Future Camera Technologies

The Next Big Thing in Digital Photography: Curved Camera Sensors


July 9, 2019 Tech By Photo by Microsoft

What’s the next big thing in digital photography? Ask any expert and they’ll say it’s curved image sensors. Sony patented the first curved medium format sensor in 2017. Nikon followed suit by patenting the first curved full-frame sensor. Canon and Microsoft have their own in the works, too. Yet, we’ve yet to see a curved-sensor camera hit market.

So why is everyone talking about sensors that are curved instead of flat?

Well, camera lenses are round. And when round light hits a square image sensor, it does so unevenly, resulting in a photo with less-than-optimal sharpness. Improvements in lens technology have allowed manufacturers to address a lot of the issues caused by traditional image sensors — like adding more glass to the lens to “correct” the light path. However, as Andy Heather of DigitalRev describes, these extra optical elements create a longer path for the light, and more light is lost in the process, which isn’t good either.

Nikon Patent P2017-125904A

A curved camera sensor solves both of these issues. First, it’s shaped in such a way that the cone of light hits every part of the image sensor at the same time, resulting in a sharper, more consistent image. Curved sensors also eliminate the need for a lens to have those extra “corrective” elements. This gives light a more direct path to the sensor, meaning the lens you use with the camera can be better in low-light settings.

As it is with any emerging technology, expect to pay top dollar for the first examples from Sony and Nikon. But down the road, curved sensors offer an attractive proposition: more travel-friendly setups that can shoot at the quality of pro-grade rigs.

Further Reading
• What is a Curved Sensor?, DigitalRev
• The CEO of Sigma Explains the Challenges of Curved Sensor Technology, Fstoppers

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