Could the liquid lens be the next big breakthrough in the smartphone camera industry?
In the last couple of years smartphone cameras have become one of the key features by which we choose new models and how the smartphone companies lure us into buying their product.
Looking 10 years into the past, when the average phone camera resolution was 2MP and now we’re at 600MP, smartphone cameras have come a really long way. To an amateur, they might even seem as good as SLR’s, and they certainly are easier to use if you have no photographic knowledge.
It seems that smartphone cameras’ performance is only being held back by their size, because we also want our smartphones to be thin and light.
Huawei had been quickly closing in on Samsung until USA’s trading ban slowed them down in the western markets.
With P40 being released not that long ago and with it being not that much better than P30 camera wise, attention was focused on its successor P50 series.
On December 25, Huawei filed a patent for liquid lens, which was approved in April after a thorough analysis. This gave green light to Huawei engineers and developers to start working on the new liquid lens, which could be ready for Huawei P50 series, presumably released in March 2021.
What is Liquid Lens?
Liquid lenses are a partial solution to the limitation of Depth of Field (DOF) by allowing the focus to be electronically adjusted without requiring any mechanical movement.
Traditional solution for these types of applications include motorized zoom lenses or physically repositioning the object to bring it into focus. Another way to increase the DOF in a traditional lens is to increase the f/number by reducing the aperture size of the imaging lens. However, this also reduces the resolution and amount of light that gets through the imaging system, thereby reducing acquisition rates and image quality.
By integrating a liquid lens, an imaging system can change focus electronically without compromising speed or image quality, regardless of the object’s distance from the camera. (Source: Edmundoptics)
Benefits of Liquid Lens
- Very fast Autofocus and Depth detection.
- Better Image Stabilization.
- Removes the requirement of Time of Flight (ToF) Sensor and extra Image Stabilization hardware.
- It takes a small space compared to there lens.
How do Liquid lens work?
Like traditional optical lenses made from glass, liquid lenses are single optical elements, but are composed of an optical liquid material that can change its shape. The focal length of a glass lens is dependent on the material it is made from and its radius of curvature.
The same basic principle applies to liquid lenses, though liquid lenses are unique in that they can change their focal length by altering their radius of curvature. This change in radius is electronically controlled and rapidly changed on the order of milliseconds. Manufacturers use technologies ranging from electrowetting to shape changing polymers to acusto-optic tuning to control the radius of curvature and index of refraction of the liquid lens.
Most imaging lenses are multi-element assemblies because a single optical lens provides insufficient imaging performance. For this same reason, using a liquid lens by itself is ill advised. However, by integrating a liquid lens with an imaging lens in a multi-element design, the speed and flexibility of a liquid lens can be taken advantage of.
Having the ability to focus both up close and to optical infinity in milliseconds makes integrating liquid lenses an ideal choice for applications that require focusing at multiple distances where the objects under inspection are different sizes or are at different distances away from the lens such as barcode reading, package sorting, security, and rapid automation. Liquid lenses can be used to maximize imaging system flexibility across a wide variety of applications requiring rapid focusing. (Source: Edmundoptics)
Even though smartphone cameras have been developing rapidly, liquid lens could be the next major performance bump that would make them even better and bring them closer to the performance of SLR’s.
Matic is a photographer and avid teacher of photography from Slovenia. In 2020, he founded Photutorial.com, website/blog dedicated to teaching photography, writing honest and helpful reviews, and inspiring photographers.