If you've ever been frustrated by wanting to take video and hi-res photos at the same time on your camera, you're not alone.
Physiologists from Oxford University faced just such a problem when they were trying to record what happened to heart tissue cells in their lab. Their homemade solution proved so useful that they are now working with Oxford University Innovation to turn it into a commercially-viable technology.
As Colin Barras reports in New Scientist the two Oxford researcher, Gil Bub and Peter Kohl, rebuilt a standard video camera to incorporate the digital chip from a home cinema projector - a chip that's studded with lots of tiny moving mirrors.
By fixing the chip between the camera lens and its image sensor they used the chip's mirrors as 'shutters' to slice the video into 16 lower-resolution frames: squeezing 400 frames per second out of the camera's standard 25 frames per second set-up.
Even better, as each set of 16 sequential frames come from different pixels on the same sensor, they can be combined to give hi-res images like a stills camera (see the image below).
'What's new about this is that the picture and video are captured at the same time on the same sensor,' Gil told me. 'This is done by allowing the camera's pixels to act as if they were part of tens, or even hundreds of individual cameras taking pictures in rapid succession during a single normal exposure.'
'The trick is that the pattern of pixel exposures keeps the high resolution content of the overall image, which can then be used as-is, to form a regular high-res picture, or be decoded into a high-speed movie.'
The new system, which the team describe in this week's Nature Methods, is likely to cost a fraction of the current price of cameras with this combined capability and could transform everything from CCTV to sports photography.
The project was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.