Nokia to invest in array camera outfit Pelican Imaging, report says

Nokia(s nok)’s investment arm is set to back Pelican Imaging, a Californian company that takes an unusual approach to smartphone cameras, according to a report from Bloomberg.

We’ve covered Pelican before. The startup has designed an “array camera” that is essentially composed of multiple smaller cameras, all organized in an array. Why do this? Because when you get to the tiny form factor required of handset cameras, the sensor is so small that you’re highly limited in terms of the number of megapixels you can squeeze out of it before image noise becomes unbearable. New approaches are needed, and this is one of them.

Of course, if using many tiny cameras was that easy, we’d see it done in smartphones already. The secret sauce lies in the software used to bring the multiple resulting images together, and it’s that part of Pelican’s work that seems to have attracted the interest of Nokia Growth Partners.

“It’s very complicated to do this algorithmically and Pelican is one of the companies that has mastered this technology,” partner Bo Ilsoe was quoted in the piece as saying.

Imaging is central to Nokia’s current handset strategy, from its top-end Lumia Windows Phone smartphones down to its cheap Asha phones — all these devices have clever photo-taking features of one kind or another. The standout model there, so far, is the Symbian-toting 808 PureView, which uses a technique called oversampling to get something usable out of a 41-megapixel image (the same technology is apparently coming to the Lumia line, too). However, that camera module is rather chunky — something which array cameras are designed to fix.