Panasonic improves color capture by digital cameras

Panasonic has developed a new way to drastically increase the color and light sensitivity of digital cameras including those used in smartphones.

The Osaka-based electronics manufacturer said Monday its method replaces the color filter arrays widely used in such devices to capture individual colors, using tiny prism-like color splitters instead. The company said the new method can double the color sensitivity of image sensors, leading to far brighter images under the same lighting conditions or similar image quality at half the light.

An image from Panasonic shows how more color and light is captured with its new "micro color splitters" than a traditional color filter array.
An image provided by Panasonic shows color and light conditions when captured with an image sensor using a traditional Bayer color filter array.

Most image sensors on the market detect only the intensity of light they are exposed to, and so must rely on filters to provide color information. Each pixel in a sensor sits under a tiny filter that lets through only a single color. In the widely used Bayer filter, light is filtered into red, blue, and green, with green given half the total pixels and the remainder split between the other two colors.

But Panasonic said this filtering method blocks much of the light before it reaches the sensor pixels, letting only 25 to 50 percent through. The company's "micro color splitters" use a super-thin transparent and refractive material to diffract light into combinations of white, red and blue, with no loss of light, which can then be translated back into standard colors mathematically.

The new filters can be used with existing image sensors, including the most commonly used CCD and CMOS varieties. The company said they can be manufactured using existing chip production techniques, and the computations involved are based on a newly developed method of analyzing the optics involved.

A Panasonic spokesperson said the company doesn't have a schedule for commercializing the new technology.

The company said the new method for filtering colors is described in the latest issue of the publication Nature Photonics. It said it has obtained or applied for 21 Japanese patents and 16 overseas patents in regards to the new technology.

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