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…

About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to Forbes.com, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...

Informative Article!

I could use something like this (a casual photographer) to bring my amateur-like photos to a professional level and to modify focal points to enhance portions of the image sometimes realizing after shooting may give more value to the photo.

Yep, I guess there is some value in having the depth of field available to allow for some post-processing creative tweaking as it were. I admit I had not given much thought to the prospect of being able to change the focal point in this way, not being a creative photographer just a point and shoot and do the business one ;)

I still find that I get a lot of blurry images when I don't take time to stop and wait for the camera to catch up. I think thi s new device would create a true point-and-shoot camera, without the couple seconds of letting the device focus itself.

90% at least of blurred images people get are NOT a result of poorly placed focal plane (which larger DOF would cure or ameliorate, though why you'd want that is beyond me as often shallow DOF is preferable to extreme DOF) but due to a too long shutter speed or camera shake leading to blurring due to movement.

Cameras with essentially unlimited DOF have existed for a long time.
Take a lens with a very short focal length, use a very small sensor, and close that lens down far, and you have what you're looking for.
Problem is that it will not work well in dark conditions, but a more sensitive sensor will solve that (and so will to a point the overexposure that most printing machines do unless you tell them not to).

The anti-shake technology used in the Panasonic Lumix cameras is certainly something I'd not like to live without...

been photographing for over 25 years,the first 20 years with all manual cameras.
AF is nice now that my eyes are failing, apart from that I still do pretty much everything by hand.

Keeping the camera steady is easy, and when not there are tripods (but get a decent one, the cheap things you get at the superstore are worse than useless).

Tripods are not an option when you are are sitting at some press conference, squeezed in amongst a bunch of other journos half a mile back in the hall.

Keeping the camera steady is not so easy when you are forced to use a humungous zoom to get the head and shoulders shot your editor requires, from that half a mile back in the hall.

Which is why I find the anti-shake technology so valuable. I can pretty much point, zoom and shoot with the camera over my head and using the LCD twist and turn viewfinder rotated around to give me some idea of what I am getting, safe in the knowledge that the images will all be sharp and clean.

I am no pro photographer, not by a long shot, but becuase my work is for publication more often than not I am happy to let the technology sweat on my behalf. :)