The U.S. Patent Office this week gave Apple a patent on what the company called “Digital Camera with Light Splitter” technology.
In its filing, Apple explained how a future iPhone could use a mirror to reflect light and incorporate a zoom lens installed on the horizontal access of the device. What Apple calls the ‘light splitter cube’ would split light into three color components (RGB) and then send each into a separate image sensor. Most camera sensors have red green and blue sensitive pixels on a single chip. Apple’s design would eliminate the need for color processing at that stage of image acquisition and that should result in a purer digital image. Another benefit of the design is that it would allow the camera to have more pixels, rather than split the sensor into R,G and B sensitive elements.
Other cameras also use 3 sensor technology, including video cameras from Phillips, Canon and Panasonic.
From the Apple patent, it appears that this multi-sensor technology will serve both stills photos and video.
Apple’s technology to improve zooming is also intriguing. Currently, the iPhone has no optical zoom, and while many photo apps can simulate a zoom with pixel interpolation, it’s just not ever going to be the same quality as an optical zoom. Apple’s patent calls for at least one moveable lens actuated by a small motor. Apple claims the subject will stay in focus even as the zoom and focal length change.
Apple has been very forward thinking regarding camera technology in its portable devices. The iPhone is considered one of the finest cellular phone cameras available, and Apple has continued to improve the cameras with features like HDR, focus and exposure lock, slow motion and time lapse functionality. In the new iPhone 6 Plus Apple has added optical image stabilization using hardware to detect motion that can be counteracted for sharper images in low light situations.
There is never a guarantee if Apple will bring these new inventions to market, but it would seem a no-brainer to increase the quality of iPhone camera images. It’s clear Apple cares about photography, and survey after survey indicated that photography is one of the top things people do with their iPhones.
– Mel Martin
Source: U.S. Patent Office/Apple