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How This Magical 16-Lens Camera Will Actually Work

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Why does a camera need 16 sensors and 16 multi-element lenses and 11 mirrors just to take a photograph?

Well, it doesn’t. But Light has its sights set on the holy grail with the L16: A slim and compact camera that performs like a bulky DSLR without the need for expensive interchangeable lenses or even a large sensor. And if it’s a success, this camera’s internal infrastructure could change the way our smartphones take pictures very very soon.

Today’s smartphone cameras are already excellent, but there are a few key areas in which they struggle. They have small sensors, so they’re not the best performers in low light, nor do they produce the pleasantly shallow depth of field—the “bokeh”—of a DSLR or larger-sensored camera. They also don’t have optical-zoom lenses; you’ve got to move your feet to zoom or digitally zoom the image, which negatively impacts detail.

Some smartphone cameras have taken aim at these problems with creative solutions, and those results have been impressive. The Nokia Lumia 1020 famously crammed 41 megapixels into its sensor, giving its users a lot more room to crop and digitally zoom without destroying image detail. Panasonic’s Lumix CM1 packed a larger sensor into a smartphone body, giving it image capabilities that match not just a dedicated compact camera, but a great one.

But packing more megapixels into a small sensor doesn’t necessarily mean better image quality, and putting a large sensor into a phone doesn’t make it optically zoom. With its multi-camera, multi-lens approach and some complex computational imaging, Light says it can squeeze big-sensor image quality, very high resolution, and big-lens zoom out of its flat-fronted, futuristic brick.

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