Camera Lenses That Focus Via Heat Are Here, and They’re Fascinating

camera lenses

The future of camera lenses sounds like something from a Sci-Fi movie.

Camera lenses are incredible. The amount of design and engineering that goes into them will blow your mind. All we see is the outer shell and the front and rear elements, but inside is a complex work of art. Tiny tolerances and margins for error ensure your lens delivers razor-sharp images. It’s really no wonder some camera lenses cost as much as they do. Now, though, a new lens that obtains focus via heat transfer generated by lasers is here. No, this isn’t some far-fetched idea from a movie; this lens is real, and it’s here now. After the break, we’ll talk about this and what it could mean for the future of photography.

An article on New Atlas talks about the new futuristic camera lenses that have been developed by MIT. The Materials Research Team at MIT has developed a meta-lens that can focus light quickly and accurately using a transparent phase-shifting material. Amazingly, this material doesn’t need to move at all. So, how does it work? The lens rearranges its atomic structure when it gets hit with a blast of heat. Crazy right? Well, it’s real, and it blows our minds.

How Do These Camera Lenses Work?

camera lenses
Magnified view of the meta-lens. Image Credit: MIT

The material uses a blend of germanium, antimony, and tellurium. According to MIT, the material is not too dissimilar to the stuff used in re-writeable CDs and DVDs. If you’re old enough to remember making your own CD mixes, I know, I feel ya; we’re old now. In CD applications, lasers would turn the material between transparent and opaque states. When researchers added selenium to the mix, they found that heat changed the atomic structure. This changed the materials refracting power without altering its transparency. Voila! A new way to make lenses focus was born. There’s more to the story here, obviously. Basically, the material has surfaces that refract and reflect light, and the heat changes these characteristics until focus is achieved. The team tested the lens on near and far objects. It worked well, and they discovered there was no aberration. It’s all really fascinating.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Photography

In the short term, nothing will change. So, don’t be expecting camera lenses that focus via internal laser beams any time soon. The researchers believe these lenses will first be used in thermal cameras, night vision goggles, and heat scopes. Still, long-term outlooks are promising. As the tech progresses and scales up, there’s no reason why we won’t see camera lenses that utilize this technology

Imagine how much smaller camera lenses could be. Gone will be the need for lenses with 12, 15, 20, or more elements. We won’t need to rely on focusing motors to push around large amounts of glass. Chromatic aberrations will be a thing of the past, and focusing would just be that much quicker. MIT said they can change the atomic state with micro pulses in the millisecond range. That’s incredible. The future is bright, my photography friends. What do you think about this new technology? Let us know in the comment section below.

Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.