July 24, 2017

Are These Curved Camera Sensors a Glimpse Into a Better Future?

Nikon Wide Angle Lens for Curved Image Sensor Sketch
Nikon's recent patent filing may signify lighter, better, cameras in the near future.

Japanese blog "An Image on a Sensor" broke the story of a recently discovered Nikon patent filing for a new wide angle lens. What's exciting about it, however, isn't the lens itself—but rather the sensor it's being designed for. According to the patent document, Nikon is working on an f/2.0 wide-angle lens to be used on a camera body with a full-frame, curved sensor.

The filing didn't contain any information about the camera itself and so we don't know if this design is for an SLR or a Mirrorless camera, but given the fact that curved sensors allow for higher resolution images in smaller spaces and require fewer lens elements to correct for image aberrations, it wouldn't be surprising to see this new sensor on Nikon's forthcoming full-frame mirrorless camera

It wouldn't be surprising to see this sensor on Nikon's forthcoming full-frame mirrorless camera.

Why is it better?

By curving the image sensor, the sensor becomes more light-efficient, which will result in cameras better for shooting in low-light conditions. It also means that the lenses can be designed using fewer elements, which will reduce size and weight. Additionally, the curved sensors will reduce or eliminate light falloff toward the edges of the frame (thereby reducing or eliminating lens vignetting). All of this size and weight reduction means that this curved sensor design would lend itself toward mirrorless camera designs, but these sensors may be able to be created for cellphones as well.

What does it mean for filmmakers?

Any time we see technology that enables higher quality image-making that is more easily transported, it's a good thing for filmmakers. But technology like this might mean that we'll see more professional work being done on mobile devices, as well. These curved sensors could, theoretically, be made for smartphone cameras. Given that we've already seen features that were shot on iPhones (Tangerine and Steven Soderbergh's latest project to name a couple widely touted examples) and the fact that RED released its own smartphone a few weeks ago, this could signify an industry push toward mobile filmmaking and thus an even lower barrier-to-entry for talented and creative filmmakers.      

Your Comment

4 Comments

In regards to the final paragraph, RED have not yet 'released' their new phone. They've announced the device, and begun to take pre-orders, but as far as I am aware we have yet to see a physical device demonstrated at all. We've been given a list of specifications, and we can speculate on features based on their patent information- such as the pins on the back of their phone which seem to be designed for expansion modules much like their cinema cameras, but RED has not yet produced a physical device for us to review. Until such a device is formally released, we don't know where they might be attempting to push the industry or what kinds of functionality or performance we can actually expect in that form factor. Right now it's all hearsay and hypothesis.

July 24, 2017 at 10:44PM

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Jeffrey Hepburn
Director/Editor
88

In regards to the final paragraph, RED haven't yet 'released' their new phone. They've announced the device, and begun to take pre-orders, but as far as I am aware we have yet to see a physical device demonstrated at all. We've been given a list of specifications, and we can speculate on features based on their patent information- such as the pins on the back of their phone which seem to be designed for expansion modules much like their cinema cameras, but RED has not yet produced a physical device for us to review. Until such a device is formally released, we don't know where they might be attempting to push the industry or what kinds of functionality or performance we can actually expect in that form factor. Right now it's all hearsay and hypothesis.

July 24, 2017 at 10:49PM

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Jeffrey Hepburn
Director/Editor
88

Curved sensors to avoid spherical aberrations are nothing new. My first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127, had a curved film path.

July 26, 2017 at 3:58AM

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Tom Barrance
Film educator
154

I would imagine the film path was curved only in the lateral direction. My guess is that the sensor would be curved vertically and horizontally, like s small section taken out of a sphere. But you make a good point about it not being all that new.

July 27, 2017 at 7:40PM, Edited July 27, 7:40PM

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Over the years, I've collected a huge inventory of SLR lenses. With the advent of a curved sensor plane, every single one of my lenses becomes obsolete. That's a frightening thought.

July 26, 2017 at 8:01AM

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I was thinking that same thing. Maybe adapters could be designed that could make them work.

July 27, 2017 at 7:41PM

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