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New invention could transform smartphone photos as we know them

Researchers in China have designed a 0.3 centimetre thick (0.1 inches) camera using so-called metamaterials, which are engineered to have special properties.

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By Tom Campbell via SWNS

Smartphone photos could be transformed following the development of a tiny wide lens camera.

The camera’s miniature metalense can capture more than 120 degrees of scenery, scientists say.

Wide-angle photography creates stunning, high-quality images by capturing large amounts of visual information. But it typically requires bulky and heavy lenses to view objects which would otherwise be out of frame.

Now researchers in China have designed a 0.3 centimetre thick (0.1 inches) camera using so-called metamaterials, which are engineered to have special properties.


Professor Tao Li, of Nanjing University, said: “To create an extremely compact wide-angle camera, we used an array of metalenses that each capture certain parts of the wide-angle scene.

“The images are then stitched together to create a wide-angle image without any degradation in image quality.”

Lenses made from metamaterials have been tested before, but they usually suffer from poor image quality and other drawbacks.

To overcome that, the researchers used an array of metalenses, each designed to focus on different illumination angles.

This way, each lens clearly captures part of the wide-angle object or scene before they are stitched together with a computer to create the full image.

Professor Li added: “Thanks to the flexible design of the metasurfaces, the focusing and imaging performance of each lens can be optimized independently.

“This gives rise to a high quality final wide-angle image after a stitching process.

“What’s more, the array can be manufactured using just one layer of material, which helps keep cost down.”

To test their new lens, the researchers made a special type of camera, known as a planar, measuring around 1cm by 1cm by 0.3cm.


Two projectors were then used to illuminate a curved screen with the words “Nanjing University”, which was placed 15 centimetres away from the device.

The camera produced an image that revealed every letter clearly and had a viewing angle larger than 120 degrees.

This was three times larger than pictures taken with traditional metalens, the researchers say.

They are now looking to improve the image quality by increasing the meta lenses’ diameter from three to between one and five millimetres.

Once perfected, the array could be mass-produced to reduce the cost of each device.

The findings were published in the journal Optica.

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