Wafer-thin cameras with long focal lengths are theoretically possible

Camera lenses on the back of a smartphone

The space that cameras need to focus often necessitates a bulge in smartphones to house them

Shutterstock/Karolis Kavolelis

An optical component known as a “spaceplate” could squeeze an entire camera and long-focus lens into a wafer-thin chip, paving the way for even greater miniaturisation of smartphones and other devices. Limitations have held spaceplates back, but now theoretical work shows that they aren’t just pie in the sky.

The lenses and sensors used in cameras have shrunk radically over the years, but the remaining hurdle to further miniaturisation is the empty space needed …

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