Engineers at MIT & UMass Lowell have created a completely flat 1mm thick fisheye lens

Tips & Techniques

Love them or hate them (and many people hate them), we all know what fisheye lenses are. They look sort of like regular lenses, except they have a great big round bulbous element on the front that lets your camera’s sensor see in a super-wide field of view – typically around the 180° degree mark.

Well, not anymore. Now a team at MIT and University of Massachusetts Lowell have developed a new fisheye lens that’s completely flat. Its design is a type of “metalens” – a wafer-thin material with microscopic features to manipulate light in a way that traditional optics don’t. And it lets the lens shoot a 180° field of view with perfect sharpness.

The lens consists of just a single element, which is a 1 millimetre thick piece of glass. On one side it’s covered with tiny structures that scatter light in a very specific way so as to produce panoramic images in the same way that traditional fisheye lenses do. Interestingly, they say it works with the infrared part of the spectrum, although they also say that it can be modified to capture visible light as well.

It’s an interesting design, although it’s not something you’re likely to see coming to a DSLR or mirrorless camera any time soon. So, no, this is one crazy lens announcement Laowa probably won’t surprise us with… probably.

Being so small, though, and despite its potential scientific applications, once the technology starts getting into the hands of more people, we may potentially start seeing it pop up in things like smartphones, laptops, wearable cameras, action cameras and 360° cameras. In fact, for 360° cameras, this could go a long way towards removing the issue of the distance between two back-to-back cameras preventing accurate stitching with very close subjects.

For now, though, metalenses are largely still experimental. So, it’s unlikely we’ll see many of them come to mainstream consumer devices for a little while just yet. But, it’ll happen eventually.

You can read more about the flat fisheye lens over on the MIT website.

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