Are Liquid Lenses the Future of Photography?

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Xiaomi recently teased a liquid lens for their newly announced Mi Mix smartphones. The liquid lens can change shape to alter the focal length and focus to suit a range of applications. Is this the future of lens technology?

In this short video, Lew from Laterclips discusses some of the future potential of liquid lens technology based on a teaser released by Xiaomi earlier this week. A liquid lens would work more like the human eye in that it would change shape to adjust focus and aperture rather than using motors to move heavy glass elements around in a tube. This technology isn’t a new idea; there are already industrial applications that use liquid lenses, such as high-speed machine vision on production lines.

One Lens To Rule Them All

The idea of a lens that can change shape is quite an exciting prospect for any photographer who has ever carried a heavy bag of lenses around for any length of time; the very notion of one lens that can do everything is surely the stuff of dreams for anyone who regularly needs to change lenses in adverse conditions. 

I’m probably getting a little ahead of myself here; after all, Xiaomi is a smartphone company, not a camera company. But we can dream, can’t we? 

The claim is that this technology will eventually be used to allow smartphones to have one camera with a liquid lens instead of the huge camera arrays with multiple lenses and sensors that we’re seeing in the current lineup of flagship smartphones. This would allow for either cheaper devices by having a single image sensor or the potential for larger sensors on smartphones, which could have huge advantages in image quality. As is the case with most new technologies, the software and implementation will be key to how useful this technology can be.

When Will We Be Able To Use a Liquid Lens Smartphone Camera?

The new Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold was announced on March 31st, 2021, this is claimed to be the first smartphone to feature a liquid lens in its camera setup. That’s right, a folding smartphone with a liquid lens. We really are living in the future. 

Unfortunately, for many of us, this phone isn’t available in Europe or the USA. The Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold features an 8-megapixel “bionic” camera that uses a liquid lens powered by a motor that uses precision manipulation on that packet of fluid to switch between 3x telephoto zoom and a macro mode that allows for close focus down to just 3 centimeters. This liquid lens is said to work in temperatures ranging from -40 degrees to 60 degrees Celsius (-40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit), so it should function well anywhere you might find yourself using a smartphone.

Are Liquid Lenses the Future of Photography?

Interestingly, despite claims that this technology would replace large camera arrays, the Mi Mix Fold does still feature a camera array of three cameras. The primary camera is a 108-megapixel Samsung sensor with a 13-megapixel ultra-wide camera beneath it, in addition to the liquid lens camera. Whether Xiaomi didn’t have complete faith in the technology yet or they wanted to be the first to bring this to market isn’t clear. Without getting hands on with the phone, those of us in the West will have to wait until similar technology makes its way to phones in our region before we can see first hand how it performs. It’s still an exciting piece of technology if nothing else.

What do you think about liquid lenses? Do you think that liquid lenses will eventually make their way to professional cameras? 

Let me know in the comments.

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