MEMS claims to lock focus faster than conventional smartphone cameras.

After some (inaccurate) speculation last week, Oppo has announced that it will be the first smartphone manufacturer to use the MEMS camera.

The MEMS camera is a different kind of autofocus technology. Instead of using the voice coil motor (VCM) focusing system currently found in smartphone cameras, the MEMS autofocus utilizes electrostatic force to move the lens components, resulting in a much faster focusing time.

DigitalOptics, the manufacturer of MEMS, is partnering with Oppo to launch a phone that will incorporate the new technology. Oppo is not shy about incorporating new camera technology. A few weeks ago, the Chinese manufacturer announced a phone with a rotating 13MP camera.

DigitalOptics outlines some of the benefits of its focusing system in its promotional literature:

1) Fast settling time: The mems|cam moves a single lens weighing a mere 3.5 mg, but a VCM must move the entire lens module holder, weighing about 45 mg. VCMs must also travel farther, approximately 250 µm from infinity to macro, compared to just 80 µm for MEMS. The silicon MEMS comb drive system has inherently less oscillation, typically <10 ms, compared to the metal springs and magnets of VCM. 

2) Less hysteresis: mems|cam modules can also execute autofocus algorithms faster than VCM-based cameras due to improved positional accuracy and lack of hysteresis. The MEMS AF actuator is extremely accurate, with <1 µm of directional hysteresis. A VCM is far less predictable in its location due to directional hysteresis (typically about 10-20 µm), temperature dependencies, and coil resistance variation. This necessitates open-loop control with multiple adjustments before the focus is correct. MEMS by contrast can operate closed-loop and more rapidly execute efficient AF algorithms. 

3) Faster Algorithms: DOC’s patented FastFaceFocus™ technology accelerates autofocus when people are in the image by detecting a face and immediately focusing at that distance. 

This chart, provided by DigitalOptics, outlines how its technology is superior to the voice coil motor (VCM) autofocus used in most smartphone cameras today.

Because it can focus and capture photos so quickly, the MEMS camera could also quickly shoot a series of bracketed focus versions of a single scene, allowing for a version of post-capture focusing (as seen in this video), which would definitely set Oppo's new phone apart from competitors. No word yet on when consumers will be able to buy their Oppo/MEMS smartphone, but we will keep you posted on any developments.