I couldn’t help spotting a story over the weekend relating to what was being called a groundbreaking camera that can refocus blurry images after the photo has actually been taken. The development, from the Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs, uses a lens with a depth of field around ten times the norm, which means it can keep subjects in focus over a much greater distance. Post-photo processing can be used within the camera itself, or via software on the computer, to drag an out of focus image back into focus.
This works by using something called a masked aperture, which means there is a transparent slide between the lens and the camera, imprinted with a crossword like pattern. By changing the flow of light the depth of field is considerably increased and allows refocusing after the original image is captured. You can view a slideshow presentation of the technology, demonstrating how it works and providing some before and after examples, here.
What this will not do is explain why it is such a breakthrough. The heterodyne light field camera, a name which might have to change when it comes to market, is being hailed as the Holy Grail of photography by the senior research scientist on the project, Dr Ramesh Raskar. Another member of the team, Dr Amit Agrawal, reckons it means that “people don't have to worry about focusing." Yet this isn’t the first time I have come across such technology, a team at Stanford developed something similar back in 2005 although I have to admit that I’ve nothing since reading the report about ‘Light Field Photography with a Hand-Held Plenoptic Camera’ in April of that year. Hopefully, the Mitsubishi Electric device will escape from the research labs and make it into the real world and I can wave goodbye to blurry images.
But wait a minute, I don’t suffer from blurry images though and it has nothing to do with me being a good photographer. Far from it, I rely entirely on technology to deliver images that are of a suitable quality for print publication as part of my job. My Panasonic Lumix combines effective auto-focusing with a patented ‘anti-shake’ technology that enables me to use the zoom to its full potential, without the need for a tripod, and get sharp, in-focus photos every time. So is Mitsubishi Electric addressing a problem that has already been solved here? Certainly all but the most basic of digital cameras, and even plenty of them, feature auto-focus in the specification. While the effectiveness of the auto-focus system varies from product to product, technology used to technology used, the problem of blurry images has largely been eradicated as far as the consumer is concerned. So that just leaves the professional user, and let’s face it a pro-snapper is hardly likely to forget to focus…