Cameraphones' Future May Not Be Blurry
By Carlo Longino, Mon Sep 13 22:30:00 GMT 2004

Imaging technology developed for military cameras may make its way into cameraphones.


As the novelty of cameraphones wears off, many users get tired of the blurry images taken by the small cameras, fuelling sales of 1- and 2-megapixel units. Some companies even blame the poor quality of MMS for its low uptake. But scientists are showing off some new new lenses and image processing systems originally developed for military night-vision cameras that could dramatically improve the quality of cameraphone pictures.

The new system uses a specially-coated lens along with "wavefront encoding" so that information isn't lost when pictures are saved. It helps with one big problem of early cameraphones: focus. The entire image is in focus, not just one point, making snapping pictures easier, but also negating the need for autofocus. The technology is well suited for cameraphones because instead of using additional lenses, it can rely on phones' onboard processing power to encode the images.

Cameraphones are already eating into low-end digital camera sales, but will only have a limited impact on the total market in the short term, until quality improves dramatically. Even when phones catch up in terms of megapixels, they will still be limited by lens and sensor size and quality. Phone makers then hit a catch-22, as the physical size of these elements is limited by consumer demands for small handsets.

But the military advantages of this new technology -- low cost, light weight and small size -- also fit the mobile paradigm.