Lenses Are About to Get Smaller and Better Thanks to Harvard's New Flat Optics

Lenses Are About to Get Smaller and Better Thanks to Harvard's New Flat Optics

Leave it to the same university that would probably save our world from an apocalypse to, until that need arises, create better, smaller lenses. Harvard’s School for Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently expanded on a previous design for flat optics by adding nano silicone antennae that actually bend the light. The result is an incredibly thin and completely flat glass lens capable of the same light bending properties as our current lenses, but with virtually zero chromatic aberration.

A promising flat optics design was introduced back in 2012, but there were several limitations. That design could only effectively bend one wavelength of light, as opposed to the three (red, green, and blue) necessary for a full color photograph. There were plenty of scientific applications for that lens, but not many practical ones for photography.

The secret lies within the use of SEAS’ silicone antennae that are able to equally shape light of various wavelengths by bending it instantly, rather than over time as with conventional glass lenses. The new design also features higher efficiency over the 2012 design. Harvard is currently applying for a patent as it seeks commercial applications for its new lens technology, now given the name “achromatic metasurface" lenses. We’re still getting used to the term “diffractive optics” as Nikon and Canon pioneer the journey into their new “DO” telephoto lenses, but everyone will soon have no issue with the term once the full implications are realized.

Future applications include smaller lenses with performance gains that would make the chromatic aberration slider in editing programs a thing of the past. Other uses may be tiny telephoto lenses in contacts, increased performance and manipulability of light in wearables like Google Glass, and more. We don't know what it'll look like yet, but it certainly won't be curved, thick, or heavy like the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G pictured above.

Anyone interested in more specifics can read the article on the SEAS website. But rest assured, we’re about to get some really neat glass.

[via DigitalTrends]

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15 Comments

Bavarian DNA's picture

This is a genius from Harvard side and honestly the nano technology helped a lot, now the question is: when it will come to see a breakthrough in sensor technology and advances in the transistors manufacturing, which in my opinion will be bio-organic sensors mixed in electronics ?

Adam Ottke's picture

I believe they're simply referring to micro lenses and even mirrors that some sensors apply to "amplify" and "guide" light more directly to the photo sites. Whether or not that's true, I do think it's different than what's being examined here for lens technologies.

Bavarian DNA's picture

Thats really cool, i didn't know about it. But until they success, we have to wait and see. Still the idea of creating and inventing something new is what should be done. The idea of having low noise in low light condition at higher ISO is in my opinion we all dream of. Thank you Simon for sharing the article, i liked it :)

Mr Blah's picture

Fuji and panasonic (they are the R&D side of the partnership if I recall correctly) are trying HARD to go a different way.

Instead of going fullframe, they decided to find new tech to overcome the "flaws" of crop sensors.

Can't wait for their next sensor!

Paulo Macedo's picture

Well, this combined with the new way circuits are being printed (Intel patent) is some sort of revolution. Copper based circuits will be no longer here once we go under 8nm construction, and the new material is said to be much more efficient, if applied to digital sensors..well, you know what is going to happen.
Now the lenses with this new tech for much sharper images, i hope to see this in the next 5 years or so. Until then my 6D and the 135 f2 will do the job.

Andrzej Łuczak's picture

"bending it (light) instantly, rather than over time as with conventional glass lenses" i don't think light was being bend over time

Anonymous's picture

Space = Time

Andrzej Łuczak's picture

ooo... new phisics?
Fresnel lens will bend light by the same angle as regular lens within smaller space.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yes... It takes light the distance of the curved lens element to fully bend as much as designed by the lens. Therefore, it takes the time that it takes the light to bend across that medium to complete its adjustment. That adds to the possibility for separation of wavelengths that eventually presents as chromatic aberration, which is worsened when the lens elements don't behave the same way for every wavelength of light.

The new flat optics design hypothetically still takes some time, but it's even nearer to instantaneous, eliminating chromatic aberrations. Hope that helps :-)

rsalex myself's picture

Sorry to say that, but that is not true from a physical point of view. In conventional lenses light is not bent (unless you're talking about gravitational lenses). It is refracted (and reflected) at every interface i.e. change of optical medium, thus when it enters the lens and when it leaves it. No bending happening within the lens. Chromatic aberration is caused by the fact, that the diffraction at the interfaces is frequency (or wavelength) sensitive. See the typical experiment of white light entering a prism.
Can't say anything about this new lens since I haven't read the paper yet, but my guess is that it is precisely engineered to work without chromatic aberrations, if exactly these tree wavelength are used.

Jimmy Schaefer's picture

So in theory, this would change a 70-200mm lens length to be much shorter but would still reach the same focal distance how?

Adam Ottke's picture

Yes. It would also be lighter and exhibit better color rendition with fewer "errors" and less lens correction needed.

Neo Racer's picture

I cant wait to see the price of these things too, 5kkkkkkkkkkkk babyyyy

Scott Mosley's picture

Back to the Future was right! 2015 is going to be crazy! I bet they implement this technology on Jaws19.

Maybe you could have all of your lens 'wafers' in a filter case and just extend/lock collapsing lens body...
This is really awesome technology, but is likely very far away from consumer products right?