Fair warning: if you ever thought there was nothing particularly interesting with optical viewfinders, prepare to have your misconception corrected by [volzo] with this deep-dive into camera-aiming aids that leads to an interesting hybrid smartphone viewfinder.
For most of us, the traditional optical viewfinder is very much a thing of the past, having been supplanted by digital cameras and LCD displays. But some people still want to frame a photograph the old-fashioned way, and the optical principles that make that possible are actually a lot more complicated than they seem. [volzo]’s blog post and video go into a great deal of detail on viewfinder optics, so feel free to fall down that rabbit hole — it’s worth the trip. But if you’d rather cut to the chase, the actual viewfinder build starts at about the 23:00 mark in the video.
The design is an interesting combination of lenses and beamsplitters that live in a 3D-printed enclosure. The whole thing slips over one end of a smartphone and combines an optical view of the scene that corresponds to the camera’s field of view with a small digital overlay from the phone’s screen. The overlay is quite simple: just some framing gridlines and a tilt indicator that’s generated by a little Android app. But it’s clear that much more information could be added now that [volzo] has all the optical issues sorted out.
We appreciate this deep dive into something that appears to be mundane and outdated, which actually proves to be non-obvious and pretty interesting. And if you have any doubt about the extreme cleverness of the camera engineers of yore, look no further than this sort-of solar-powered camera from the 1960s.
Continue reading “Interesting Optical Journey Results In Hybrid Viewfinder For Smartphones” →
You may remember that earlier this year Leap Motion revealed Project North Star, a kind of open-source reference design for an Augmented Reality (AR) headset. While it’s not destined to make high scores in the fashion department, it aims to be hacker-friendly and boasts a large field of view. There’s also an attractive element of “what you see is what you get” when it comes to the displays and optical design, which is a good thing for hackability. Instead of everything residing in a black box, the system uses two forward-facing displays (one for each eye) whose images are bounced off curved reflective lenses. These are essentially semitransparent mirrors which focus the images properly while also allowing the wearer to see both the displays and the outside world at the same time. This co-existence of both virtual and real-world visuals are a hallmark of Augmented Reality.
A serious setback to the aspiring AR hacker has been the fact that while the design is open, the lenses absolutely are not off the shelf components. [Smart Prototyping] aims to change that, and recently announced in a blog post that they will be offering Project North Star-compatible reflective lenses. They’re in the final stages of approving manufacture, and listed pre-orders for the lenses in their store along with downloadable 3D models for frames.
When Leap Motion first announced their open-source AR headset, we examined the intruiguing specifications and the design has since been published to GitHub. At the time, we did note that the only option for the special lenses seemed to be to CNC them and then spring for a custom reflective coating.
If the lenses become affordable and mass-produced, that would make the design much more accessible. In addition, anyone wanting to do their own experiments with near-eye displays or HUDs would be able to use the frame and lenses as a basis for their own work, and that’s wonderful.