produced for industrial use. It's also possible the next generations of smartphones may even outperform DSLRs with the upgrade.

Capasso also said manufacturers can build lenses in any dimensions once equipment to match is developed. "Once you have the foundry - you want a 12-inch lens? Feel free, you can make a 12-inch lens. There's no limit." 

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