Sensor-Lens modules: the "smart" solution?

Started Aug 25, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Tom Caldwell
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Sensor-Lens modules: the "smart" solution?
Aug 25, 2012

Perhaps with the continuing development of sensors and the inclusion of image cropping zoom in larger format sensors combined with software corrected wide angle Ricoh's decision to make combined sensor-lens modules was not so crazy as it has seemed.

Ricoh are on record as saying that they are matching sensor to lens in their modules and that is only what might be expected naturally.

However with the new Sony RX100 taking software adjusted lens performance to new heights with presumably distortion corrected wide and image cropped "clear zoom" surely there is a statement that sensor must be closely interwoven to lens for the lens to work at all.

Those that say it is silly to throw away a perfectly good lens in order to fit a new sensor must start to be confronted with a new lens that is no use whatsover without a matched sensor to go with it. Ricoh's matched sensor-lens modules now seem to be a revolutionary step forward. Replacing whole cameras to get the next generation of sensor-lens combination now seems increasingly flawed. The more so as the quality of the camera, its sensor and its lens in combination increases.

If we can think of a new generation of lenses being born that are basically an optical-electronic device where the lens performance depends completely on it's relationship to the sensor and the firmware that drives the combination we must change our hats and start thinking quite differently. The more so if these combinations produce better results than individual sensors unmatched to a variety of possible lenses that might be mounted. It seems that in future perhaps the lens is not a stand alone device but will actually have to be necessarily packaged with a sensor.

As long as a single pure optical-only well adjusted lens (at any price) will out-perform a sensor-lens package adjusted in firmware then the outstanding "traditional" lens will persevere, but what if the reverse becomes true?

Therefore are we going to get high-performance individually made cameras with built in lenses where each camera must be limited by the style of lens on board compared to traditional optical-only replaceable lensed cameras? Does the Ricoh solution offer some half-way house where the sensor and lens is packaged together? Do we get future dslr or EVIL-type cameras with traditional optical only lenses that have enough "smarts" to be able to automatically correct the huge variety of lenses that can be fitted? Will these smarts extend far enough to know whether any given optical lens needs correction or does not need it?

Ricoh seems to be already playing with software correction of lenses to the extent that the A12 mount module does allow its owners to individualy correct (or deliberately distort) any lenses they might choose to use. They have the firmware, it is only a short step to matching that firmware to a fixed sensor/lens combination.

The subject requires a good amount of mental revising of traditional attitudes to cameras with replaceable lenses. We have "sort of" already accepted Ricoh's "lensor" approach but perhaps we have not realised the revolutionary ahead of their time significance completely.

Once a suitably large sized megapixel-magnitude / physical size (aka 1"?) sensor is available to Ricoh we might see a flowering of lensor modules for the GXR. Or am I just into wishful thinking?

Perhaps a new more powerful GXR back with built in evf is the next cab off the rank but the jaw-dropping curiosity of the lensor system now around for quite a few years might have been a very predictive idea and just possibly something similar might emerge from other manufacturers as they struggle to get high performance out of ever bigger sensors in ever smaller camera bodies. The GXR theory might yet turn out to be "just about right".

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Tom Caldwell

Sony RX100
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