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Canon patent describes novel liquid lens design

By dpreview staff on May 31, 2013 at 20:10 GMT

Another interesting patent has been discovered by Japanese blogger Egami, which shows a new method devised by Canon to adjust the shape of meniscus lens that seems different from the more straightforward method used by competitors. Canon's method uses the same 'electrowetting' principle as existing designs but does so to create a series of pumps, allowing faster and more precise control over the resultant lens.

Rather than directly distorting a lens formed from the barrier between two fluids, Canon's design features a series of parallel electrodes around the edges of the lens that end up forming individually controllable pumps. Selectively engaging these pumps pushes more of one of the fluids into the main lens chamber, changing the shape of the lens.

Liquid lenses are not new; in fact there are many already in use in industrial applications, such as those marketed by Varioptic. The company's site offers a good primer on how electrowetting is used to create variable-focus lenses.

However, whereas Verioptic's design seeks to directly change the shape of the lens, placing electrodes above and below the fluid lens' surface, Canon's design effectively turns this design through 90 degrees, and uses the the controllable fluid surfaces as pumps to move fluid in and out of a central chamber, which then acts as the lens.

Canon's patent describes a novel way to control a liquid lens. The patent can be seen here or by clicking on the image.

The design can be used in an essentially binary manner, with each 'pump' flipping between a relaxed or pumped state - which means the lens can be refocused quickly and precisely by engaging the desired number of pumps.

Canon's patents indicate that the idea is fairly well developed - with one design featuring a series of triangular pumps arranged in a concentric ring pattern. The patent suggests such a lens could be used for a cell phone or surveillance camera.

The diagram on the left shows a series of concentric rings of electrodes. The fluid boundaries between each of these rings can be controlled, to pump fluid into the central chamber, that acts as the lens.

On the right, a more refined version of the design features triangular compartments, each containing a controllable pump. Engaging a series of these pumps allows the central lens to be quickly moved by a precise amount.

Comments

Total comments: 77
Artistico
By Artistico (10 months ago)

One has to make sure not to shake the lens, or you might get bubbles - or perhaps you want to create those if you're in the business of taking pictures of "ghosts" or for other cool lomo effects.

0 upvotes
d10694
By d10694 (10 months ago)

I already have 2 lenses that adjust by changing their shape, with additional coated glass lenses in the group to improve performance and focus.

1 upvote
akcli2007
By akcli2007 (1 month ago)

You certainly mean your pair of Mark I eyeballs, right?

0 upvotes
nathantw
By nathantw (10 months ago)

Carrying around a bunch of hardened sand is heavy enough. Can you imagine carrying around a bunch of liquid?

2 upvotes
ptodd
By ptodd (10 months ago)

AFAIK no-one is intending for big fast lenses use this, at least in the short term.

0 upvotes
meland
By meland (10 months ago)

A 'bunch' of liquid (does liquid come in bunches?) to produce a variable lens element is probably lighter than the equivalent pieces of glass required to do the same job.

5 upvotes
peevee1
By peevee1 (10 months ago)

This one shape changing element replaces a lot of hard elements, plus focus motor and associated mechanics to move the glass quickly. When eventually the lenses like this arrive, almost all the glass stuff will become obsolete.

1 upvote
AndreyT
By AndreyT (10 months ago)

Er... Glass is more dense than water. Why do you expect water to make things worse in terms of weight?

1 upvote
Plastek
By Plastek (10 months ago)

Sony got similar patents... likely all of them will be usable only with compacts and cellphones.

0 upvotes
yabokkie
By yabokkie (10 months ago)

it will be interesting when we feel the need to fill the space between the lens and the sensor with liquid (for high performance compacts?).

0 upvotes
sportyaccordy
By sportyaccordy (10 months ago)

I dont see that happening. Theres no more efficient medium for light than a vacuum... followed by air.

Comment edited 17 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
camchat
By camchat (10 months ago)

Liquid lenses have been around for a while. The company Varioptic has been selling these for scientific use. http://www.varioptic.com/technology/electrowetting/
This uses a different method for focus using electrowetting phenomena...which gives you continuously adjustable focal points.

0 upvotes
HBowman
By HBowman (10 months ago)

Would be fun to use it in winter ... New lens option : Antifreeze fluid

2 upvotes
yabokkie
By yabokkie (10 months ago)

may also need a pressure cooker to keep it from exploding.

0 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (10 months ago)

Perhaps they filled it with a pure vodka?
Than only disadvantage would be a lower reaction time ;)

1 upvote
new boyz
By new boyz (10 months ago)

I'll go for third party offering. Cheaper.

0 upvotes
Dimitris Servis
By Dimitris Servis (10 months ago)

If it comes with Plastek's vodka you will simply go for party

0 upvotes
Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (10 months ago)

The idea was mentioned in Frank Herbert's "Dune", published 1965. where the Fremen use oil lenses in their binoculars. High time someone tries to produce it.
By the way, this might be an important step toward pressure-impervious (liquid-filled) cameras where the breathing space between lenses makes variable-volume constructions impossible.

2 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (10 months ago)

This design sounds all wet.

0 upvotes
Nukunukoo
By Nukunukoo (10 months ago)

Your in the desert taking wildlife. Your car broke down, the cellphone's battery's dead and you're miles away from the nearest anything. The sun's up and beating down on you, you have the new Canon 100-500mm 2.8 liquid lens...

5 upvotes
io_bg
By io_bg (10 months ago)

*You're

11 upvotes
flattersplatter
By flattersplatter (10 months ago)

... the liquid expands due to the heat, just as the designer intended. You now have a 150-750mm 3.2.

0 upvotes
Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (10 months ago)

It's easily solved by compensation chambers, like in the liquid-filled compasses, no problem. Relative pressures in the optical element deformation are not dependent upon an absolute (overall) pressure of the system.

As to the rest of the situation: recharge your smartphone from the car battery and ask for HELP on the Open Forum... Also set the spare tyre on fire to attract rescuers. Keep calm, watch for snakes, and do not drink lens water, engine coolant nor windshield wiping fluid. Use motor oil as a sunscreen, mosquito & lion deterrent. Good Luck! :)

1 upvote
Steve69
By Steve69 (10 months ago)

Imagine your future dslr lens leaking, messing up your camera bag... ;)

0 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (10 months ago)

Covered by warranty, I hope.

0 upvotes
limlh
By limlh (10 months ago)

Companies that profit from the sale of smartphone will drive this technology into maturity. Canon, please don't try to make a smartphone. Start talking with Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo, and all the Chinese phone makers you care to name.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
Rooru S
By Rooru S (10 months ago)

Reminds me about the patents filled by Sony and Samsung in 2010. The logical approach to use this kind of lenses is with Mobile Phones. This on full-frame or APS cameras doesn't seem to be happening in the near future.

0 upvotes
SRT3lkt
By SRT3lkt (10 months ago)

My eyes got more efficient mechanism.

1 upvote
Colin Stuart
By Colin Stuart (10 months ago)

hence why they're trying to copy it and stick it in front of a camera sensor.

1 upvote
Nishi Drew
By Nishi Drew (10 months ago)

My eyes have better dynamic range too

2 upvotes
Ken Phillips
By Ken Phillips (10 months ago)

Nishi, your eyes have pretty lousy instantaneous DR! They DO have a pretty good "ISO" range, but it can take 20 minutes to go from ISO 100 to ISO 64K (much more quickly the other way!) A brightly backlit subject (such as a road sign whilst driving west in the evening) is impossible for human eyes.

3 upvotes
Tonio Loewald
By Tonio Loewald (10 months ago)

Your eyes also fix focus, distortion, field curvature, lousy corner resolution using a combination of stitching, post-processing, and auto fill.

6 upvotes
budi0251
By budi0251 (10 months ago)

Hmm, faster AF? fix FL.
imagine boxing punch coming at you, or table tennis game, then race car driver, fighter pilot, etc.
Very fast aiming, very good IS, VERY fast AF, 3D range finder, etc.
Redundancy (just in case one is damaged, usually the person still could function more that 90% visually effective most of the time).

of course after some 60+ years, some might still works while others could develop focus problem (front or back focus), cataract, etc.

But hey, you got it (almost) for free, take it for granted.
Nikon's Gold Ring-Nano Coated and Canon's "L" Pro lenses cost quite a money, but Human eyes single variable meniscus lens sometimes (if not most of the time) works better in current human habitat.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (10 months ago)

As with photography, it's not so much a question of hardware, rather of image interpretation. The main part of eye efficiency still depends upon what the brain makes of it.

I hope that such a novel approach also does away with DSLR concept, since it's so outdated that only romantic inertia keeps it alive... Even the acronym is outdated:
D... most today's cameras are digital;
SL... of course. Digital Twin Lens cameras are hard to find;
R... internal monitors show what you get. Mirrors, not exactly.
Add the unavoidable size and mechanism (=price), and it all points to the museum. Thus, the liquid-lens models will probably be more like P&S or not larger than bridge cameras.
What will probably remain is the traditional mirror / shutter noise recording, to remind us of times long gone.

0 upvotes
BadScience
By BadScience (10 months ago)

Tonio, your eyes do none of these things you claim! It is the brain that does that.

Human eyes are very poor indeed - on par with the other great apes, but much worse than most predators and certainly nowhere near as good as man-made lenses and sensors. Most people have sight defects of some sort, we all have a blind spot and we have no colour vision in the dark.

We rely on optical systems all the time to "see" things we cannot. It is amazing to take a digital photo and blow it up to 100% on a big screen and see all the detail and colour that is there.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
SRT3lkt
By SRT3lkt (10 months ago)

I got tripod too, doesn't work with ED glass though.

0 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (10 months ago)

BadScience - you have no color vision at night? I'm quite fine with seeing colors when it's dark. I guess you are one of these people who claim that human eye got field of view equal to the one of 50mm lens, and that you can't see anything in color but the center spot.

BTW: Well-chosen nickname - bad science.

Comment edited 22 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
BadScience
By BadScience (10 months ago)

Plastek,
Enough with the sarcasm, learn some science.

Here is a nobel prize winner, David Hubel, (awarded the prize for his research on vision)

"Get up on a dark moonlit night and look around. Although you can see shapes fairly well, colors are completely absent. It is remarkable how few people realize that they do without color vision in dim light."

http://www.hhmi.org/senses/b110.html

I guess you are one of the many that do not realize, because you do not see. Which is not a good characteristic of a photographer!

(btw the nickname is a plug for a book which aims to educate people without scientific knowledge, such as yourself).

1 upvote
utomo99
By utomo99 (10 months ago)

Manufacturer need to study eagle eyes and other animal eyes. to create great lens. I believe new lens technology can be found by study the animal eyes

1 upvote
LJ - Eljot
By LJ - Eljot (10 months ago)

Hm, just studied eyes from an octopus. It turned out to be a pinhole camera. I think we can not learn much from that one.

0 upvotes
psn
By psn (10 months ago)

You didn't study hard enough or you would have found that octopus (and squid) do have lenses in their eyes... it's not just a pinhole.

0 upvotes
Kirigoi
By Kirigoi (10 months ago)

It's the Nautilus that has pinhole lens eyes LJ - Eljot. Octopus have advanced eyes with a lens (but no cornea) that in some ways are superior to our own; for example the blood supply does not block part of the retina, and they are able to see the polarisation of light.

0 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (10 months ago)

...manufactures will need to start using curved sensors if they are going to directly emulate animal eyes.

2 upvotes
new boyz
By new boyz (10 months ago)

So Squidward's eyes are BSI?

0 upvotes
utomo99
By utomo99 (10 months ago)

How about eagle eyes ? Insect eyes, Owl eyes and other

http://largestfastestsmartest.co.uk/animals-with-the-best-vision-in-the-world/

0 upvotes
armandino
By armandino (10 months ago)

does it come with beer instead?
I already own a canon L lens mug

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
mediasorcerer
By mediasorcerer (10 months ago)

Imagine what it would look like if mould started growing in it, could look really good hehe.
Fascinating idea.
Wonder if they will make a fish eye version.

0 upvotes
MediaDigitalVideo
By MediaDigitalVideo (10 months ago)

Working Temperature range ?

1 upvote
JordanAT
By JordanAT (10 months ago)

1C-99C

0 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (11 months ago)

Very practical for sky photography.
I mean, literally - it has to be horizontal. lol
OK OK, it can have a 45° mirror, but the lens still has to stay horizontal. Very practical.

Love the comments here. Funny. :D

Comment edited 27 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
zxaar
By zxaar (10 months ago)

it is just an idea, but surely it is not the end of the things. I have a liquid lens in my mind for long time that does not need to be horizontal, could be in any position.

0 upvotes
meland
By meland (10 months ago)

So Timmbits, everything that contains liquid has to be kept horizontal does it?

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Revenant
By Revenant (10 months ago)

You've misunderstood the design. It doesn't have to be horizontal. In fact, the image above, with the front and top view, shows this clearly.

0 upvotes
yabokkie
By yabokkie (10 months ago)

even it's kept in horizontal all the time, we may still have problem when shooting sports, flying birds, etc., when we swing the lens dynamically.

0 upvotes
nicolas guilbert
By nicolas guilbert (11 months ago)

future topics will be on water quality and pump speed ;)

15 upvotes
ManuelVilardeMacedo
By ManuelVilardeMacedo (10 months ago)

Yeah, and some will be discussing their equivalents on smaller sensors.

1 upvote
Airless
By Airless (11 months ago)

The first product Canon has ever made that wasn't a blatant ripoff of another company...oh wait, nevermind

1 upvote
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (11 months ago)

Clearly they're confident it's an original approach, as it shouldn't be awarded a patent if it isn't.

8 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (11 months ago)

@RButler: Anything can be patented. The patent office doesn't check for validity - only conformity to their document standards.
The actual test of a patent, is whether it holds up in court, should it be challenged or invalidated. The patent office does not do your patent search for you

If you want proof, big companies are patenting God's work - plants (and I don't mean GMOs), and the patent office lets them.

Comment edited 14 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
psn
By psn (10 months ago)

Not just plants... biological discoveries and processes, in general. How can one patent our own DNA! And then there's math and the software patents.

Madness, this patent business has become. I can foresee patent wars not waged by businesses but by countries... on the other hand, I just watched a few episodes on Continuum.

0 upvotes
JadedGamer
By JadedGamer (10 months ago)

Why are people so ignorant of patents? They are not supposed to be general and vague, covering every way of doing a one-line description, they are supposed to describe ONE way to do something. For a given idea there can be dozens of patents, each different from each other in how they implement the idea.

0 upvotes
Ellis Vener
By Ellis Vener (11 months ago)

DrinkTANK Photo will be making the cases.

3 upvotes
DPReview Staff
By DPReview Staff (11 months ago)

Not DroPro?

2 upvotes
RX100
By RX100 (11 months ago)

Imagine what name Crumpler would come up with!

1 upvote
Airless
By Airless (11 months ago)

DrinkTank WETrospective

4 upvotes
Ellis Vener
By Ellis Vener (11 months ago)

Canon first announced something similar back in 2005 or '06.

1 upvote
Oery
By Oery (11 months ago)

now we need a "wet box"

1 upvote
Bill Bentley
By Bill Bentley (11 months ago)

"L" is already taken. I guess this lens line will have to be "W" for wetting. :-)

2 upvotes
DPReview Staff
By DPReview Staff (11 months ago)

Or "EW" for ElectroWetting. Might not work in some countries.

2 upvotes
RX100
By RX100 (11 months ago)

These lenses will be Waterproof!

3 upvotes
Airless
By Airless (11 months ago)

So does this finally mean the fabled 8-1000mm f/1.0 optically flawless pancake lens we've been demanding for so long?

Comment edited 14 seconds after posting
20 upvotes
ManuelVilardeMacedo
By ManuelVilardeMacedo (11 months ago)

LOL. That's what I call 'a tall order', but who knows...

0 upvotes
idbar
By idbar (11 months ago)

I would have been happy with a 10-300mm f/2.0. But heck, I'm just a newbie.

4 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (11 months ago)

yeah... except you only get to shoot pictures of clouds!

2 upvotes
DPReview Staff
By DPReview Staff (10 months ago)

Timmbits, I'm not sure who told you the lens only points upward or downward, but the lens is small enough that it doesn't deform from gravity. As the story mentioned, liquid lens technology already exists and is in use in surveillance, biomedical and machine vision applications. This is a refinement to overcome voltage limitations and provide greater control, as we currently understand it.

Comment edited 44 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Antony John
By Antony John (10 months ago)

You mean Canon have a way of negating gravity?
There's already enough 'de-centred' lenses around and this would just add to the number. Sharp in the middle OOF top and bottom on the horizontal.

0 upvotes
Kirigoi
By Kirigoi (10 months ago)

Well, a 1000mm f/1.0 lens by definition has to be a meter across. That's a big pancake. Tasty!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 77