First Image of Sony’s Revolutionary Curved Sensor Released, May Change Everything


Sony has officially released the very first image of what promises to be an impressive leap forward in digital imaging technology: the curved full-frame sensor.

Initially unveiled in April, Sony hasn’t taken any pains to keep this one a secret — and why should they? The process for making and stabilizing these curved sensors was developed entirely in-house, using machines Sony’s R&D department designed, and the company says it’s closer to mass manufacture than any previously-attempted curved array.

With a curvature equivalent to that of the human eye, this sensor promises 1.4x better sensitivity in the middle and 2x better sensitivity in the corners! All of this while actually reducing noise caused by ‘dark current’ (which sounds like something out of Star Wars but is actually the current that is flowing through pixels even when they’re not receiving light).

The followup to the Sony RX1 will supposedly be the first camera to use one of these ground-breaking sensors.

The followup to the Sony RX1 will supposedly be the first camera to use one of these ground-breaking sensors.

Also, because the light is hitting the corners directly and not at an angle, many of the issues that have to be corrected with additional glass when using normal sensors go away, allowing for flatter lenses with larger apertures. Sony fan or not, this tech should have image nerds borderline giddy.

Sony presented the tech this week at the 2014 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits, where it showed off both full-frame (43mm) and mobile phone-sized (11mm) versions of the curved sensor. The former is rumored to appear in the wild when Sony unveils the full-frame RX2 compact.

(via sonyalpharumors)

Image credits: Sensor photograph by Sony via Spectrum

  • Tony Puerzer

    It was. Google the Celestron Schmidt Camera. (I had one back in the 1970’s). It used cut 35mm film that was placed in a special film holder that bent the film into a slight spherical shape. Total PITA to use, but produced some pretty amazing images.

  • ReinoldFZ .

    In RX line that’s no problem because the lenses are fixed (not dust sensor and better integration lens/sensor and flash sync in every speed) I’d be happy with a 135mm (or “FF”) Sony R1 with the same fantastic Carl Zeiss lens that doesn’t need digital corrections. Indeed I’m still happy with my current R1.

  • Ayrton Camargo

    sorry but you’re an ignorant. The D800E came out before the D800 you moron

  • Omar Salgado

    Now, this is innovation!

  • Omar Salgado

    You just made me remember Panofsky’s Perspective as a Symbolic Form.

  • Anthony

    Theatre screens are curved because they work just like the inside of the camera- the light hitting the center of the screen can be several feet closer than the edge. As theatres transition to digital and those projectors use less light (film moves through the camera so it can heat up but then cool off- projector imaging elements get baked all day long!) they need wider apertures in the lenses, this means narrower focus on the screen, which means blurry corners, unless you can bend the corners to minimize the difference in distances to the lens.

    Also, this happens because multiplex screening rooms are smaller. When big theeatres used to be 50 or more rows deep, the % difference of the center to the edge of the screen was tiny. Now some screening rooms are only a dozen or so rows deep, the projector is much closer, so the % difference in distance is much greater.

    Curved TV’s make no sense because they emit the image from within. And nobody sits close enough to a large enough screen that our eye needs the edges curved in so it’s all in focus in our peripheral vision. And if they did, the screen would have to be curved a LOT more than they are. Think OmniMax Domed screen.

  • Ganea Paul Marius

    Go back to your cave
    D800 was released on March and D800E on April

  • Christopher Fidoe

    Oh damn – more $ I will have to spend :-)

  • Christopher Fidoe

    But don’t they use Sony sensors?

  • Christopher Fidoe

    Funny that, 1 of my Sony cameras had to be cleaned after being in a windy situation on a beach and needing a lens change – now I will have 3 Sony’s to choose from :-)

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  • 1LifeSoLiveIt

    Taking into account that the very first glass of the lens is always fixed, transferring light that it gathers from front elements to the sensor. Thus, we can say that although the structure of the light change during zooming in and out, the behaviour of light will be the same, hitting each and every pixel on the sensor.

    About your point for weakness in lenses… actually Sony has some very decent lenses in their portfolio. Think of incredible Zeiss lenses for A-mount. They are all AF and Zeiss only produce AF lenses for Sony. Zeiss 135 1.8 for example. Neither Canon nor Nikon has such bright lens. Canon has its 135 2.0. It is not the number of lenses that you have in your portfolio but how you fulfill the focal length from wide angle to the telephoto range. I think Sony has enough lenses that does the job.

    I am putting full frame e-mount lens offerings aside. There’s room for improvement and they already published a roadmap for this.

    What I adore Sony is they don’t step back. They have financial problems (huge problems) but they still try to invent and do something different. This is an area where Canon and Nikon failed big time

  • Sébastian Dahl

    I wonder how this affects depth of field.

  • 1LifeSoLiveIt

    Can you give me an example, for which focal lengths they don’t have a lens?

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  • James

    Shouldn’t mess with it too much, in the old days of film, it never did.

  • James

    Well they’re already slightly curved, and the way this is designed is to work with existing lenses.

  • Chang He

    It is unclear what you mean in your first paragraph.

    The Petzval field curvature varies with the radius of the elements in the lens. While yes, the light will hit each and every pixel, it does that now, and it isn’t the problem. The problem is the angle at which it hits those pixels, which is the whole point behind micro-lenses on sensor pixel stacks. This curved array is intended to correct for that, obviously, but the problem is that it can only correct for one field curvature, which is determined by the lens. If you change lenses, you get a different field curvature, unless you design every lens to have the same field curvature, which I’m sure will introduce similar problems with distortion, only it will be new and unfamiliar distortion. Plus it will involve redesign of every lens in Sony’s lineup. This may be fantastic, but it will be decades before that is true, if Sony’s imaging division even survives that long.

  • Jeff L

    Nikon did not remove the AA filter on the D800E. They added another filter to recombine the light. So it’s like having no filter, but there’s actually two opposite AA filters.

  • Jeff L

    I think eventually lenses will have an integral sensor, enabling a matched unit.

  • Chang He

    I think that would make them prohibitively expensive, and obsolescent, just like bodies. I doubt anyone would buy such a thing. Ricoh’s GXR failed for that reason.

  • Jeff L

    That’s why I said “eventually”. I think that some time in the future, when sensor technology is really mature and costs drop to a small fraction of what they are now, as is common for microelectronics, it will happen. I think there will be integral lens/sensor units and they might even amount to cameras all in themselves with fully electronic viewfinders and electronics a small fraction of the size they are now.

  • psydei

    Exactly, I would be more concerned about Canon being left behind since Nikon uses Sony sensors. It will be just matter of time for Nikon toget these new sensors, Sony will be implementing them first in their own cameras and will make Nikon beg so hard for them. But eventually, yeah, Nikon will get these sensors.

  • Joshua Morrison

    The D4 sensor is made by Aptina…

  • aj1575

    There is one big drawback with this tech, you can use its advantage only for a fixed focal length. Every focal length would require another curvature of the sensor.
    It is like to human eye, you can focus, but you can not zoom. If you like this tech for a zoom lens, you would also need a zoom sensor (good luck with tuning these things to work together properly…)

  • Mark Penrice

    Or in other words … someone finally figured out that digital cameras don’t actually have to be built with layouts that are basically slavish copies of traditional film cameras, right down to the sensor being a facsimile of a frame of film (…which has to be held taut and flat, because it would be super hard to keep it held firmly and evenly against a curved platen – unless you were only using single frames glued onto individual backing cards or something, which would create its own difficulties).

    Nice work Sony :) … sometimes the hardest thing is making that mental leap. I can’t imagine it’s actually been THAT difficult to engineer overall, it’s just the innovation part that was missing.

    I wonder what the next advance that none of us have thought of yet – but will seem so obvious after-the-fact – will be?

    (Perhaps we can move away from the camera bodies still looking like they’re built around the housing requirements of a roll of 35mm film – with, these days, the viewfinder LCD and some control buttons taking up that cross-section almost as if they had to find *something* to fit the space? SLR and bridge cameras, and even things like the larger Canon Powershots have that look about them, and I can’t help thinking it’s rather artificial and the devices could be made more ergonomic if we started with a blank slate, reducing the core down to just lens and sensor and arranging everything else in a more organic fashion. After all, APS, 126, 110 and disc/slide cameras all came in rather different and characteristic shapes of their own. Personally, I would quite like to have a 110-shaped camera again, but a little smaller and with a better lens and image quality. It fits the pocket better, and also your face – as you can look through the sidemount viewfinder without having to wedge the body of the camera against your nose… and with the recent advances in ultra small format LCDs and optics for e.g. Oculus and Glass type devices, you don’t necessarily need a large format screen on the back of it… the times when you do need a big, shareable display, you should be able to just connect to a handy smartphone or TV with a cable or over bluetooth/wifi…)

  • Mark Penrice

    Could just be that, at this size range, the two of them are coincidentally about the same?

  • Mark Penrice

    Also, most cameras actually do have some onboard barrel/pincushion compensation, and it often has to be varied according to zoom level, because more or less of the image coming through the complex lens actually hits the sensor (so the relative level of curvature changes). This is generally imperfect, especially if you’re attempting to avoid both obvious vignetting and overly vicious cropping, and the distortion that results can be rather obvious with the cheaper but wider-ranging superzoom cameras.

    And if you save it in RAW, so no postprocessing is done at all, it’s -really- obvious.

    I have a feeling that with a curved sensor and a simpler lens (which the sensor enables use of, because the light field no longer needs its relative depth of field/focal point artificially altered between the centre and the edges/corners to remain in sharp focus across the entirety of the sensor), the relative curvature may not change as much (or at all?), so you can zoom in and out without having to mess with the output picture at all. Less lens elements and complication (so, lower system cost/weight & higher reliability) and mucking-about = less attenuation/more light coming coming through (ergo a larger effective aperture rating for less grainy, seemingly better lit images, which need less noise filtering and therefore have truer textures and less need for overbearing edge-sharpening, and less reliance on image stabilisation (both optical and digital) or even use of flash), less inherent distortion (so less need for built-in image distortion filtering – a purer picture and reduced load on the camera electronics and battery), less chromatic abberation (a hard thing to get rid of after-the-fact, requiring further heavyweight image data manipulation), etc.

    Might even allow smaller sensors with the same overall system sensitivity, which is a generally good thing because it increases average image quality across a whole slew of devices. I wouldn’t mind a tiny clip-on “spycam” type device for sports/driving use with the same resolution, light catching ability and moreover clarity of focus at the edge of its captured image as my smartphone, but with even lower battery power requirements, cost, size and weight than at present…

  • Mark Penrice

    Um, what do you mean in the latter case?

  • Mark Penrice

    Slightly worried that you think a curved sensor mandates a curved image out the other end… :)

  • Neato!

    Fish eyes?
    24mm f/1.4
    35mm f1/.4
    50mm f/1.4
    85mm f/1.4
    135mm f/1.4, 2.0
    200mm f/1.8, 20
    Anything f/1.2?
    Tilt shifts?
    Ultra wide zoom f/2.8
    normal zoom f/2.8
    telephoto zoom f/2.8
    Super Zooms f/2.8, 4.0, 5.6?

  • 1LifeSoLiveIt

    There is 16mm 2.8 fisheye, there is 35 1.4, 50 1.4, 85 1.4 zeiss in the portfolio. There is no 135 1.4 in the world but sony has the fastest 135mm in the industry with 135 1.8 zeiss. There’s no lens lineup for any manufacturer for 200 1.8 or 2.0 either. Oh, you don’t have a clue about the lenses that Sony has. Just go and check their website before posting silly messages :)

  • GroundUpJon

    No, I don’t think it mandates anything… other than replacing all my lenses. :P

    That said, wouldn’t there be SOME geometrical distortion (at the edges) when viewing an image (that was captured with a curved sensor) on a flat surface/display?

  • dimitrisservis

    Different exposure times for different areas of the sensor

  • Marius Budu

    Pretty much ;)

    Sony is kicking all kinds of ass lately and I for one love it! I started shooting digital with a Sony camera a looooong time ago and only switched to Canon because the image quality was not quite there with Sony.

    Seeing what they’re doing now with their sensors (both stuff like this and the medium format CMOS) and their mirror-less cameras, I have to say, I’m considering going back.

  • RMJ

    There was rumours of Aptina’s FF sensor but I don’t think they have managed to yet build one. But if you have a better source, please do give a link, I’d be very interested. As far as I know, D4 sensor is Nikon design but fabricated somewhere (don’t know where).

  • RMJ

    Like explained by the others, Nikon does not produce (aka fabricate) the sensors. They do have the knowledge to design sensors but they have to rely on third party on fabricating them. They don’t have facility for that. Which is extremely funny and interesting since they are providing the technology for such facilities. Nikon has developed state of the art lithography technologies, used by Sony and many others.

    But like I said before, the point is that Nikon doesn’t produce (fabricate) sensors. They use the best they can have, no matter who made it (Sony, Toshiba, Aptina, you name it). In a way it’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because they are not stuck like Canon is (was?) but then again, they are not likely to have the most innovating technology unless they make a really good deal with someone (such as à la D800, when they had the exclusive usage rights for the 36MP sensor for a year).