UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering pulls a miniature 12mm wide-angle lens out of the hat

Imagine a lens the size of a walnut, but as good as a full frame DSLR lens.

UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering produced such a lens, all 12mm of it:

It can image anything between half a meter and 500 meters away—a 1000x range of focus—and boasts the equivalent of 20/10 human vision—0.2-milliradian resolution. Such a system could enable high-resolution imaging in micro-unmanned aerial vehicles, or smartphone photos more comparable to those from a full size single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, the researchers say.

In his talk at Frontiers in Optics, Ford will describe a prototype system with a monocentric lens with 12 mm focal length, making it ultra-wide-angle, and a single imaging fiber bundle connected to a 5-megapixel image sensor. Ford and his colleagues at UC San Diego and Distant Focus Corporation are currently assembling a 30-megapixel prototype and plan to go even bigger in the future. “Next year, we’ll build an 85-megapixel imager with a 120-degree field of view, more than a dozen sensors, and an F/2 lens – all in a volume roughly the size of a walnut,” Ford said.

Look how this small lens compares to a Canon 12mm on a 5D Mark III:

Top: This image was captured with a conventional wide-angle lens, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR with a 12mm focal length. Middle: An inset of the image above. A close-up (right) of the man holding the board shows that this picture, taken with a conventional wide-angle camera with 12mm focal length, does not have very high resolution. Bottom: An image taken with a monocentric lens relayed onto a high-magnification digital microscope. This system did not include the fiber coupling developed by the researchers for their prototype camera, but the clarity of the detail shows the potential of using monocentric lenses to take images with both high resolution and a wide field of view.

Read the full article here.