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Camera filter yields sharper, brighter photos in low light

Posted: 02 Nov 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:University of Utah  camera filter  sensor  smartphone 

Instead of just reading three colours, this filter produces at least 25 codes or colours that pass through the filter to reach the camera's sensor, producing photos that are much more accurate and with nearly no digital grain.

Menon before it reaches the digital camera sensor. Since all of the light reaches the sensor, unlike conventional digital camera filters where only a third of the light passes through, photos taken with Menon's new filter are much cleaner and brighter in lowlight. (PHOTO CREDIT: Rajesh Menon)

"You get a lot more colour information than a normal colour camera. With a normal camera, you only see red, green or blue. We can do 25 or more," Menon said. "It's not only better under lowlight conditions but it's a more accurate representation of colour."

Ultimately, the new filter also can be cheaper to implement in the manufacturing process because it is simpler to build as opposed to current filters, which require three steps to produce a filter that reads red, blue and green light, Menon added.

This technology not only will greatly improve consumer smartphone cameras, but it also can be used in industrial applications such as for robots, security cameras and drones. For example, it could be used for self-driving cars to help them better decipher objects on the road at night. Or it could be built into aerial drones for farming to better determine damaged crops.

"In the future, you need to think about designing cameras not just for human beings but for software, algorithms and computers," Menon noted. "Then the technology we are developing will make a huge impact."

Menon first came up with the idea while trying to create a new kind of spectrometer, a device that reads the wavelength or frequency of light. He realised that converting spectral information to colour for a spectrometer could be applied to colour imaging. His research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and NASA and will be used in space to photograph near-Earth objects such as asteroids.

Menon has since created a company, Lumos Imaging, to commercialise the filter for use in smartphones and is now negotiating with several large electronics and camera companies to bring this technology to market. He said the first commercial products that use this filter could be out in three years.

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