Shooting Quantum Dots

A startup called InVisage Technologies has a revolutionary new way of making sensors for digital cameras:

QuantumFilm uses a super-thin layer of its light-sensitive quantum dots instead of silicon. Each dot is made of a semiconducting material that conducts electricity or not depending on its environment. Different dot sizes are sensitive to particular colors of light.

One of the biggest quantum dot advantages is better dynamic range — the span between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights. QuantumFilm can record image details at brightness levels that would overwhelm a silicon sensor. Specifically, QuantumFilm remains sensitive to detail even as it absorbs up to eight times as much light, or up to three stops in photography terms. That translates into a sensor that better captures reality without resorting to multi-exposure “HDR” high dynamic range tricks.

QuantumFilm also has a useful feature called global shutter that reads each pixel of video data simultaneously. That can bring realism to videos otherwise spoiled when the camera holder or subject is moving.

Another perk: Because quantum dots are laid down in a continuous film, the number of pixels on a sensor isn’t baked into the hardware. A smartphone could be set to capture images with a maximum number of pixels for fine detail then changed to a smaller number of larger pixels for better low-light performance.

I’d been feeling the urge to trade in my 2010 SLR camera for something newer, but I’m going to wait and see what happens when these new sensors hit the market.

Because if InVisage can pull this off, it has the potential to change everything from how we think about what to shoot, to what we expect to get out of a great image.