According to several rumours, the Nexus 5 will be the first smartphone to market equipped with a MEMS camera. This is not the case, say the manufacturers of the MEMS camera chip DigitalOptics. They say that OPPO have beaten Google to the technology.
In a statement today John Thode, the President of DigitalOptics said:
We are proud to announce that OPPO and DOC are exclusive launch partners. OPPO will be the first smartphone OEM to incorporate mems|cam products in volume. OPPO has an excellent premium brand in China as demonstrated by the September 23 launch of the innovative N1 Smartphone platform. Integrating mems|cam modules into OPPO’s best-in-class smartphones will bring an exciting computational imaging user experience that further delivers on OPPO’s brand promise.
A press release reinforced the point by saying:
There has been speculation on who would be the first to bring the significant benefits of mems|cam to the mobile imaging market. Last week, several technology news blogs reported that mems|cam was first being brought to market in another smartphone platform. Those reports were inaccurate.
So who cares which 8MP shooter the Nexus will have in it? 8MP is so 2011 anyway, right?
I think MEMS technology needs a little explanation before asking those questions.
MEMS is short for Micro Electro Mechanical System. This system is a way to move mechanical items built into a microchip with no external mechanics. You most probably own devices with a MEMS chip in, as this is how a car airbag sensor works (amongst may other applications).
mems|cam, the division of DigitalOptics that have developed the MEMS camera system for smartphones, have used this technology to move the focusing lens mount of their camera rather than the standard voice coil method (similar to the magnet and coil on the back of your loudspeaker).
The reasons for doing this are plentiful, including low power consumption and better reliability, but the one that’s really interesting is the massively increased speed and capture rate.
A mems|cam autofocus is significantly faster than any current smartphone camera technology due to the efficiency of the MEMS movement, and the shutter will take around 5ms to fire, whereas your average voice coil mechanism and shutter will take about 30ms. This means that the camera will almost certainly have focused long before your slow old finger reaches the button.
The mems|cam system uses the extra time it has on its hands to take a burst of photos all focussed on different parts of the scene. This allows you to take a composite of them and refocus at will after you’ve taken the shot. This is much like the experience you get on a Nokia PureView phones, except without the massive file sizes associated with the 41MP camera.
Here’s a video that explains things further:
This technology is already available in the Lytro point and shoot camera which takes very decent photos, so in theory OPPO should have a fantastic camera in their next phone, but we all know how easily mobile phone manufacturers seem to be able to screw these things up. Best to hold judgement for now.
As far as the Nexus 5 goes, it begs the question as to whether we’re just going to get another below par snapper like all of the previous Nexus phones.
Video source – engadget