I ranted about the current trend toward ever-more megapixels in the cameras of smart phones the other day. But the other optics in those teeny tiny cameras are also worth a mention–they’re pretty universally bad. And now a company called Jabil is trying to change things for the better.
Capturing a photo is simply about letting light fall onto a sensor. It’s a multi-stage process that has to be right at every level: A good lens has to form an image of what you’re snapping, focus it through an aperture and some filters onto the semiconductor surface of a sensor, where some electronics whisk the data away into the camera’s processors. If there’s a bad element anywhere in that chain, the resulting images won’t be as good as they could be.
The cameras used in cameraphones are generally simple–they have a very basic lens assembly, often with fixed focus, a plain aperture and they’re always open to light. When you click to capture a photo, the electronics merely records the light information reaching the sensor at that point. It does so long enough to capture enough data to form an image, and then shuts off recording. If you move the camera during that whole time, you’ll get the blurring or ghosting we’re familiar with from cellphone snaps.
A “real” camera does things differently, and has a physical shutter that snaps to and fro to limit the time the sensor’s exposed to light. That’s responsible for the classic sound you hear when you use the units, and it’s totally lacking in cellphones–and that’s where Jabil comes in.
Jabil’s system is a “proper” photography front-end for cameraphone units. It introduces both an autofocus system and a proper physical shutter, in an attempt to improve the image quality. It’s designed to be compact enough to fit the pocket-sized constraints of cellphones, so it measures a mere 10 x 10 x 8mm. And it’s now the right size, after considerable development, to suit the needs of the new 12-megapixel cameraphone systems.
As such, Jabil’s currently working with a number of suppliers to integrate its system into upcoming cameraphones.
Of course, there’s still the problem of the super-small, overly-noisy pixels you get when you try to cram 12 million pixels or more into a cellphone-sized camera, but at least if Jabil succeeds with its technology, then the quality of photos taken on cameraphones can only go upwards. Persuading the consumer it’s a good thing will likely take some education, however.