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Apple's 'social camera flash' connects multiple iPhones, iPads to light a scene

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
An Apple patent filing discovered on Thursday describes a system in which a primary iOS device, such as an iPhone, remotely controls multiple secondary devices, which can also be iPhones, as slave flashes for the first handset's on-board camera.

Illumination
Source: USPTO


Filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as an "Illumination system," Apple's invention proposes that a number of devices, like iPhones, iPads, iPods or other mobile products, can act as remotely-controlled strobe lights for a primary camera.

The idea of connecting multiple iOS devices belonging to different people, the patent application can be considered a "social camera flash" system, perhaps useful in impromptu photo shoots that require more than one source of lighting.

The patent application notes the primary device can be either a dedicated camera or a handset with image capture capabilities, while the slave units can be the same product or any other suitable device with lighting components. In some cases, the remote units can be dedicated flash components built into the primary device's charger, charing cable or other component a user is likely to have handy.

Illumination Flash
Examples of cable-mounted flash (left) and charger flash (right).


In practice, the primary device sets up a master-slave connection with the one or more secondary devices, takes a test image to determine the illumination requirements of a scene, and sends a control signal to the secondary devices pertaining to position, intensity and timing. Similar systems are used in professional photography, but those rigs use dedicated strobes with wired or wireless connections.

Unlike most traditional master-slave setups, however, Apple's invention allows for the primary device to give instructions to the user regarding lighting placement. Likewise, if other people are holding the secondary handsets, the primary device can send over instructions directly to those users, positioning them remotely.

From the patent specification:

As one example, a display associated with (or incorporated into) a secondary device may display text instructing a person holding that device to move in a particular direction, for a particular distance, to angle or move the device in a certain manner, and so forth.


In addition, the secondary devices can relay positioning information back to the primary capture device so it can automatically adjust flash timing and intensity.

One key aspect of the invention is the connection protocol used to transfer remote flash signals as well as instructions between the master and slave units. Current systems may inadvertently discharge in response to light input ? a common remote strobe function referred to as "optical slave" ? from another camera or system. Instead, Apple proposes the use of wireless technology like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, thus protecting against premature flashes.

As for image analysis, the patent claims a graphical user interface can be used to preview a test shot and offer granular control over the secondary devices acting as slave flashes. In an alternative method, the primary device can display user-selectable scene options which, when selected, will automatically change slave units' flash fire intensity, timing or provide instructions for repositioning. The filing goes on to explain further embodiments of scene and background correction based on test shot analysis.

Illumination GUI
Invention GUI with manual controls.


Apple's remote flash patent application was first filed in November 2011 and credits Richard L. Baer as its inventor.
post #2 of 23
This is super cool!
post #3 of 23

Not sure that this will cut it, if included on new devices. Apple's homegrown camera application is woefully inadequate, by no means not even comparable to the quality of the camera on iOS devices.  The camera application needs to grow up, and quickly. The camera'a components have changed with successive hardware introductions, but the camera application (apart from its panoramic capability) remains basically the same as it was with the first iPhone, the application still seems to remain something of an 'afterthought'. I'd like to see a commercial by Apple touting not that it is the most popular camera, but how many people are using Apple's camera application. I wonder how many of those people are actually using Apple's camera application. I'd bet the commercial would have a different tone if this statistic was mentioned. It might not even be worthy of making a commercial for.

post #4 of 23
Sweet. This is the kind of thinking Apple is great at, even though it pulls from the camera industry. I'd love to see what an Apple DSLR would be like. But I guess soon your DSLR will be able to make a call, and your iPhone will come with a full-frame sensor. One can dream.
post #5 of 23
Digital SLR's have long been an area that Apple needs to 'disrupt'.

Right after the television industry, of course...
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post #6 of 23
I'm still waiting for that zoom lens patent to reach fruition.
post #7 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Digital_Guy View Post

Not sure that this will cut it, if included on new devices. Apple's homegrown camera application is woefully inadequate, by no means not even comparable to the quality of the camera on iOS devices.  The camera application needs to grow up, and quickly. The camera'a components have changed with successive hardware introductions, but the camera application (apart from its panoramic capability) remains basically the same as it was with the first iPhone, the application still seems to remain something of an 'afterthought'. I'd like to see a commercial by Apple touting not that it is the most popular camera, but how many people are using Apple's camera application. I wonder how many of those people are actually using Apple's camera application. I'd bet the commercial would have a different tone if this statistic was mentioned. It might not even be worthy of making a commercial for.

Apple have created a solid platform for third parties to build on.  Seems like a coherent approach to me, software writers make money, Apple gets it's cut, the app store gets a huge range of apps, and us the punters get a crazy amount of choice.   I make money out of taking photos and find myself increasingly using Apple's app to take the photo simply because it does capturing an image very well, and as a padding free zone I can focus more on taking the shot.  Post processing is then done in a third party app of which there are hundreds.  If I can vote, I vote for Apple keeping it's app as simple as possible.

post #8 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Digital_Guy View Post

Not sure that this will cut it, if included on new devices. Apple's homegrown camera application is woefully inadequate, by no means not even comparable to the quality of the camera on iOS devices.  The camera application needs to grow up, and quickly. The camera'a components have changed with successive hardware introductions, but the camera application (apart from its panoramic capability) remains basically the same as it was with the first iPhone, the application still seems to remain something of an 'afterthought'. I'd like to see a commercial by Apple touting not that it is the most popular camera, but how many people are using Apple's camera application. I wonder how many of those people are actually using Apple's camera application. I'd bet the commercial would have a different tone if this statistic was mentioned. It might not even be worthy of making a commercial for.

I think you will find that most people by far use the Apple camera app. It's there, its simple, it works. Most people who spend around a grand on a very nice DSLR use one setting - auto. This is all anecdotal but I very very rarely meet people who delve into camera technicalities. I do because I have a photography background, but I am surprised at how little people adjust their cameras. I think Apple's strategy of keeping things simple, above all, is a winning one. That is not to say the camera app can not or should not be improved.

post #9 of 23
The most important use I could see this for would be because the iPad doesn't have a flash so you can hold up the iPad to take a photo and then hold the iPhone somewhere to provide the light but unless the subject is far away and holding the iPhone nearer, the photo could be taken with the iPhone anyway. I can't imagine much of a social aspect to this. I doubt there would be a family photo shoot and multiple people have to step out of the photo to provide extra flash light. I'd say being able to switch faces if someone blinks is a more useful feature than this.
post #10 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

The most important use I could see this for would be because the iPad doesn't have a flash so you can hold up the iPad to take a photo and then hold the iPhone somewhere to provide the light but unless the subject is far away and holding the iPhone nearer, the photo could be taken with the iPhone anyway. I can't imagine much of a social aspect to this. I doubt there would be a family photo shoot and multiple people have to step out of the photo to provide extra flash light. I'd say being able to switch faces if someone blinks is a more useful feature than this.

The way I understood it auxiliary ios devices could function as slave flashes. Its an interesting idea if not the most useful. I understood the 'social' aspect just to be a way of explaining the sharing of functionality between devices. 

post #11 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by GTR View Post

Digital SLR's have long been an area that Apple needs to 'disrupt'.

Right after the television industry, of course...

Good luck with that. Well let me rephrase that. Do you mean by making their own SLR? How could they disrupt that market?
Edited by dasanman69 - 5/16/13 at 7:36am
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post #12 of 23
This will give new meaning to the term "flash mob."

"Ok, everybody, hold up your iPhone!

1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . flash!"

Maybe this is what Steve meant by revolutionizing photography. Or was it about photographing revolution?
post #13 of 23

I've heard of people doing weddings entirely on an iPhone with SLR lens adapters, but now it's getting to a point of diminishing results. This is similar to what Canon and Nikon do with their flash systems, without using wifi. Canon's newest 600R flash has a built in radio transceiver for TTL communication, Nikon has infrared/line of sight iTTL for a similar effect. Pocket Wizard also makes wireless TTL transceivers that accomplish the same, and in some cases better. It's interesting piece of technology, but as I recall wifi latency was much longer than what current radio transceivers (ie Pocket Wizard Plus III) offer: ~20ms vs 0.83ms. That can adversely affect flash timing when working with multiple remote units at varying distances, specially if you're trying to use the maximum sync speed on some cameras (4ms for 1/250s sync). Also, current radios are very power efficient, using less than 1mW while an iPhone 4, for example, uses 700mW just idling. Right now I think this is a gimmick, but in time, if latency and power issues can be overcome, I'm sure this could become a powerful tool for both consumers and professionals.

post #14 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by dasanman69 View Post

How could they disrupt the SLR market?

For the video crowd, the way to do that would be to bring out a sub-$1000 camera like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera:

http://www.engadget.com/2013/04/26/blackmagic-pocket-cinema-camera-footage-video/
http://www.blackmagicdesign.com/uk/products/blackmagicpocketcinemacamera

but that's already been done now. iPhones can improve quality (low light especially) and they could perhaps fit a lens configuration vertically for optical zoom so that's probably enough. Making a dedicated camera would take a lot of commitment and isn't really needed.
post #15 of 23
Nice idea, but I'd like to see Apple do something that'd make location finding more helpful: create a way for iOS devices to share GPS location data via Bluetooth. In my case, it'd let me use my iPhone GPS with my iPad.
post #16 of 23

As others have said, this is anything but a new idea.  All DSLR manufacturers have intelligent radio or IR multiple flash systems.  Besides, if one wants a good flash-lit image, why would you use an iPhone or iPad with it's tiny sensor?  Does Apple think they can do this anywhere as well as Nikon?
 

post #17 of 23
This requiring other flash devices is not convenient.
Quote:
Originally Posted by gordy View Post

I'm still waiting for that zoom lens patent to reach fruition.
Do to the thinness of devices that is a problem.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

The most important use I could see this for would be because the iPad doesn't have a flash so you can hold up the iPad to take a photo and then hold the iPhone somewhere to provide the light but unless the subject is far away and holding the iPhone nearer, the photo could be taken with the iPhone anyway. I can't imagine much of a social aspect to this. I doubt there would be a family photo shoot and multiple people have to step out of the photo to provide extra flash light. I'd say being able to switch faces if someone blinks is a more useful feature than this.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Inkling View Post

Nice idea, but I'd like to see Apple do something that'd make location finding more helpful: create a way for iOS devices to share GPS location data via Bluetooth. In my case, it'd let me use my iPhone GPS with my iPad.
Well the pearsonel hotspot feature is the closet thing to that now.
post #18 of 23
I thought iPhones didn't have Flash?
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post #19 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Digital_Guy View Post

Not sure that this will cut it, if included on new devices. Apple's homegrown camera application is woefully inadequate, by no means not even comparable to the quality of the camera on iOS devices.  The camera application needs to grow up, and quickly. The camera'a components have changed with successive hardware introductions, but the camera application (apart from its panoramic capability) remains basically the same as it was with the first iPhone, the application still seems to remain something of an 'afterthought'. I'd like to see a commercial by Apple touting not that it is the most popular camera, but how many people are using Apple's camera application. I wonder how many of those people are actually using Apple's camera application. I'd bet the commercial would have a different tone if this statistic was mentioned. It might not even be worthy of making a commercial for.

I don't know what you're talking about. I use the native camera app all the time. I much prefer it over camera+ and the other camera apps I have. It's also the only app that offers an HDR function. Plus it's fast and simple to use. 

post #20 of 23
Code:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ApplePi View Post

It's also the only app that offers an HDR function.
You mean except for the dozens of other camera apps that have an HDR function...
iCamera HDR, Pro HDR, Camera +, True HDR, HDR Fusion, etc...
post #21 of 23
post #22 of 23
Where is the novelty here? There are publications available which describe similar implementations. Those are dated back to 2002. There is no way, apple can obtain a patent on it.
post #23 of 23
Originally Posted by abpor10 View Post
Where is the novelty here? There are publications available which describe similar implementations. Those are dated back to 2002. There is no way, apple can obtain a patent on it.

 

Obviously that's wrong.

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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