The Future of Optics Could Change Significantly

How would you like the future, if a lens like the Nikkor 800mm f/5.6 VR weighed a kilo / couple of pounds and cost 10 times less? Or perhaps a wide angle lens as big as a pancake that delivers the same quality images as your favorite 24mm f/1.4 prime? Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Well, we might not be that far away from this dream, since the researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Siegen might change the way modern optics work. Their current research on using a single lens element in a lens and correcting lens aberrations looks promising – a method called “deconvolution”, which is based on analysis and reconstruction of the image via software. Instead of using physical elements within a lens to correct for lens aberrations such as distortion, spherical aberration, chromatic aberration and coma, the idea is to use a lens with a single (or more) lens elements and correct such aberrations via computational photography techniques and software algorithms that are applied after the image is captured. This obviously results in lenses with very few lens elements, making them both lighter and cheaper to manufacture.

Complex to Simple Lens

While this particular concept is nothing new and has already been tried before, the new method seems to take it to the next level, yielding pretty impressive results. Take a look at the before and after deconvolution:

Before and After Deconvolution

And here is the video from the team that explains the process in detail:

Now keep in mind that the project is far from being practical in the modern world of optics. There are still a number of issues to address, such as the practicality of addressing longitudinal chromatic aberration and field curvature, which can vary by distance. Also, who knows what bokeh would look like, since many lenses are specifically designed with a number of optical elements to yield better bokeh than others.

At the same time, if such algorithms are programmed into future cameras, think what they could potentially yield with say future mirrorless cameras. I have already shared my thoughts on why DX has no future and talked about the future of digital cameras. Roman also followed up with another article and questioned if compact cameras could potentially replace DSLRs. If mirrorless cameras and lenses for them are made smaller, most people will end up using those instead of bulky DSLRs for their everyday needs. Smaller is better, without a doubt. Look at what the tablet and ultrabook market has done to PC and traditional laptop sales…

While some simpler optical corrections are already there in many modern cameras, they are rather limited in what they can do and only apply to JPEG images. Ideally, I would love to see more complex corrections applied to RAW images, so that we do not have to think about correcting them in post-processing. We could use such tools even today, to make existing lenses sharper and better.

Still, this kind of technology will never be able to achieve what you see in this video very funny).

If you want to find out more about this research, please check out this page.

Originally published by DPReview.


  1. 1) gianpaolo
    October 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    applying digital correction to a picture always means that all pixels must be interpolated… this drastically reduces sharpness. I am not a fan of heavily corrected lenses, like many 4/3. What is other readers opinion?

    • October 1, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      This is of course true, but you may be missing the point. You could start with a ridiculously high density sensor, then correct for distortion, pixel bin, save THAT as RAW and go from there.

      In other words, if you take a 1024×1024 image, correct for distortion, and output a 1024×1024 image, you’ll get loss of detail and smearing. If you take a 4096×4096 image, correct for distortion, and output a 1024×1024 image you’re probably way ahead. Bear in mind that all these multi-element lenses are distorting images as well, just in an analog way. This is why lenses tend to be less sharp where people care less about sharpness.

  2. 2) Will
    October 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I just bought D800E :D

    • October 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Congrats! Love mine :)

      • 2.1.1) Hoeras
        October 2, 2013 at 10:35 pm

        Me too! :)

  3. 3) Randall
    October 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    With the amount if development dollars and research going into cell phone cameras I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of iPhones from now my 85mm 1.4g is obsolete.

    • October 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      LOL! I don’t think that will happen anytime soon :)

      • 3.1.1) Randall
        October 1, 2013 at 1:01 pm

        Yeah I doubt it but Steve jobs had an intense interest in lytro. Can you imagine if the iPhone can do that? Also the iPhone 5s is camera is VERY impressive. Apple already following the bigger pixel is better philosophy. The Iphone has already made my canon s95 obsolete. Also Nokia has 41 mp offering. You don’t think in 10 years these cameras will improve even more?

  4. 4) James
    October 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I think this might be a continuation of the Lytro concept. Light essentially behaves mathematically; we just don’t have enough data collected about the light and enough computational power in the camera (or post-production software) to fully manipulate it.

    Long-term (and I mean extremely long-term), you could just collect every known characteristic of the light hitting a sensor (wavelength, intensity, direction, etc) and apply all of the mathematical formulae. You could conceivably even apply aperture and # of diaphragm blades in post to change bokeh.

    I’m not a physicist, so I don’t know how far you can take this as far as long exposure and perhaps varying focal length programatically rather than physically. But, it’s possible that future cameras may just be lenses, sensors, and shutter buttons (with shutter speed being the last in camera adjustment left).

    • 4.1) Hoeras
      October 2, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      The future of Lytro will be in commercial films, where the single image can be combined from many ‘slices’ of one taken frame and give amazing depth of field. This could also prove to be compatible with 3D movies. A huge amount of processing is required, but that is not going to be a problem – they already do a lot of that already. Watch this space… as they say.

  5. 5) Randall
    October 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Yeah with the money these companies have and the customers at stake the sky is the limit. I see intense competition and innovation in these areas.

  6. 6) Chris Zeller
    October 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Interesting idea. This is another example of technological spinofs from space making their way into everyday life. My company used this technique recently with NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft.

  7. 7) Patrick O'Connor
    October 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I hope it doesn’t happen. Personally, I like my big dSLR and lenses. I even like the expense. Smaller and cheaper cameras and lenses make taking a picture too easy and encourage sloppy habits, resulting in photos which are both technically and compositionally inferior. I would like to say I would resist that but I’m only human. A lot of times, I’ll use a tripod even when it’s not necessary, just to force myself to slow down. Additionally, it’s already difficult to get respect as a photographer without the best equipment being within reach, physically and financially, of everyone. As things become less expensive, they also become cheaper (less worthwhile). This trend has snowballed throughout the last hundred years or so and I can’t see it slowing down. I will, however, fight it even though I can’t win.

    • 7.1) Nicolae Mihesan
      October 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      I hope so I am hobbyist lens collector. Love theirs optics . This new technology may make my lens obsolet :(

  8. 8) devonte lowe
    October 1, 2013 at 3:44 pm


  9. 9) Richard Wozniak
    October 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Photographers gain respect through the images they produce not by the calibre of equipment they carry. That is just snobbery. Unfortunately, too many people use their expensive photogear as male jewellery and strut about like peacocks trying to ‘out gear’ their mates. At the same time they are all too often bereft of the slightest scrap of of talent and spend their time taking pictures of test charts and discussing the results in excruciating detail with their geeky compatriots – while real enthusiasts with maybe lesser gear go get on with taking pictures.

    • 9.1) Patrick O'Connor
      October 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      I’m assuming you were replying to my post although you didn’t post that way. My point was not that having expensive equipment makes you a better photographer or anything like that. I was attempting to point out that anything that is easily attained, as in this case through price and portability, is treated with contempt. Look at the music industry: The proliferation of MP3s, iGadgets, and ear buds has created a society, numb to great music. Not only has the quality of the sound deteriorated but the quality of the songwriting as well. Furthermore, it’s increasingly becoming the case that only other photographers appreciate great photography, just as there are fewer true audiophiles in society. Hopefully, I won’t be around to tell you all, ‘I told you so.’

      • 9.1.1) Richard Wozniak
        October 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm

        As you put it that way, I agree completely. There is a general dumbing down and cheapening of almost everything worthwhile nowadays. Excellence is no longer valued and nearly everyone is after the cheapest fastest and easiest way to success in whatever field. Thankfully talent and ability cannot be bought and even real competence takes time and hard work to achieve. We are being drowned in a sea of mediocrity.
        Cameras and hifi gear are different to each other though, although your point about quality is well made. One is used to create the other is used to listen to someone else’s creation.
        Like you I can’t stand crappy MP3 musak (and am fortunate to have a system capable of reproducing music) and am fortunate in owning two D800Es with which to indulge my passion.

        • Patrick O'Connor
          October 1, 2013 at 7:02 pm

          Actually, my point regarding music was that the creation of crappy music is in response to the general acceptance, due to the proliferation, of crappy music. In a similar fashion, I’ve seen too many wedding photographers put out crappy photos as a result of people’s tolerance of it.

    • 9.2) MartinG
      October 2, 2013 at 2:17 am

      What terrible pessimists you seem to be. The theory that when a lot of people become interested in something there will be a general dumbing down of quality assumes that there is a finite amount of quality out there. I cannot share that view. The alternate scenario is that as more people take an interest and gain more feedback the general standard improves. Digital photography has increased not only the number of people taking images, it has increased the level of feedback.
      I cannot accept the idea that camera equipment is a form of jewellery bought by the talentless peacocks. DSLR gear is expensive and the only people I have met who buy it seem to keen to use it for what is designed for.
      I am surprised by your pessimistic views. Hopefully those poor talentless people you find so unacceptable will read some of the articles on this website and learn about composition, portraiture, landscape photography and nature photography.
      In evolutionary terms ‘out-gearing your mates’ is counter-productive. It would almost certainly produce a reverse level of attractiveness to potential partners.
      The development of new technology is always interesting. I would like to see cheaper lenses and better processing, especially as the $6,000 to $15,000 lenses I would like to be able to add to my existing gear are unaffordable. There is a chance I could add some interesting dimensions to my photography.
      I am far from pessimistic about the risks posed to the general standard of photography of alternatives to big heavy lenses. It should not be used a a sign that we should all start wringing our hands.

      • 9.2.1) Richard Wozniak
        October 2, 2013 at 3:33 am

        No, I am not a pessimist, I am a pragmatist.
        Just because more people are taking more photographs does not mean that the general standard has improved. The number of really good images oyt there is very small but we are being swamped with an avalanche of garbage which serves merely to devalue the medium and permits everyone who owns a camera to imagine they are a photographer. Owning a camera does not make one a photographer.There is more to meaningful photography than pointing a device and pressing a button.
        Maybe the general standard, at present dismally low, will improve but I am not hopeful because with photography, as with most other walks of life, the great majority achieve very little because they lack talent, are not prepared to study or practice in a sustained way and are happy to accept ‘OK’ instead of striving for ‘outstanding’.
        That is why MP3 is such a success – a cheap, easy, crappy medium for people who are content with second best.

        Quite what this has to do with better, lighter, cheaper, faster lenses eludes me. Of course they can/will be a good thing for all photographers. Talented photographers will be able to produce great images more easily while the rest will be able to churn out yet more mediocre rubbish for Facebook and Flickr and the rest….

        • MartinG
          October 2, 2013 at 5:27 am

          It depends how you define great. We will have to agree to disagree about whether the glass is half empty or just too big. :-)
          I select only the very best of my images for printing but it does not mean that the others are not good. They are part of the working process, not end products.
          I agree with you about mp3 but I have never used it as a format. I did play a disk once that someone gave me that had been copied from an mp3 source to a CD, it was of course pretty appalling. I tend to buy actual CDs rather than download. Apple devices are compatible but don’t actually use mp3. Their downloads compare favourably. I listen to Cyrus CD, Amp, PMC speakers, etc. mostly to classical music eg. My most recent purchase was Mozart’s string quartets Teldec 4509-95495-2 performed by the Alban Berg Quartet. This is not something where mp3 would be acceptable. Purists would want it on vinyl. I prefer my Cyrus CD player.

          I would never seek to describe myself as a pragmatist. I can see however that if more people buy DSLRs ( DX APSC included) then there is more incentive for companies and the price of equipment will come down faster. Would ever have got the D800 if Nikon did not believe it could sell several thousand? Any person who claims to be a pragmatist should also acknowledge that large numbers buying photography gear is not such a bad thing.
          I now use a D800 but I have no illusions that it makes me a good photographer. Equipment is just equipment, photography is about seeing.

        • Patrick O'Connor
          October 2, 2013 at 5:47 am

          You’ve lumped “cheap,” “easy,” and “crappy” together in MP3 as if they were equal. I’m saying that “cheap” and “easy” led to “crappy” music, not just the quality of sound. The lens technology in question would provide the “cheap” and “easy” and the result will be “crappy” compositional and technical skills. Right now, a lot of people are in love with mirrorless but the quality of the accumulative body of photos taken with them is less than that with dSLRs. Sure, maybe your photo taken with a mirrorless is just as good as your photo taken with a dSLR but I’m talking about an overall trend that will carry along well-intentioned individuals.
          Will nobody make great photos anymore? Of course not. But the majority of individuals won’t appreciate them any more than “crappy” photography. I’ll still like the photos I take with my, by then, antique SLR but if you make a living with photography, you might want to look at different revenue streams…

          • MartinG
            October 2, 2013 at 8:40 am

            TV didn’t lead to the death of good screenplays
            CDs did not lead to the end of vinyl
            Jazz did not lead to the end of orchestras plying Mozart
            Photography did not lead to the end of oil painting
            Just because I don’t like some music styles, doesn’t make them crap.
            Sigh, I don’t like Wagner or Mahler, either. Some people do – it is OK to allow people to have their own tastes.

            • Patrick O'Connor
              October 2, 2013 at 10:14 am

              Are you tired or something? That’s a lot of sighing! ;-)
              You have inadvertantly supported my point:
              In some cases you’ve omitted punctuation but not others; and you misspelled “playing.” As anything becomes more freely accessible to the masses, individuals become lazier. Not everyone succumbs to this tendency but the exceptions are increasingly fewer and further between.
              In any case, I’m not speaking to varying tastes but rather the habits and effort expended by the author(s) of any medium and the appreciation of these efforts by their audience. While Television hasn’t led to the death of good screenplays, it has led to their reduced numbers. And historically, the average individual appreciated a good play but not so much recently.
              I do understand your attitude though. Anyone who doesn’t like Wagner is perceptually disadvantaged… (grin)

  10. 10) jason
    October 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    bwahahah…… it’s just a 5DMIII on the left and a D800 on the right. ;)

    • 10.1) DavidL
      October 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm


    • October 2, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      LOL! Don’t let the Canonites hear that :D

  11. 11) AM
    October 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    I like the ergonomics of big DSLRs. I have big hands so small cameras just don’t feel right in my hands.

  12. 12) KnightPhoto
    October 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Would absolutely welcome a lighter, cheaper, but just as sharp 800mm f/5.6!

    The big supertelephotos are really hampered by size, weight, and costs. Which is why so many serious togs “settle” on 500mm f/4 lenses for it’s superior handling characteristics.

    Or take this to an extreme, allow for the design of zoom super telephotos yet still have good handling characteristics, pricing, and weight. 200-800mm f/4 anyone? ;-)

  13. 13) Richard de Lange
    October 2, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Very Interesting article, but not completely new stuff, rather a continuation it seems to me, to what DxO, and to a limited extent Lightroom,is already doing with their lens/camera modules, which gives astounding results if you start with a Raw file. The corrections are calculated per pixel and are more impressive even with simpeler lenses. However with a better lens the end result remains better, but with a much narrower margin. I understood this technology to be developed first for reconaissance satellites.

    I like to use this opportunity to compliment you with this excellent website


  14. 14) artfrankmiami
    October 2, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Boy! it’s bad enough I finally got my Full Frame Sensor with a Nikon D800 and now my Mpxl count is surpassed by a PHONE!!!!

    • October 2, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Haha :) I hope you don’t think that those 41 megapixels are even remotely comparable :)

      • 14.1.1) artfrankmiami
        October 3, 2013 at 6:54 am

        One would think, right? My old boss sent me some digital images to use in a catalog and they were very large in size and looked quite good in color and such. So I was wondering if my old boss got a hold on a Rebel or something low end but good and I checked the File info in PS and it was his SAMSUNG PHONE!!!!

        On the other hand, I just shot around my yard the other day and with the 24-120 lens at 120 f4, I got a shot of this tiny dragonfly really small in the frame and I can pull from that a large really sharp image. Can’t get that with a phone.

        But of course, like I’ve seen elsewhere in the thread, some people buy a camera or take an image they think is good enough and then call themselves a “photographer” and I don’t need to hire one.

        • Randall
          October 3, 2013 at 7:09 am

          People by a new phone every year or two. One of the selling points of these phones are the camera. If you throw that kind of money at development of anything it will get better. We have already seen point and shoots replaced. DSLR are invulnerable because of the sensors, lenses, etc? What happens when that technology is outdated and replaced? Phones will keep advancing and unless people start buying cameras like crazy (think about camera sales lately and nikons forecasts) it is only natural that the cell phones will eventually outpace and replace dslrs. I mean come on now you can already attach lenses to your phone…Sell your d800 while you can! ;) jk LOLOLOLOL

          • Randall
            October 3, 2013 at 7:31 am

            I guess I should backpedal and say for most people this will replace the dslr. Obviously the hardcore pros like Nasim that have 800mm lenses will still keep using that equipment but your average dslr owner will not want to drop 2k on a wide angle lens if their camera phone can take a beautiful panorama that is comparable. But professionals will still want top notch gear for weddings and commercial shoots, etc. To bad most camera sales are enthusiast and more and more news and media photos come from simple camera phones. We need more reasons for people to buy dslrs so they put those research dollars there.

        • Randall
          October 3, 2013 at 7:11 am

          Hmmm maybe apple should give nikon some lessons…

          “The new iSight camera on iPhone 5s builds on the iPhone 5 camera in ways that make a real difference to your photos. It captures beautiful images at 8 megapixels. What makes them beautiful is a redesigned camera sensor that allows for bigger pixels. Bigger pixels equal better photos. And better photos are precisely what inspired the advancements we made with the new iSight camera on iPhone 5s.”

        • Randall
          October 3, 2013 at 7:13 am

          I guess only I follow this stuff. I forgot there are some camera snobs that cant handle the fact that some camera phone photos look better then their portfolio…God forbid the masses can now take good photos…

          • Patrick O'Connor
            October 3, 2013 at 7:54 am

            Your last two remaining brain cells came into contact long enough to form a thought and you wasted it on that??
            Even if “the masses” have access to good cameras, for most of them, their photos will still only be mediocre on average. They (the masses) will get lucky once in a while but they won’t be able to get consistently good results. And, they will NEVER get great results.
            This isn’t due to inferior cameras or an inability to recognize, and desire, great photography. It’s the necessary result of a lack of experience and knowledge.

            I won’t waste time replying to your other attempts at reasoning since you’re obviously incapable of logical thought and, therefore, the ability to recognize truth when it is presented in precise, irrefutable terms; not that there’s anything wrong with that. ;-)

            • Randall
              October 3, 2013 at 8:11 am

              Sounds like someone is a bit jealous that Aunt Shelly can make photos just a pretty as yours… Let me guess your one of those guys that drive a corvette because you lack confidence elsewhere? Just remember your equipment is not as important as how you use it…

            • Patrick O'Connor
              October 3, 2013 at 8:19 am

              You should probably find someone else to read to you and compose your responses. Whoever currently holds that position isn’t performing the equally important task of explaining the missives and clearly has poor writing skills. It’s not your fault, though. It’s difficult to get good help…

            • Randall
              October 3, 2013 at 8:37 am

              Well you see us common people…we can hardly read or write let alone take a good photograph. We can only hope a accomplished professional such as yourself would take pity on us and teach us proper prose. And maybe… just maybe if I am lucky you can show me how to take my camera out of auto?

            • Patrick O'Connor
              October 3, 2013 at 8:44 am

              As much as I’m enjoying this, I have to get back to work; these stalls won’t much themselves out! Have a great day!

            • Randall
              October 3, 2013 at 8:52 am

              Touche my friend. ;)

  15. 15) Rick
    October 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Blah, blah, and blah. None of this matters. Neither future optics, nor current optics, will make any difference if the person holding the camera is a lousy photographer, which sadly accounts for the bulk of people on Earth (mostly the younger crowd who never ever shot a real 35 mm or 6 x 7 cm camera) who purchase fancy optics and think they are automatically entitled to make a good image. Even more sadly, it is websites like this that nurture and perpetuate this myth and in the process degrades what true photography is about. :-(

    • 15.1) Patrick O'Connor
      October 3, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Wow! So you’re either a lousy photographer or not? There’s no possibility of learning? And especially if you’ve never shot a “real” 35mm or 6x7cm camera! And to top it all off, it’s this websites fault, along with others like it. Hmm. So educate us; what IS true photography about? And before you descend from your soap box, just how many licks DOES it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? (silly grin)

      • 15.1.1) Richard Wozniak
        October 3, 2013 at 11:44 am

        Bigger pixels do not equal better photos.
        Bigger pixels only equal bigger photos.

        For heaven’s sake, a big turd is WORSE than a small turd.

        A moron with a camera, no matter how expensive or sophisticated, is still a moron. Without the intelligence or insight to ‘see’ he will happily lumber about churning out high resolution dross imagining he’s producing high art.
        I see it all the time at camera clubs.
        A kid with an iPhone and a ‘seeing eye’ however, is much more likely to produce a great image – even though technically it might lack quality.

        There is of course the (faint) possibility of the moron learning, but morons are by definition under motivated, lazy and stupid. That’s why they’re morons. They just want to ‘point and shoot’ (I wonder who the advertising boys were aiming at when they devised that slogan?), preferably with a 600 or 14mm.
        No, the best thing would be to confiscate the moron’s D800 and give it to the talented kid and vice-versa.

        Unfortunately (for them) most of the masses are fat, ugly and stupid which is why they are the masses and the rest of us are, well, the rest.
        Fortunately (for the rest) we benefit from the masses falling for the advertising hype because they then buy lots and lots of male jewellery thinking it will turn them into great photographers and make beautiful women want to sleep with them – and that drops the cost for the few who can actually produce a worthwhile image.


  16. 16) Richard Wozniak
    October 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Sorry Patrick, my post was not intended for you but for Randall et al.

    Oh no, now I will have to stand in the corner with my dunce’s cap on…..

    • 16.1) Patrick O'Connor
      October 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      No problem but I’m glad you clarified. I was scratching my head (I do that a lot which explains my bald spot) trying to figure out how I had earned such eloquent words. Aside from your vitriol, which, if I can take you at your word, was in jest, I have to take you to task for your opening statement. While larger pixels don’t improve composition, I’ve been told, and have no reason to doubt it, they improve low light performance. I love to shoot in low light so that’s kinda important to me.

      • 16.1.1) Richard Wozniak
        October 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm

        It gets worse.
        Now they will be able to produce really big turds in the dark!

        PS I have a bald spot too which, unlike a turd, polishes up really well.

        • Patrick O'Connor
          October 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm

          But not as big as my dog’s! It’s a wonder that I can’t find them between the size and smell, but I STILL need a flashlight!? Another side effect of getting old!

    • 16.2) Randall
      October 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

      Patrick… I think you may have me confused with someone else. All my lenses have gold rings on them. If yours don’t then I don’t think our kids can play together any more… Sorry…

  17. October 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Guys, this is really entertaining to read and all, but please, let’s keep the conversation civil :) Let’s not get into insulting, since we all share something we love – photography. Gear is gear, it will continue changing and evolving, but it won’t make us better photographers!

    • 17.1) Patrick O'Connor
      October 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      Sorry. You’re right of course. It’s easy to get carried away. Mea culpa…

    • 17.2) Randall
      October 4, 2013 at 1:09 am

      Oops I didn’t see this comment yet. Sorry Nasim. Sorry Everyone. Let’s go over to nikon rumors and finish this brawl. jk… Lol :-)

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *