We have already seen from the leaked logs that the Nexus 5 will have an 8-megapixel camera, and some will be quick to utter a collective meh. Don’t be so quick to write it off - the latest diggings in logs reveal that it would be an exciting and first of a kind camera called MEMS.
The cryptic abbreviation is not important - what’s important is that MEMS cameras can focus 7 times faster than current cameras and take multiple images extremely fast. Those extremely quick capture times will allow for a quick succession of shots, and if the object is not moving fast, you'd be able to shoot first and focus later, like on a Lytro camera. Be it daylight or night time, a MEMS camera locks focus in a fraction of a second and multiple times faster than current cameras. The Nexus 5 will likely be the handset that brings the technology to the mainstream.
The secret is hidden in Nexus 5 logs where we see a mention of some component referred to as imx179
. Doesn’t ring a bell, does it? Google will quickly reveal however that such a component exists and it is the MEMS camera we just told you about, manufactured by Digital Optics. Altogether, we have the following details about the Nexus 5 camera:
- 8-megapixel unit that is not backside illuminated (not BSI)
- f/2.4 aperture
- sensor size of 1/3.2” (a bit smaller than top shelf smartphones)
So what exactly is a MEMS camera? For the answer, we turn the page back to the future, and that’s our article on the future of smartphone cameras
MEMS cameras explained
MEMS is short for microelectromechanical technology and the technology differs drastically from the current voice coil motors (VCMs) used in smartphone cameras. It is the same technology that brought us microphone, gyros and barometers in a tiny smartphone. It is extremely precise - made in clean rooms just like all other chips - and is hundreds of times more power efficient.
Voice coil motors are the current technology and they employ technologies that are a bit dated now. Auto-focusing in VCMs happens when a current is sent through a coil causing the moving elements of a camera to move in the direction of a magnet. There are a few set steps for the moving elements and at each one the camera evaluates the focus to determine whether the image is in focus or not (if not it just moves one step further and re-evaluates). It sounds complicated because it is. Plus, with that many steps locking focus could take a whole second. It is also imprecise and noisy.
MEMS technology on the other hand can focus nearly 7 times faster and is much smaller. It uses electrostatic force to draw to solid-state comb-shaped surfaces together, but they never touch and degradation takes much longer. Instead of having multiple moving elements you only have one with extremely quick auto-focus and power consumption of 1mW, hundreds of times less than VCM modules.
All in all, we finally have some clarity on the Nexus 5 camera, one of the latest missing pieces of the puzzle. The Nexus 5 is expected to get officially announced this month, so stay tuned. Right below, you’d find a demonstration of a MEMS camera from MWC 2013.