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New miniaturized wide-angle lens one-tenth
of the size of a regular lens, captures pictures in high-resolution

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The new fiber-coupled monocentric lens camera (left) next to the much larger Canon 8-15 mm fisheye lens, used for conventional wide-angle imaging. 

Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2013—A new type of miniature camera system developed by engineers at the University of California, San Diego, promises to give users a big picture view without sacrificing high-resolution.

 The new imager achieves the optical performance of a full-size wide-angle lens in a device less than one-10th of the volume of a regular lens.

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.

“The major commercial application may be compact wide-angle imagers with so much resolution that they'll provide wide-field pan and ‘zoom’ imaging with no moving parts,” said project leader Joseph Ford, a professor in the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

Researchers will describe their novel device at The Optical Society’s Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics 2013, taking place Oct. 6 to 10 in Orlando, Fla.

To engineer the new system, researchers turned to monocentric lenses made of concentric glass shells, which are perfectly round like glass marbles. Their symmetry allows them to produce wide-angle images with high resolution and hardly any of the geometrical distortions common to fisheye lenses.

Though researchers have tried to use monocentric lenses for high-resolution wide-angle viewing in the past, they ran into two main problems. First, they had trouble conveying the rich information collected by the lens to electronic sensors that could record the image. Ford’s team addressed this problem using a dense array of glass optical fiber bundles that are polished to a concave curve on one side so that they perfectly align with the lens’ surface.

A second problem involved focusing. Researchers had expected that the fibers would have to move in and out to focus to different distances, or the lens would only provide perfect focus for a single direction. However, Ford’s team showed that the changes in axial distance between fibers and lens did not distort the image.

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.

The new wide-angle camera is part of the DARPA program on Soldier-Centric Imaging with Computational Cameras, or "SCENICC", and is a collaboration of UCSD with Distant Focus Corporation and Forza Silicon.

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Advantages of a monocentric lens. 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.
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These images show the resolution of the conventional wide-angle lens (left) compared to that of the new fiber-coupled monocentric lens system (right), where both images were captured with identical 5Mpixel focal planes, looking 60 degrees off-axis.

 

About the Meeting

Frontiers in Optics (FiO) 2013 is The Optical Society’s (OSA) 97th Annual Meeting and is being held together with Laser Science XXIX, the annual meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Laser Science (DLS). The two meetings unite the OSA and APS communities for five days of quality, cutting-edge presentations, fascinating invited speakers and a variety of special events spanning a broad range of topics in optics and photonics—the science of light—across the disciplines of physics, biology and chemistry. An exhibit floor featuring leading optics companies will further enhance the meeting. More information at www.FrontiersinOptics.org.

About OSA

Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional society for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders who fuel discoveries, shape real-world applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light.  Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership programs, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of professionals in optics and photonics. For more information, visit www.osa.org.

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