Photo nerds have reason to be giddy! Sony – a company that has been at the vanguard of digital photography innovations in recent years – appears to be close to putting into production a curved imaging sensor. This would represent a significant and quite possibly revolutionary advancement in digital sensor technology.
Why curved sensors? Basically, optical lenses are necessarily curved and focus images in a curved manner, but forcing these images to be projected onto a flat sensor leads to all sorts of undesirable optical problems including geometric distortion, lack of uniform sharpness, reduced corner brightness (vignetting), colour fringing (chromatic aberrations), and more. The traditional way to mitigate some of these problems has been to include extra optical elements in the lenses, leading to bulkier and much more expensive lenses; but Sony’s new curved sensor appears to be able to sidestep these problems altogether. As a bonus, the new design apparently reduces the noise caused by electrons flowing through the sensor (so-called 'dark current').
This isn’t a new idea – after all, the human retina is curved for a reason, and NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope recently used a curved array of (flat) sensors to achieve improved optical quality. But Sony seems to be the first company to succeed at manufacturing curved, consumer-level sensors en masse.
So, what does this mean for photographers? Simpler, lighter and cheaper lenses, and increased image quality. Hurrah! And in the long term the technology should certainly pave the way for better, cheaper imaging with everything from our mobile phones to space-based telescopes.
While you can’t really tell much about the quality or any other specifics about the sensor from it, it’s still exciting to see that this tech isn’t just schematics on a piece of paper — it’s real and it works.