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Toshiba making Lytro-like lens for smartphones

 Sample images from Toshiba's new smartphone camera hardware shows its multifocus technology.
 The tiny camera packs 500,000 lenses into a 1cm-wide cube.

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that Toshiba has created a tiny camera for post-capture focusing on smartphones. The Lytro-esque hardware has 500,000 lenses—each measuring .03 mm in diameter—that send separate images to sensors measuring 5x7mm. The dens lens system fits inside a cube with sides that measure roughly 1cm each. 

Functioning similar to an insect’s compound eye structure, the lenses send 500,000 images with unique focal points to the camera’s sensors and Toshiba’s software combines them to allow the user to choose the focal point after the shot.

Lytro’s multifocus camera was received with a combination of excitement and skepticism during its release in 2011. While many say the technology is innovative and downright cool, it remains a novelty camera because of the difficulty of sharing “living” photos and the low resolution of the final photos.

In our review of the Lytro earlier this year, we concluded that “the best results out of the Lytro often required rather contrived compositions.”

For mobile photographers, this new technology could ultimately eliminate autofocus lag while postponing composition decisions. Focusing on mobile devices can be tricky and no smartphone cameras currently on the market produce a natural and dramatic depth of field effect.

The sample photos in the Asahi Shimbum article left a lot to desire—the shots were super noisy and apparently low resolution. If Toshiba expects its multifocus camera to compete with the top hardware on mobile devices, it will need to improve the overall quality of the final photos.

Toshiba is currently shopping the technology around to smartphone and tablet manufactures and hopes to commercialized the technology in 2013.


Total comments: 13

IMHO, Toshiba, if they aren't already doing this, should look at packaging this up with a battery and bluetooth (or WiFi) (maybe a bit of memory) and write an app so any iPhone, iPod Touch or Android device can use it tethered.

And also make a waterproof case for it like the GoPro cameras.

Maybe have the option to snap pictures randomly (or by some sort of algorithm) and send it to built-in memory (or stream it to your phone) like the OMG Life camera.

Or stream low-res video to your phone.

There are so many applications . . . and at 5% (just a made up number) of current smart phone users getting one . . . what would be the starting target market size?

I don't know. Sounds pretty cool to me! :)


I would have liked to find out whether they licensed the Lytro technology or developed their own version to avoid licensing fees.


Off topic rant:

After having a Toshiba Laptop that went through THREE screens, and had inadequate heat sink in spacing so that it regularly clogged up and overheated as well, I'm not eager to embrace any innovation from Toshiba.

On topic: Toshiba will likely waste their money with this. It's a toy.


"For mobile photographers, this new technology could ultimately eliminate autofocus lag"

You can eliminate autofocus lag now by setting the focus at infinity. Some phones can focus as close as two feet when set at infinity, due to the small sensor size.

It's too bad Connect doesn't test focal range when set to infinity in their camera phone reviews.


English please?

1 upvote

All beginnings are hard, and always exposed to harsh criticism.
But in two years time it will develop and people will accept it as normal, like everything else. This concept has potential - the rest is just technology.
It's like the solar power panel story. Several years ago it was expensive glass wonder; today it's printed foil. But development has always been paid by those who wanted to have things right away.

1 upvote

It's nothing like solar panels. They have remained fundamentally the same since they were introduced, just with improvements in efficiency. But it was always obvious what they were good for. This is something that quite a few people seem to think has some use but no one has actually figured out what it is yet.


i think it would be good for CCTV cameras. now police have no excuses for out-of-focus faces of thieves.


This technology has limits that are going to take time and cost to overcome, unless a 540x540 pixel image is useful to you.


Ahhh...If only I could alternatively focus, today, on the Times Square background billboard over the sailor's shoulders in that V-J day photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt...How important would that photo THEN be...


Lytro did not originally offer a "final photo" option, all you got was the "live photo" to refocus and play with. The low resolution was the real limitation, barely mentioned in reviews, and the user got limited options to exploit the photo taken.
Hopefully if Toshiba decide to market a version, they will have more respect for the end user producing different jpg generating options.

Edited 3 minutes after posting

Final jpg's for customer and this technology fits mobilephone scene like a drooled baby fist to the mouth of 3 month old infant.

Total comments: 13
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