Xiaomi, one of the leading global smartphone manufacturers, has teased an upcoming technology that will be found in the upcoming Mi Mix device: a floating lens. It is the first of its kind on a smartphone and can apparently change focus and focal length just by changing the shape of the liquid element.
DPReview reports that according to some sources, the liquid lens will allow the manufacturer to replace the standard multi-camera arrays found on virtually all smartphones with a single camera thanks to its ability to change focus point and focal length more easily via the floating element.
The concept of a floating lens is not new, but it is not something that has ever been integrated into a consumer smartphone. According to Edmund Optics, a floating lens can overcome depth of field limitations by allowing the focus to be adjusted electronically without mechanical movement. The typical ways to adjust focus points (move motorized elements or change f-numbers to increase depth of field) can instead be replaced without compromising image quality or requiring larger lenses.
Xiaomi̵7;s Mysterious MIX Phone Will Use Liquid Lens for World’s First Pic.twitter.com/73ob6uBsyn
– Isunivers (@UniverseIce) March 25, 2021
Liquid lenses can be found in some industrial applications where traditional optics in moving parts would wear too fast.
“Like traditional optical lenses made of glass, liquid lenses are single optical elements, but consist of an optically liquid material that can change shape,” explains Edmond Optics. “The focal length of a glass lens depends on the material it is made of and the radius of curvature. The same basic principle applies to floating lenses, although floating lenses are unique in that their focal length can be changed by changing the radius of curvature. This change in radius is controlled electronically and changes rapidly in the order of milliseconds. Manufacturers use electrowetting, modifying polymers and acousto-optic adjustment methods to control the radius of curvature and refractive index of the liquid lens. ”
Xiaomi has a pretty good reputation when it comes to smartphone camera hardware, but as in the case of the Mi 11, the software can hold it back. Hopefully, the implementation of floating lenses on a Mi Mix phone will bridge this gap a little better.
According to The Verge, using cutting-edge technology is a perfect fit for the Mi Mix line. Mi Mix 3 in 2018 was the first to offer a mechanical sliding selfie camera, while Mi Mix Alpha from the following year had a screen that was wrapped around almost the entire device. In that company, a floating lens camera fits right in.