I know 3D movies are all the rage right now and 3D TVs are flying off the shelves, but before you invest imagine being able to enjoy a more 3D experience without the cumbersome glasses. The reality may be closer than you think.

Researchers have developed a way to create a 3D image through a single lens, without moving the camera. The technology could allow amateur photographers and microscopists to create the impression of a stereo image without using expensive hardware. It could also provide a cheaper method to create 3D films for the big screen.

The method, named ‘light-field moment imaging’, developed at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, relies only on computation and mathematics. It takes two images from the same camera position but focused at different depths.

The slight differences between these two images provide enough information for a computer to mathematically create a brand-new image as if the camera had been moved to one side. By stitching these two images together into an animation, anyone can create the impression of a stereo image.

Importantly, the technique offers a new and  accessible way to create 3D images of translucent materials, such as biological tissues.

‘This method devised by Orth and Crozier is an elegant solution to extract depth information with only a minimum of information from a sample,’ said Conor Evans, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert in biomedical imaging.

‘Depth measurements in microscopy are usually made by taking many sequential images over a range of depths; the ability to glean depth information from only two images has the potential to accelerate the acquisition of digital microscopy data.’

The researchers claim one day light-field moment imaging will be a way to just use all of the existing cinematography hardware, and get rid of the 3D glasses