3D Imaging with Standard Cameras

The K-Lens team: Pascal Bies, Sunil Jaiswal, Matthias Schmitz, Zaur Aliev, Klaus Illgner (from left to right; source: K. Illgner)

Previously, the capture of depth information was only possible using images or footage from camera arrays or special light field cameras. Along with the two image dimensions, these also record the direction of incident light rays. However, photographers and filmmakers had to pay for the advantages – such as extended depth of field, adjustment of focus or blur in post-processing, depth-based segmentation and 3D images – with high acquisition costs and cumbersome workflows. The Saarbrücken start-up K-Lens now developed a special lens of the same name, which was based on a research project of the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Saarland University and now allows every photographer to benefit from the advantages of 3D technology using their existing equipment.

“The innovation of our lens is that it is compatible with today’s technical standards and can, therefore, be used with any camera,” explains Matthias Schmitz, founder and CEO. So far, there is no lens on the camera market that can match the possibilities of the K-Lens. It offers not only complete control over focus and blur, fully automatic segmentation, depth-based segmentation, perspective change and 3D images, but also complete access to the depth planes of the recorded image.

“Photos don’t have to end up in the digital recycling bin because of focusing errors, a common problem, for example, in macro photography. Image series, as in product photography, can be shot quicker and image objects can be segmented faster,” explains Klaus Illgner. The CTO and enthusiastic amateur photographer. New effects, like focus and blur within the same image plane, can also be realized with the K-Lens. The start-up company will also supply the software for achieving these post-processing effects.

Rendering of the novel lens design (click for larger version; source: K-Lens)

The product is expected to have a length of 20 cm and a maximum weight of 800 g, similar to standard hand-held zoom lenses. Its core component is the so-called image multiplier, a system of mirrors that, like a kaleidoscope, produces different perspectives of the same scene, which are then simultaneously projected onto the camera sensor. Software developed by K-Lens then generates the light field image.

Worldwide patent protection has been applied for. After approval in the US, Schmitz and his four other colleagues expect to receive the patent approval for the other markets still this year. Following two years of development work in the IT Inkubator, an institution of Saarland University and Max Planck Innovation, the five-person team has been funded since October 2017 by the venture capital firm SWG.

At the same time, K-Lens is taking part in a research project developing a commercial light field camera for the professional film industry. The project, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), has a project volume of 2.7 million euros. “In the long term, we would be interested in strategic cooperation with a market leader like Sony, Nikon, or Canon, to learn from their production know-how and their international sales and service models,” explains Schmitz. The founders want to present a prototype of the first purely photographically designed K-Lens still this year. (Source: Saarland U.)

Link: K-Lens GmbH, Saarbrücken, Germany

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