New capacitor developed for brighter camera flashes on mobile devices


February 20, 2013

A typical smartphone flash with its existing capacitor (silver cylinder), and the new polymer capacitor material (lower left)

A typical smartphone flash with its existing capacitor (silver cylinder), and the new polymer capacitor material (lower left)

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While stand-alone compact cameras are increasingly at risk of being made obsolete by smartphone cameras, they do still have their advantages. One of those advantages is the fact that, in most cases, their flashes are considerably more powerful. Smartphones may soon be catching up in that area, however, thanks to a new small-but-mighty capacitor paired with a dedicated xenon flash.

Developed by Associate Professor Lee Pooi See of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, the capacitor is made from stacked layers of a novel co-polymer. According to the university, “the new capacitor is at least four times smaller than current electrolytic capacitors and is several times faster [at charging and discharging] than current ceramic-based capacitors.”

Additionally, it’s able to deliver enough of a charge to power a xenon flash, like those used in many regular cameras. Xenon flashes incorporate a glass tube filled with xenon gas, and emit a high-intensity burst of white light that’s much brighter than that of the LED flashes typically found on smartphones.

Ordinarily, a capacitor that was sufficiently powerful to activate such a flash would simply be too big to fit inside a smartphone.

Prof. Lee Pooi See (left) and Xenon Technologies CEO Jack Tuen, with the new capacitor material

The university has partnered with Xenon Technologies, which is reportedly the world’s largest manufacturer of xenon flashes. The company is now developing a flash to work with the capacitor, which will be the smallest xenon flash in existence once it’s complete. The capacitor could also conceivably be used in other electronic devices, where space is at a premium.

It is hoped that a working commercial prototype of the capacitor/flash will be ready by this September.

Source: Nanyang Technological University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

well, that article seems light on information. especially compared to the one I read earlier about bitcoins, which was well researched and full of information. what's the normal capacitor size currently used in mobile cameras? any specs on anything? 4 times faster.. than what number? powerful enough to trigger a flash.. which needs what kind of power?

MockingBird TheWizard

Any breakthrough in capacitors gets me excited. Batteries wear out, capacitors do not. I wish the story had included a comparison to energy storage in amp hours. Old capacitors vs new capacitors vs a chemical battery (one time use Energizer) vs a rechargeable ni-cad..... Plus a cost comparison would be nice also....

I find mobile phone flashes are frequently too bright, what they really need is a variable brightness flash rather than just off or on.


Agreed Prometheus. Great idea. Glad it's small. But when I read Xenon lamp, my battery gets scared. They are notoriously large users.

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