California-based startup InVisage is looking to revolutionize the image sensor industry with QuantumFilm, its proprietary nano-coating material that results in sharper images with higher dynamic range and more naturalistic motion.
The problem with traditional CMOS sensors arises in the fact that silicon-coated sensors become more inefficient at transmitting light as they become more pixel-dense, which is a natural byproduct of consumers' demand for higher and higher resolution cameras. The engineers at InVisage have developed a material that they call QuantumFilm, which should alleviate this problem entirely.
Here's how it works:
InVisage is also working on a technology called QuantumCinema, which has the goal of bringing cinema quality and higher dynamic range to smartphone camera sensors. Here's the description of QuantumCinema's underlying technology from the InVisage site.
Conventional digital image sensors rely on silicon to sense light linearly and therefore saturate when the number of electrons a pixel can store exceeds a fixed limit (known as a pixel’s full well capacity, or FWC). Because the FWC is largely determined by the size of the pixel in a silicon image sensor, sensors with smaller pixels in smartphones and tablets suffer most from this lack of dynamic range. In contrast, the silver halide crystals used in photochemical film have a non-linear response to bright and low light that can preserve details in more extreme light conditions.
Not only does the QuantumFilm sensor provide a higher FWC than a silicon sensor at any pixel size, but its photosensitive layer also has a non-linear response to light, just like film. QuantumCinema takes advantage of this non-linear response to expand the dynamic range of the sensor even further. The images below illustrate two scenes shot with three different cameras: a conventional smartphone camera with high-resolution silicon image sensor, a camera using Kodak film, and a QuantumFilm smartphone camera sensor in QuantumCinema mode.
With all of that out of the way, InVisage just released Prix, the first short film shot with a QuantumFilm sensor. The film shows off the QuantumCinema technology and makes use of lots of fast-moving subjects in dynamic exterior lighting situations to show how the global shutter sensor handles rapid movement and challenging lighting. Keep in mind that this was shot with a smartphone-sized sensor and is an early version of the technology. The team behind this short film, Automaton Creative, used that cobbled together camera seen at the top of the post to shoot the film.
In the BTS video, not only do we get to meet the team pioneering this technology at InVisage's California office, but we also get to see some side-by-side footage of the QuantumFilm sensor and a comparable silicon-based sensor. I'm not sure if the traditional sensor is coming from a smartphone that's on the market (the footage looks too poor for that, in my opinion), or if it's being used on a rig comparable to the QuantumFilm camera that they used.
Either way, the video is fun and educational. Enjoy!
Though the technology is seemingly being marketed towards the smartphone camera market, which makes sense considering just how massive and truly global that market is, QuantumFilm technology has the potential to revolutionize the entire spectrum of consumer and professional digital imaging. If a sensor manufacturer such as Sony — who is now the most dominant player in sensors worldwide, and who is currently aggressively expanding their sensor business — were to acquire InVisage and incorporate this technology into their manufacturing processes, we could see QuantumFilm become the standard tech in all types of cameras in just a few year's time.
With that said, it will likely take longer than that for the technology to make it into a future generation of DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and dedicated cinema cameras. Hell, we're still waiting on that super cool graphene sensor technology to manifest itself in a product. Still, the work InVisage is doing seems like a great step forward in sensor technology, because it solves the problem of sacrificing performance in favor of pixel density and higher resolution. Now it's just a matter of getting QuantumFilm to consumers.