Toshiba developing Lytro-like phone camera with over 30,000 mini-lenses

The electronics conglomerate said it hopes to offer the device to phone manufacturers by March 2014

By Jay Alabaster, IDG News Service |  

Toshiba is developing a tiny digital camera module similar to the Lytro camera, which shoots tens of thousands of individual photos and then allows the user to pick the point of focus.

The new camera will have from 30,000 to 50,000 tiny lenses, yet still be small enough to fit in modern smartphones and tablets. The company aims to have a product ready for sale by March of 2014.

The concept is similar to that behind a much-hyped camera launched by California-based Lytro earlier this year. Lytro calls its technology "light field capture," and photos taken by the device can be adjusted for focus and perspective after they are taken.

"Lytro doesn't make semiconductors, so the camera module is a product that Toshiba is probably better-suited to make," said Toshiba spokesman Atsushi Ido.

Ido said the concept behind the camera module is similar to the compound eyes found in many insects. He said much of the processing involved in taking and combining the individual images with the new camera would likely be handled by the module's hardware.

Toshiba is among the world's largest manufacturers of CMOS image sensors, where it competes with rivals including Sony, Samsung and OmniVision. Toshiba is better known for its massive NAND flash operations, where it cranks out memory chips for hard drives and memory cards.

In January, Lytro executive Charles Chi told PCWorld that his company was focused on branded cameras aimed at consumers, and any entry into the smartphone market would probably involve a tie-up with an established player.

Earlier this week, Toshiba announced it is readying a 20-megapixel CMOS image chip aimed at the digital camera market, where it hopes to challenge the dominance of Sony. The new chip will also be able to shoot 30 frames per second at full resolution, or 60 frames at 1080P. Toshiba said it will ship samples of the new CMOS sensor next month, with mass production to begin in August.

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