Researchers develop marble-like lens that puts high-res 360 inside a small camera

pmast 360 camera
Distant Focus Corporation
It turns out that 360-degree video is better with 360-degree lens glass. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego recently created a prototype camera that captures the high-resolution immersive video of heavy rigs while remaining smaller than the average DSLR. The solution? Spherical lens glass instead of the traditional concave lenses — and tiny fiber optic cables.

With five 25 megapixel full frame sensors, the PMast is capable of capturing high-resolution stills and video, yet it’s about the size of a DSLR. Compact 360 cameras are available in sizes smaller than a softball, but they don’t offer the same resolution as the pricey multi-camera rigs, often wrapping 4,000 pixels or so around a complete 360 view — sort of like splitting a 4K TV into four separate 1,000 pixel screens and still labeling it 4K.

pmast 360 camera cameras
Phototechnic Systems Integrated / University of California at San Diego
Phototechnic Systems Integrated / University of California at San Diego

Designed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with the Photonic Systems Integration Laboratory at UCSD and Distant Focus Corporation, the camera is designed to capture a much higher level of detail without that bulk.

While most lenses have a convex shape, PMast’s smaller profile is largely due to a spherical lens that’s smaller than a dime. Spherical lenses have been attempted before, but while they work well at focusing the light, they can’t project that focused image onto a flat camera sensor. Instead, the researchers literally bridged the gap between that spherical lens and the flat sensor with fiber optics. A bundle of tiny glass threads transmits that light from the curve of the glass to the flat sensor, with the focus still intact.

PMast is currently only a prototype with five cameras connected at a base. The compact size is hindered by requiring five connected external computers to process and stitch those images — and it wasn’t designed for commercial use in the first place. But, while you won’t likely ever shoot with a PMast, the odd design of the spherical lens is something researchers are hoping could eventually find its way into consumer cameras or even make its way to Hollywood.

“Ultimately, we’d love to work with a camera developer,” Joseph Ford, Principal Investigator at the Photonic Systems Integration Laboratory at UCSD, told CNET. “When they’ve reached the point where the lens is a significant part of the weight and bulk and obtrusiveness of the camera, then our lens offers a solution.”

Photography

2018 was a terrific year for new cameras. Here are our favorites

This year, we saw the unveiling of several exciting new cameras. We look back at our favorite models -- each delivering something unique, yet all are powerful and feature-rich. Camera fans, rejoice!
Outdoors

Google’s new Street View backpack offers better imagery in a lighter package

Higher-quality imagery is coming to Street View thanks to a new design for Google's Trekker backpack. The kit, which enables Street View to capture imagery from more places, has improved camera sensors and is lighter than before.
Mobile

Huawei Nova 4 has a hole in the screen, and a 48-megapixel camera on the back

Huawei has launched the Nova 4, a new smartphone that has abandoned the screen notch and adopted a punch hole alternative, and also has a massive 48-megapixel camera. Here's what you need to know about the Nova 4.
Photography

Canon holiday sale features the Rebel T6 2-lens kit for just $449

If you have a budding photographer in your life in need of a real camera, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 could make the perfect gift. Canon is currently offering the camera in a two-lens bundle for just $449 through December 29.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Mobile

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.
Photography

Grit and gear: How Chris Hershman went from retail clerk to music video director

How did Chris Hershman go from working a music retail job to working with bands like NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot? The music video director and filmmaker talks to us about video, tech, and Nikon's new mirrorless.
Social Media

Instagram’s 2018 year in review shines a light on where our hearts are

What did Instagram users share the most in 2018? A lot of heart emojis, heart face filters, and heart GIFs. The platform recently shared the year's top trends, including hashtags like #fortnite and #metoo along with a few surprises.
Deals

Want a fun, affordable instant camera? The Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S is just $49

Instant cameras have had a surprising resurgence of late, and no brand is better recognized in the instant photo space today than Fujifilm Instax. Walmart is currently offering the Instax Mini 7S for just $49.
Photography

Not just for Lightroom anymore, Loupedeck+ now works with Photoshop

Loupedeck+ can now help photographers edit in Photoshop too, thanks to physical controls for swapping tools, running actions, and more. The photo-editing console expanded to include Photoshop in the list of compatible editing programs.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Computing

Need a monitor for professional photo-editing? These are the very best

Looking for the best monitor for photo editing? You'll need to factor in brightness, color accuracy, color gamut support and more. Fortunately, we've rounded up the best ones for you, to help you make an educated purchase.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Photography

Camera crop factor: What it means and how to use it

If you're in the market for a new camera, chances are you've heard the term "crop factor" thrown about. Here's what you need to know about how crop factor effects everything from equivalent focal length to light sensitivity and depth of…