Two companies – NexOptic and Spectrum – may be on the verge of finalizing the development of a brand new camera lens technology specifically designed to make shots taken over a long range with a smartphone much clearer. In fact, according to the duo, they have already finished the engineering trade study for their telephoto lens stack design, which they have trademarked as Diamond Blade Optics. Although the patent for both the underlying technology, Blade Optics, and Diamond Blade Optics is still pending, a prototype is already under development by Spectrum and is already in the second phase of development.
The general idea behind the new lens design lies in the problem with smartphone cameras as they are currently designed. It is true that many of the smartphones currently on market – like HTC's highly regarded u11 or the up-and-coming OnePlus 5 – take absolutely stunning photos at shorter ranges. The problem is that fewer and fewer details are captured as the distance between the subject and the sensors increases. NexOptic and Spectrum believe they can solve that issue by rethinking and re-engineering how the current curved lenses are designed, building on what the companies call a "compress before focus" approach. By compressing light, focusing elements can be compacted without reducing resolution – potentially allowing for larger apertures to be used. Simulations used to optimize lens shape by the two companies has shown "greatly improve angular resolution" when compared to the smartphone lenses currently used in the smartphone market. That indicates that the new lenses can capture a higher resolution image at a greater distance.
Moreover, according to the President of Spectrum and Director of NexOptic, John Daugela, the companies believe that the lens stack can be manufactured at a "competitive price." If everything goes according to design, the new technology could allow for more "depth-limited optical devices" to have an increased aperture-to-depth ratio thanks to the relatively large aperture which can be used. Better still, since the lens stack is much more compact than the currently used curved lenses, it should allow for more "practical and compact imaging devices." That could also, at least in theory, leave more usable room inside a given device. That's more space for slightly better batteries or other components and it could give any Android manufacturer a substantial leg up in the ever intensifying battle to create the best device available.
Of course, it is always important to note with news like this that the technology itself is still in its early stages. A fair amount of research and engineering will need to be conducted before the manufacturers will be able to get their hands on a commercial version. The prototype smartphone camera is intended, upon completion, to be a proof of concept – showing that the combined goals of Spectrum and NexOptic can be reached in a way that is marketable. None of that necessarily takes away from the commercial viability of either Blade Optics or Diamond Blade Optics, however. The problems associated with long-range digital imaging, particularly with smartphone cameras, are things that whole range of photo-taking device users would most likely love to see a solution to. If the solution is found through this effort, it could very easily have applications far beyond mobile phones.