After Xiaomi recently unveiled the Mi Mix Fold with the world’s first Liquid Lens on a smartphone, everyone is wondering what exactly is this new Liquid Lens Technology? Well, it’s not a new technology per se and has been in the works for more than a decade and a half. The Liquid Lens on the Mi Mix Fold is supposed to bring both telephoto and macro photo-capturing abilities with a single lens, but there is more to this tech. That’s why we have put together this article to help you understand what is Liquid Lens technology in great detail with comprehensive examples. So on that note, let’s go ahead and learn about the advantages and disadvantages of Liquid Lens Technology.
Liquid Lens Technology: Everything Explained (2021)
In this article, we have covered everything from the basic definition of Liquid Lens Technology to its working mechanism, pros and cons, and more. You can expand the table below and move to the relevant section at your convenience.
What is Liquid Lens Technology?
To understand Liquid Lens technology, you first need to know how the traditional camera system works. The traditional camera system, be it on smartphones or DSLRs, are mechanical in nature. By mechanical, I mean, if you want to zoom on a subject while using a DSLR, you need to change the lens first and zoom in using a motor which is a mechanical process.
Similarly, on smartphones, you need to switch the lens to a telephoto one to click pictures of far-away subjects. In both scenarios, the process is quite physical and mechanical. It takes too much time to change the lens, zoom in, find the depth-of-field, and focus on the subject. Apart from that, in a traditional camera system, you can’t shoot images having a different focal length using a single lens. For example, you can’t click an ultra-wide photo or a zoomed-in image (telephoto), or a very close photo (macro) with a single lens.
You will need to switch to dedicated lenses that vary in focal lengths for different shooting conditions. That’s why we see a large camera module to enable a multi-lens camera system on modern smartphones. The traditional camera system that we know today is constrained by a singular focal length and a mechanical process that is quite slow, relatively speaking.
Liquid Lens technology wants to change this and not restrict you to one type of lens. It’s a new technology that uses a solution of water and oil to create different focal lengths on the fly. In a Liquid Lens system, you don’t need to change the lenses. From a single lens, you can create multiple focal lengths, and it’s also much quicker to focus than a traditional camera system.
How Does a Liquid Lens Work?
The way Liquid Lenses work is quite ingenious. Unlike the mechanical camera system, Liquid lenses use electricity to change the focal length. That’s the major reason for Liquid lenses being so fast. It’s a fact that a stream of water changes its course when you bring it closer to an electric field. What’s happening here is that an electric field can bend the water stream to a different shape.
This change in the shape of water is crucial here, and it forms the basis of Liquid Lens technology. If you take a water droplet and apply voltage, you can change the droplet’s shape to a different curvature. This process is called electrowetting. Within milliseconds, it can create a positive, negative, or neutral curvature by changing the shape of the water droplet. And that gives you different focal lengths from a single lens.
Moreover, in a Liquid Lens system, the shape is changed electrically so that the alteration between different focal lengths is really fast. What is important to note is that it also improves the focus speed drastically. Unlike the mechanical camera system, Liquid Lenses can find the depth-of-field and calculate how farther or closer the object is in real-time, which improves the focus speed exponentially.
Now, if you want to capture a zoomed-in image, an ultra-wide photo, a standard wide image, or a macro image where there is absolutely no fixed focusing distance, you can do all of that with extreme precision and much quicker with just a single Liquid Lens.
How is Liquid Lens Different From Traditional Optical Lens?
Optical lenses found in traditional camera systems are made of glass, and have a fixed curvature radius. Whereas Liquid Lenses are small cells that contain an optical-grade liquid, which is a mixture of water and oil, and it can change its shape resulting in different curvature and focal lengths. So that is the principal difference between Liquid Lens and Optical Lens.
Besides that, as I have mentioned above, Liquid Lenses are much quicker to find the depth-of-field and focus on subjects than optical lenses. Even when the subject is in motion, Liquid Lenses can lock the focus effectively while optical lenses struggle to regain the focus.
Pros and Cons of Liquid Lenses
There are many advantages of Liquid Lenses over traditional optical lenses. For one, it’s quite small in size in comparison to bulky DSLR lenses. Next, it’s much quicker, offers multiple focal lengths, and consumes much less electricity than a motorized camera. What I particularly like about Liquid Lenses is that it’s a perfect solution for smartphone cameras.
You don’t need a large camera module with multiple lenses. Just have one Liquid Lens on your device, and it will take care of all the focal lengths. Other than that, Liquid Lenses also provide decent image stabilization. Currently, the role of the liquid is mainly to create different curvatures, but can also help in stabilizing the image.
Currently, the Liquid Lenses are in use for various industrial applications where you require machine vision for automatic inspection. However, it’s also widely gaining popularity in the medical field for surgery where the lens does not have much focusing area.
Coming to the cons of Liquid Lens technology, it’s still in the development phase and needs some key improvements for widespread adoption. The Liquid Lens technology was first invented by Bruno Berge in 2002, so the technology is relatively new. Berge now runs Varioptic, which is owned by Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass. Experts say that scattering of light is one issue that needs to be fixed in this camera technology. Also, the researchers must prevent the flow of liquid in narrow spaces.
For the record, Samsung partnered with Varioptic in 2006 to bring Liquid Lenses on its smartphone, but it didn’t bear any fruition. Xiaomi recently launched the Mi Mix Fold a 3x – 30x Liquid Lens, becoming the first manufacturer to bring this technology to smartphones. Now, we need to wait and see if Liquid Lenses have fixed its shortcomings and whether it’s ready for mass adoption or not.
Liquid Lenses: Are You Ready For the Future of Camera Technology?
So that is all you need to know about the Liquid Lens technology and how it will usher in a new era of lighter and quicker camera systems. I am eagerly waiting for the technology to become a standard, mainly in smartphones. In case you want to learn more about upcoming technologies, such as GaN chargers and Graphene batteries, then go through our dedicated articles. And if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.