Monochrome. The word calls to mind luminous black and white images like the classic photographs of Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Monochrome is also a powerful option in Light multi-camera arrays, delivering stunning images in color as well as black and white.

Photo: Sean Custer

We have used monochrome sensors in multiple camera arrays at Light. The camera design of the L16 incorporated two monochrome sensors, and Light created the world’s first three camera monochrome array to simultaneously capture and combine data in the Nokia 9 PureView. Our incredibly flexible technology allowed us to build three of Nokia’s five camera modules around dedicated monochrome sensors, enabling a monochrome mode which delivers powerful black and white photographs with amazing detail. We are excited to see the images that will be created using this technology.

How Sensors Capture Light

Light doesn’t just offer monochrome sensors because we like black and white photographs. These sensors simply deliver images with better resolution and detail, improving both color and black and white photographs. To understand how this works, it is important to understand how image sensors capture light.

Image sensors record light in a grid of small sensing elements, called photosites. Photosites convert incoming light into electrons, which can be transformed into digital data. However, electrons only carry information about the intensity of light. To capture the color of the incoming light as well, an added color filter array allows only specific wavelengths of light to reach each photosite, which then records the intensity of light in that range of color. The three-color (red, green, and blue) Bayer filter is the most common color filter array.

Why Monochrome Sensors Record More Light

Bayer filters allow only one of three colors to reach each photosite, so two-thirds of the light that enters the filter is blocked. Since monochrome sensors do not use a Bayer filter to analyze light, they are roughly three times more sensitive to light than a comparable “color” sensor. More light information means that more detail and less noise will be captured at any camera setting.

In addition, the light samples collected from sensors with Bayer filters are incomplete because each photosite only measures one color. The samples of light filtered through a color array must be processed to create a full-color image: this process is called “demosaicing.” Demosaicing uses sophisticated algorithms to estimate the unknown color data from the incomplete color samples at each photosite. However, every current demosaicing algorithm has drawbacks, usually in the form of subtle artifacts or reduced image resolution. Since monochrome images don’t use a Bayer filter, they avoid these artifacts and the loss of resolution that are inherent in the demosaicing process.

Color images also benefit from the monochrome sensors in these camera arrays because Light’s color imaging algorithms combine the data from both the monochrome and the conventional color sensors. Adding the unfiltered contrast and resolution of monochrome sensors to color information is a winning formula for sharp and beautiful color photographs. However, these sensors are just one tool in Light’s portfolio of camera options, and not every customer will choose to include them. Employing the power of monochrome sensors is only one of the many ways that Light can use its technology, ideas, and experience to help capture unforgettable images.

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