Single Pixel Camera – Making Lens Redundant

by Bret Hoy1 Comment

At the heart of every digital camera we discuss is an electronic sensor of some kind. There are many different kinds, made by a plethora of manufacturers. While these sensors perform entirely different from each other, they still function based off of a similar method. That is, they sense an image with millions of pixels simultaneously, then compress.

However, there’s another way.

Enter, the Single Pixel Camera. Still in its early early infancy, it’s easy to find the single pixel camera intriguing and the science behind them intimidating.

The Single Pixel camera is designed to function in the exact opposite manner than the conventional sensor that’s in your camera right now. To elaborate, the sensor in your camera right now, reads every single pixel simultaneously and sends the data to your processor. From there, depending on if you’re shooting Raw, or JPEG, your camera finds redundant visual information and subtracts it from the image, therefore shrinking the file size and making it easier to handle in post or wherever it’s being sent to.

The Single Pixel Camera flips this method. Instead of taking a reading of millions of pixels then subtracting redundant data, it takes a reading a smaller, compressed amount of pixels and then skips the process of finding redundant data. This method is referred to as compressed sensing, and if you’re interested in reading more about the topic there are plenty of resources available that are sure to melt your brain if you’re not prepared for the light science and math jargon.

This kind of sensor and camera could change the way that we power our cameras and process our images, but it will be unlikely to change your DSLR much. In fact, currently it’s being explored as a more efficient CCTV capture—far from being used in the studio. If you can believe it, this type of sensor actually doesn’t even need a lens to function.

In the future, this could vastly change the way that consumer cameras are manufactured. They have the potential to be immensely cheaper, more compact, use less power and storage space. These are the qualifications that made it such an attractive technology to Google, who just filed the patent.

With the never ending fight to get more bits and resolution out of our cameras, I highly doubt that this technology will make a large splash in the commercial photography business. However, I see this changing the way our phones take photos.

The more we delve into smaller and smaller sized technologies, the more valuable each millimeter of space is. The single pixel camera opens up a wide range of ergonomic options for engineers. Removing the lens from the situation also takes another element of human error out of the equation. That is, there's no such thing as optically perfect glass. If there's no lens between the light and the sensor, you could, theoretically get a more accurate reading.

One has to wonder, where will you be seeing these sensors used in 10 years?

What are Single Pixel Cameras?

Single Pixel camera image

A prototype of single pixel camera of Rice University

Via What A Future:

The imaging sensor of such a camera has single pixel to sense the light, that recodes thousands of pixels one after other to generate an image.

On the other hand, the imaging sensors of a typical digital camera have millions of pixels that generate an image by simultaneously recording millions of pixels.

Single Pixel Cameras Rely on What kind of Technology?

It utilizes a technique known as compressed sensing. It first compresses the image data and then records it. On the other hand, conventional cameras first record every pixel and later eliminate the redundant pixels by using compression algorithm.

What are redundant pixels: – For example, if you click an image with clear blue sky background, then the pixel of background are regarded as redundant. They get compressed as they contain less information.

Thus, you can say that a camera that utilizes compressed sensing and has single pixel sensor to record images, is a Single Pixel Camera.

Single Pixel camera

Google’s Single Pixel Camera:

The patent hints to use three single pixel camera modules having three different color filters. The modules will be disposed on the CMOS substrate at different location. These cameras will record imaging scene from different location at different angles.

Each camera module will have a single pixel sensor and a micro-lens placed above the single pixel photo sensor. An actuator will adjust the position of micro-lens to focus external light from different angles on photo sensor.

At present, the technology is used by academicians and university researchers only. The patent is important in the sense that Google may bring the technology to the public. You can access the patent from here.

Read full article at What A Future “Single Pixel Camera – Making Lens Redundant”

Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from What A Future)


  1. “The Single Pixel Camera flips this method. Instead of taking a reading of
    millions of pixels then subtracting redundant data, it takes a reading a
    smaller, compressed amount [sic] of pixels and then skips the process of finding
    redundant data.”
    This statement is self-contradictory.
    Get your facts straight before telling us about “the next big thing”.

Leave a Comment