Low-cost approach enables high-res, hi-speed motion capture

The ability to capture high-quality still images that correspond exactly to high-speed video is very desirable and currently very expensive. But scientists at the University of Oxford (U.K) have developed a new method by combining off-the-shelf technologies found in standard cameras and digital movie projectors. The research appeared in the February 14, 2010 issue of Nature Methods (doi:10.1038/nmeth.1429).

Peter Kohl, whose team studies the human heart using sophisticated imaging and computer technologies, says that this limitation has meant that "we may miss really vital information like very rapid changes in intensity of light from fluorescent molecules that tell us about what is happening inside a cell."

Gil Bub, who had the idea to combine still imagery and video simultaneously on one chip, said the breakthrough came by "allowing the camera's pixels to act as if they were part of tens, or even hundreds of individual cameras taking pictures in rapid succession during a single normal exposure. The trick is that the pattern of pixel exposures keeps the high resolution content of the overall image, which can then be used as-is, to form a regular high-res picture, or be decoded into a high-speed movie."

The technique works by dividing all the camera's pixels into groups that are then allowed to take their part of the bigger picture in well-controlled succession, very quickly, and during the time required to take a single 'normal' snapshot. You can then view all groups together as your usual high-resolution still image, or play the sub-images one after the other, to generate a movie.

The research may soon move from the optical bench to a consumer-friendly package: Mark Pitter of the University of Nottingham (U.K.) is planning to compress the technology into an all-in-one sensor that could reside inside normal cameras, microscopes, and other optical devices.

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