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Explained: Variable Resolution On the L16

Megapixels. Resolution. Image quality. However you’d like to think about the size of your image, know that it works a little differently on the L16. What can we say, that’s what happens when you combine ten different cameras to form one image. The concept is a complicated one and it’s unique to the L16, so bear with us as we explain it in a bit more detail.1


The relationship between resolution and image quality is different in computational imaging

In traditional digital imaging, when you take a photo using a single lens and single sensor, your image quality depends on two things: resolution and noise. Typically speaking, the more pixels a sensor has, the more resolution it will have, which leads to larger images. The reason DSLR cameras are so huge today is because they have to capture a lot of light in order to produce large, high-quality images. As a result, sensors have gotten bigger too (in terms of their number of pixels). Because of this, photographers tend to associate high-megapixel sensors with high quality.

While that association is mostly true for traditional digital imaging (hint: quality also depends on your optics), the L16 and its many small sensors work a little differently. For the L16’s brand of computational imaging, quality is not exclusively tied to image size. The magic of the L16 is its ability to generate images both high in detail and low in noise without using a big sensor stuck inside of a big, bulky form factor.

We've already established that the L16, when fired, captures at least 10 different images at different focal lengths. When our algorithms fuse these starting images together, some will inevitably overlap. The result is a final photo whose unique size depends on how much each of its images overlap. The L16’s optics and increased light information, on the other hand, don’t change. So while some of your photos may be different sizes, they will always be high in detail and low in noise.


Focal length determines your photo’s final resolution

When you zoom on the L16, you are zooming in from one of two starting points: the 28mm lenses or the 70mm lenses. We call these the “base” lenses because they form the base of every image. When you take a photo at 28mm, all five 28mm lenses capture images. The same is true for 35mm or any focal length up to 70mm. When you zoom past 70mm, the L16 switches and uses the 70mm lenses as a base for each photo.

For computational cameras that combine images from different focal length lenses, the size of your image decreases the more you increase your focal length past these base lenses (70mm and 28mm). When you get to a focal length close to the next set of base lenses, your resolution increases again.

Let’s use an example. When you take a photo at a focal length of 28mm, the five 28mm lenses fire shots as large as the blue frame you see below. The five 70mm lenses map onto the central part of the scene, in the large gray square.

28mm-Variable-Resolution-1200pxW-caption.png

As you zoom towards 69mm, you lose some of the resolution on the 28mm lenses because you’re using less and less of their information. All of the details the camera needs for your final image are outlined in the blue box (below), making the final resolution, or image size, smaller than a photo captured at a focal length of 28mm (above).

The same pattern is true for the range from 70mm to 150mm. The resolution is highest when you are at a focal length near 70mm, because you’re maximizing those base lenses. The resolution is lowest when you are at a focal length that is farther away from 70mm.


What is the minimum resolution for an L16 image?

Photos taken with the L16 at 69mm and 150mm are the smallest in image size—but because all of the L16’s sensors are 13MP, they still produce photos at roughly that resolution. They aren’t, however, your average 13MP digital photo. As we mentioned before, the L16 still uses at least 10 cameras to gather an immense amount of additional light data. With that information, we can produce stunning details, after-the-fact depth edits, better colors, and significantly less noise. L16 photos at 150mm are therefore much higher in quality than a 150mm photo shot by a camera with a single, 13MP sensor.


The numbers displayed in this graph are approximate values. 


How do I maximize image size and quality?

The “ideal” focal lengths to shoot at for maximum size and quality across the entire image are 35mm or 75mm. But again, these numbers are just approximate; the actual numbers vary and are extremely complicated to explain. You might be wondering why we didn’t say 28mm and 70mm. The reason is based on lens overlap: 35mm and 75mm focal lengths have the most overlap with the 70mm and 150mm lenses (70 divided by two is 35; and 150 divided by two is 75).

When you take a photo at 35mm, the 28mm base lenses are cropped to a 35mm field of view. And at that point, the 70mm high-resolution images nearly fill the 35mm field of view.

35mm-Variable-Resolution-1200pxW-caption.png

Shooting at 28mm and 70mm focal lengths will produce a much wider field of view and will actually give you higher resolution (more megapixels) for the overall image. You will, however, notice less resolution around the edges where there’s only information from the base lenses. That is why we describe images shot wider than 35mm as having a resolution of 52+ megapixels—because they are beyond what the 70mm lenses can cover.


Variable resolution: Just a nuance of computational photography

When we set out to create a DSLR-quality camera that fit in the palm of our hands, we knew that what we were making would act a little differently. (Besides, we wouldn't be reinventing the camera if it behaved the same way other DSLR cameras do.) We wanted to make a camera that was small in size but grand in what it captured—and we didn't want to sacrifice resolution in order to do so.

The Light L16 comes as close to that vision as modern technology has allowed. With 16 different camera modules, the L16 captures an extraordinary amount of data in every shot it takes. And to get exactly the right level of ridiculous detail, our cutting-edge technology chooses which combination of lenses it uses to achieve a zoom from 28mm all the way to 150mm. When you have ten different photos at different focal lengths and different resolutions, and you fuse them all together, you're still going to get a super high-quality photo. Sometimes, your L16 photos will just have different resolutions; other times, they won’t. Variable resolution is part of what makes our brand of computational photography—and the L16—unique. If our new technology didn’t have this variability, it wouldn’t be able to produce photos with such striking detail. And it wouldn’t be pioneering photography like it is.

If you are interested in learning more about this concept, we highly suggest watching this video of our CTO and co-founder, Rajiv Laroia, talking about the technology behind the camera.



1. This article doesn’t explain the L16's complicated technology in full detail. It would take a book to do that!

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