By Tony Henning
Johnson Electric today announced the launch of NanoZoom, a high-precision motion technology module for in-focus continuous zoom in camera-phones. Following on the heels of its NanoLens auto-focus component introduced in November, the company is now well positioned to enter the high-end and high-growth camera module market for camera-phones.
Johnson Electric says NanoZoom, which uses Tamron optics and is driven by Johnson’s Nanomotion piezo technology, offers unprecedented silent zoom, speed and optical quality in a compact 3x continuous zoom interfaced to a 3-megapixel CMOS sensor. It operates over a range of more than 10 mm at a high speed of 100 millimeters per second or faster while maintaining exceptionally high positioning accuracy. Johnson Electric also offers an “application development toolkit” that allows the camera-phone designer to rapidly integrate the two modules and the associated ASIC driver within the camera-phone’s system.
NanoZoom was created by the same team of experts who developed NanoLens at Johnson Electric’s Value Innovation Center in Shenzhen, China. Experts from Johnson Electric’s Nanomotion Ltd in Israel, with their piezo motion technology, provided the foundation, while Johnson Electric’s Nihon Mini Motor Inc in Japan and Johnson Electric in China took care of micro components and production. The alliance with optics specialist Tamron reinforces the high-end performance niche that NanoZoom targets. We saw the NanoLens in action at 3G World Congress last November, and it is fast, quiet, accurate and sufficiently rugged for mobile applications. We have no reason to suspect that the NanoZoom will not have those same desirable characteristics.
Jim Dick, senior vice president of Johnson Electric said, “NanoZoom and NanoLens, together with Tamron optics, represent a new picture-quality threshold for camera-phones, one that could transform mass market usage of such phones, from ‘shoot-for-fun’ to ‘shoot-to-keep’ applications.”
We would agree. This new component — especially when coupled with world-class optics and three-megapixel sensors — promises to raise the level of camera-phones to that of a mainstream point-and-shoot digital camera, not only as far as image quality is concerned, but also as far as the picture taking experience is concerned. So far, the only zoom modules available to camera-phone designers (who want their phones to resemble phones) have been the very pricey 2x zoom modules from Sharp, which have found their way into just a handful of phones, including the Motorola MS550 with the flip-out camera design. The Sharp modules offer a two-position zoom, like adding a 2x magnifier to the front of your lens — it’s either on or off — and not the continuous in-focus 3x optical zoom offered by NanoZoom. One of the disadvantages of the Sharp module, in addition to its price, is its relatively large size — 4.7 cc. While the NanoZoom is also on the large side at 13 x 14 x 23 mm, especially for today’s super-slim handsets, it packs superior functionality into a package that is still smaller (4.18 cc vs. 4.7 cc) than the Sharp module. While we don’t yet know what module makers will be charging for 3MP modules that incorporate the new NanoZoom, we’re hopeful they’ll be less expensive than Sharp’s, which at ¥31,500 ($267) each virtually guarantees that we’ll never see them in camera-phones on the U.S. market.