Move over Lytro. Step aside, Lynx A. There's a new player in next-gen camera tech. Meet the PiCam, Pelican Imaging's do-everything still and video imaging device for smartphones that could change our expectations of cameras forever.
About this time last year, we ran a story on a then-Kickstarter darling, the Lynx A. The Lynx A was a camera, roughly the dimensions of a monopoly game box, with the incredible ability to capture the world as 3D models and motion data, potentially saving many production and post hours, albeit at prices that didn't scream 'budget'. The full version came in at $2699, more than what most hobbyists and students would pay for such a niche device, but still an interesting proposition if you have tons of 3D modeling in your workflow.
The problem with being in the bleeding-edge, next-gen game is that there's always someone else out there readying a product that trumps last year's breakthroughs, often at a fraction of the cost. And as our Editor, David Shapton, pointed out recently, the old Bell Curve for products has been replaced by a Big Bang model; the gentle slopes of adoption are now a near vertical line, followed by a precipitous drop-off as even newer technology steals yesterday's thunder. Such is the new reality: This year's Model T is next year's buggy whip.
PiCam: This year's Model T?
What if I told you that there was a camera that could do the following things?
- Capture stereoscopic 3D images and video
- Capture 3D models as easily as it takes pictures and video
- Record motion data
- Easily refocus images and video after the fact
- Easily change depth of field after the fact
And what if I told you that this groundbreaking imaging tech is being developed for smartphones? Maybe I'm too easily impressed, but the new PiCam, courtesy of Pelican Imaging, sounds like a jaw-dropping advancement.
Array this way
The genius of the PiCam is in its tiny 16 camera array (with housing, less than the diameter of a quarter). According to the company's white paper, the PiCam is "passive, supporting both stills and video, low light capable, and small enough to be included in the next generation of mobile devices including smartphones." Vist that white paper page for images taken from the PiCam. Although just stills, the images have a very pronounced dimensionality to them (and that's momentarily forgetting the cameras other advanced features.) Through the power of it's camera array, and subsequent depth and motion information, the resulting technology is like the lovechild of Lytro (the quasi-selectable focus still-camera) and the Lynx A, with an evolutionary leap to full 1080P 30fps capture for after-the-fact manipulation of focus and depth of field of video...on your phone.
What could top this?
It will be fascinating to look back on this article in a year from now. Will the PiCam fall by the wayside as new contenders push their way into the next-gen camera field? Could PiCam buck the trend and stick around for awhile? Will any of these capabilities find their way into prosumer and professional cameras? Perhaps most intriguing, what's next? If the above feature list is coming soon to smartphones, what's being cooked up by upstarts looking to disrupt their way to success?
Ask me again in a year.
Check out videos of the PiCam on Page Two.