Photo Gallery When One Lens Becomes Hundreds

New cameras with hundreds of lenses crammed onto confetti-sized frames have recently been overcoming obstacles that have frustrated shutterbugs since the dawn of photography. German researchers are now working to find new applications that could make these mini-cameras an invisible but almost omnipresent part of our lives.
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Since photography was invented in the 1830s, conventional cameras have projected an image through a single lens onto a two-dimensional surface. Since all the light passes through the same lens, information regarding three-dimensional depth is lost.

Foto: aaron tam/ AFP
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Discontent with the rigidity of a camera's one-eyed gaze is nearly as old as photography itself. In 1908, Nobel Prize-winning French physicist Gabriel Lippmann came up with "photographies intégrales," or integral photography, a technique designed to create comprehensive, integrated photographs with the aid of light fields.

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New light-field cameras are combining Lippmann's idea with computers, merging optics and electronics. These cameras consist of not one lens, but hundreds -- just like many insects' eyes. What's more, since each of these tiny lenses represents a slightly different perspective, a computer can generate 3-D images out of those differences at a later point or adjust the image's focus as desired.

Foto: Frank Rumpenhorst/ dpa
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Such technology has been integrated into products like the light-field camera of the California-based start-up Lytro. Though it seems highly unlikely that such a device will revolutionize photography, the technology behind the Lytro camera could profoundly impact it.

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Applications for the technology are also being found in the industrial, automotive and electronics field. For example, they could allow for cell-phone cameras -- like the one being used here by US actor Brad Pitt -- to become much thinner. German researchers have also reversed the technology, making these insect-eyed cameras into miniature projectors.

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