According to a report just released by the Wall Street Journal, Apple has acquired LinX Computational Imaging Ltd., an Israeli camera-technology company. LinX develops and markets miniature cameras for tablets and smartphones, and the results are impressive.
This is a game-changer. In the smartphone camera arena, s**t just got real.
LinX designs and manufactures multi-aperture cameras “that combine innovative image processing, advanced sensor and optics technology.” Their current lineup features 2, 3, and 4 aperture sensors. According to the company’s website, the units themselves “are significantly smaller than any camera on the market today” and promise DSLR quality for the smaller smartphone cameras.
In addition to capturing some pretty impressive 2D photos, LinX sensors can also acquire very accurate depth information of the complete scene, potentially allowing for multi-focal 3D images, similar to the Lytro camera, but with much greater quality.
In a technology presentation that LinX released in June of 2014,
“The thickness of the array camera in this case is smaller than the iPhone 5s camera significantly and can fit in device thinner than the iPhone. The total pixel count is the same.”
“Image Quality Comes First”
The technology presentation PDF is a good, surprisingly non-technical read. It’s filled with impressive examples compared against an iPhone 5S – an excellent smartphone camera, as well as a Samsung device.
“Multi aperture cameras have many advantages but for mobile device makers the decision of using such a camera in their products requires the cameras to meet the image quality standards of conventional single aperture mobile cameras.
“There are many attempts by various companies to develop multi aperture cameras but many of them suffer from serious artifacts and low effective resolution despite using a large sensor and special expensive optics.
“When designing our algorithms and modules our first priority has always been IMAGE QUALITY. We even leveraged the multiple channels to boost the sensitivity of the camera which allows us to capture stunning images at very low light levels and keep exposure times short at normal indoor light levels.
“Our array cameras capture SLR like images in normal lighting conditions with very low noise levels.
“The array camera can resolve more details than a conventional single aperture camera having the same pixel count!
“Our camera technology is not sensitive to pixel size and will pave the way for smaller and smaller pixels such as 0.9 um which is not suitable for standard single aperture cameras.”
To my eye, what the LinX sensors do is similar to what iPhone photo apps like Cortex Camera or Hydra – Amazing Photography do now – align and combine multiple exposures to create a single, higher-quality iPhone photo. Similar…. It looks like the multi-sensor arrays capture the exposure simultaneously, making the process faster and seamless to the user.
Much of the time, Apple purchases technology such as this and it languishes for years if it ever even appears in an actual product. However, with some of the recent patent filings and awards Apple has done lately, I strongly suspect that we’ll be seeing this technology in iPhone cameras sooner, rather than later.
In buying LinX, Apple has cast a strong vote of confidence for the viability of the technology as well as the brain trust of those who created it.
In English, Please. What Does This Mean for Me?
If this technology is rolled into future iPhones, this could mean at the very least:
- Sharper, higher-quality iPhone photos with less noise and fewer artifacts
- Higher quality photos in low-light – reduced noise and greater detail in dark areas
- Thinner iPhones
- Higher resolution photos with no loss of quality
- The ability to change the focus of the image after the shot
This is a significant acquisition by Apple. It confirms their commitment to iPhone photography. And these little buggers appear to be a huge leap forward for mobile photography. There is no downside to this acquisition – unless your are Samsung or Nokia.
I want one now.
What do you think? Is this a game-changer or will this technology “get disappeared” over time? Sound off in the comments below!
Images Copyright LinX Computational Imaging Ltd.