FlatCam – a camera that takes pictures without a lens


So far camera manufacturers have created smaller cameras by installing smaller sensors. However, the consequence of this trend wasn’t necessarily lighter and slimmer photo bags, as with a rising pixel density lenses became increasingly more complex, bigger and heavier.

But what would happen if cameras could be built that don’t need any lenses to take pictures? A crazy idea? Not at all, according to a development team at Rice University in Huston. The camera that the Texans are currently developing is called FlatCam and is based on the principle of a pinhole camera.

The difference, however, is that instead of one single tiny pinhole many small holes are arranged right in front of the photodiodes (aka pixels of the sensor), which allows the FlatCam to have a light gathering power which is by several orders of magnitude superior to that of an ordinary pinhole camera. But the FlatCam doesn’t take images – at least not those we all imagine – but raw data which still need to be evaluated and processed in a CPU-intensive manner. So it remains to be seen whether cameras can be built this way even smaller than until now. If you remove the lens from an ordinary DSLR or MILC camera, the space required in your photo bag might be reduced to half – but the camera alone can’t take any pictures. With the FlatCam concept, doing away with the optics only becomes possible by massively increasing processing performance and, as a consequence thereof, power consumption.

In the following video titled “No lens? No problem for FlatCam” the developers nevertheless seem optimistic and discuss the technology and the operational principle of the FlatCam. In the middle of the video images taken with the “lens-less” camera are also shown.

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