Researchers at the University of Sussex have developed a camera that is able to view the world as animals see it. It’s a well-known fact that lots of animals can see way more colors than us, while others such as dogs see less, but exactly what they visually perceive has remained a mystery.
It’s hard to imagine seeing the world any other way. Humans are capable of perceiving ten million colors, making our planet a truly beautiful place to live (and of course photograph), but to a lot of animals it looks very different. Animals possess a unique set of photoreceptors (different to those of humans) that can perceive ultraviolet and infrared light. Many animals can also detect polarized light, which makes the colors that animals see look different.
Using cutting-edge camera software that can record and process videos under natural light conditions, scientists have finally been able to accurately represent what animals see. Using commercially available parts from a Sony A6400 fixed in custom 3D-printed housing, the camera was modded with a beam splitter mirror, a short pass filter cone that minimizes light leakage, and a bellows lens mount. A Nikon 80mm f/5.6 EL Nikkor lens was then attached to the adapted camera to take the photos.
How it works is incredibly complex, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t fully understand the ins and outs, but my very basic understanding is that light passes through a beam splitter that reflects a short wavelength and transmits visible light. This reflected short wavelength of light is then passed through a shortpass filter before reaching a full-spectrum camera. The transmitted visible light is captured by a stock camera and the UV and some visible light reaches the receptive camera, which can create curves that can be used to work out the image.
I’m no scientist, but I am an animal lover and when I had dogs I always found myself wondering what life looked like through their eyes. We often hear that dogs are colorblind, so the world would look very different to them – while humans can perceive red, green and blue, dogs can only see yellow and blue, making them green/red colorblind. Being colorblind doesn’t mean you necessarily see the world in black-and-white, as I used to think, but more that some tones are muted or swapped with different colors.
With technological advances such are this, it’s hoped that humans will develop a better understanding of why animals see as they do and deepen our connection to the complexity of nature. There is still a lot we don’t know about color vision, and we often take our color vision for granted, but animals see in ways that make it easier for them to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other – so even if they can see less colors, lots of them have way more advanced vision.
You can read the full academic paper here.
You might be interested in the best cameras for wildlife photography, along with the best lenses for birds photography, as well as the best trail cameras to see what animals are up to in your back yard!