June 6, 2016

In the Future, You May Be Shooting Your Film with a Glitter-Sized 'Metalens'

Forget big, curved, glass lenses. Thanks to this new technological breakthrough in optics, the lens of the future could be the size of a spec of glitter—and just as powerful.

In a report posted in Science Magazine, material scientists have found a way to replace glass lenses, like the ones used in cameras and microscopes, with ones made of flat "meta-surfaces", which are lighter and smaller—like—way smaller. What are "meta-surfaces"? Well, they're "specially designed two-dimensional arrays of nanometer-scale metallic antennas [that] may allow bulky optical components to be shrunk down to a planar device structure." Duh. If that made no sense to you (you're not alone), here's a video that explains it more simply:

These "metalenses", which focus light by arranging "tiny towers" of titanium dioxide in specific patterns, will be just 2mm across and thinner than a strand of human hair. And other than drastically reducing size, metalenses will do away with aberrations produced by spherical glass lenses.

Here's what the senior author of the report, Harvard University's Federico Capasso, told the BBC about the metalens:

In my opinion, this technology will be game-changing. The lens is quite unlike the curved disks of glass familiar from cameras and binoculars. Instead, it is made of a thin layer of transparent quartz coated in millions of tiny pillars, each just tens of nanometres across and hundreds high.

Singly, each pillar interacts strongly with light. Their combined effect is to slice up a light beam and remould it as the rays pass through the array.

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.

You should definitely read the rest of the BBC article to learn more about Capasso's findings, as well as the full report published in Science Magazine.      

Your Comment

8 Comments

But I like my lenses...
But this would probably prove to be quite amazing.

June 7, 2016 at 12:08AM, Edited June 7, 12:08AM

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Olof Ljunggren
Student
199

Woww... So, this will change every basic of film making?

June 7, 2016 at 4:15AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
573

But would it? Is it possible that the principles of lens optics still apply, but at a much smaller size? I can see things like depth of field becoming less shallow, but possibly even not then. DoF is in essence a ratio. If all dimensions will be smaller, might they cancel out and still yield comparable DoFs at comparable effective focal lengths?

June 7, 2016 at 3:33PM

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When a quote uses the phrase "game-changing" or "game-changer", my viewpoint on the credibility of the statement, article, or argument instantly takes a nose.

However, The combination of tools akin to Fool Control for focus and lens handling, along with the potential these lens designs suggest, offers a whole slew of new approaches and barrier removals for the cinematic craft.

Imagine the ease and flexibility of mounting several almost invisible (or easily keyed out) tiny-tiny-little cameras in super tight places, similar to the van shot interiors employed by "Under the Skin", but anywhere. All controlled by an app on your phone while all feeds are simultaneously being recorded wirelessly to a raid lockbox no bigger then a child's shoe box.

June 7, 2016 at 7:46PM, Edited June 7, 7:58PM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
1104

Wouldn't the ability to get a shallow depth of field be very difficult though? Because of the fact that depth of field is directly linked to the size of the front element and the aperture size. The angles from items in the scene to the lens (affecting focal spread) cannot diverge much if the lens is so small. They would be closer to being parallels. Meaning more items would be in focus, causing a wider depth of field. Though maybe some of the internal elements could utilize this tech, I don't believe it will revolutionize the professional film world. I could be missing something here though.
ref: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm

June 9, 2016 at 11:07AM, Edited June 9, 11:09AM

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Lester Lauritzen
Director, Motion Designer, VFX Artist
106

Although, maybe they could make large metalenses for those who want the depth of field control with the advantage of being lighter. Which I would assume could be possible.

June 9, 2016 at 2:46PM

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Lester Lauritzen
Director, Motion Designer, VFX Artist
106

I wonder if this could scale up to replace a telescope lens, at a smaller size, but same light gathering ability. Is it literally more efficient or simply thinner? Maybe it would need to be exactly the same diameter to capture the same amount of light.

June 10, 2016 at 4:29PM, Edited June 10, 4:33PM

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Ya, that's what I'm wondering. Will need to be almost as large to collect the same amount of light?

June 14, 2016 at 8:44AM

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Lester Lauritzen
Director, Motion Designer, VFX Artist
106