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Apple patents Lytro-like refocusable camera suitable for iPhone

post #1 of 69
Thread Starter 
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday awarded Apple a patent for a camera system that uses a microlens adaptor to enable refocusing of an image after the initial shot is taken, much like the Lytro light-field camera.

Plenoptic
Source: USPTO


Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,593,564 for a "Digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adaptor," describes a method in which a user can take a picture at a certain resolution and refocus the resulting image after the fact. Also noted in the patent is the inclusion of such a system in portable devices, like an iPhone.

The patent describes a plenoptic camera, otherwise known as a "light-field camera," that uses a microlens array in the form of an adaptor rather than a fixed and integrated component as seen on what is arguably the most famous consumer light field camera, the Lytro. Founded by Stanford University computer science graduate student Ren Ng, Lytro Inc. has drawn funding from heavy-hitting investors despite its limited hardware lineup. Late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs famously showed interest in the tech and reportedly invited Ng to his Palo Alto, Calif., home for a live demonstration of the camera before it went public.

In fact, Apple's patent cites Ng's invention as prior art, but notes improvements can be made in regard to picture quality and resolution.

Lytro
Lytro light-field camera. | Source: Lytro


Light field technology uses so-called microlenses disposed in front of a CMOS or CCD sensor, which together form a "ray sensor" capable of capturing intensity of light as a function of position and angle. The microlens array directs light in a specific and predictable manner based on the lens aperture. In the case of Apple's patent, each microlens corresponds to a fixed set of imaging pixels. After the light information has been recorded, software can be used to focus and refocus the corresponding image.

Unlike Lytro, Apple's design employs a movable adaptor situated between the lens element and the imaging sensor. The adaptor holds the microlens array, meaning the camera can operate in two separate modes: high-resolution non-refocusable and low-resolution refocuasable. Lytro's microlens component can also be moved closer and farther from the sensor, but cannot be completely removed from the light path.

Apple's patent describes the adaptor as a switchable optical module mounted to a bracket, on which a glass plate is also positioned for normal high-resolution photos.

Plenoptic
Low-resolution refocusable mode with microlens array active.


When in low-resolution refocusing mode, as seen above, the optical module is positioned between the lens and the sensor, thus creating a ray sensor. The patent notes the sensor records light data from the microlens (positioning) and angle of incidence (direction). Spatial resolution is limited to that of the microlens array.

In high-resolution non-refocusing mode, seen below, the switchable optical module moves to a different position in which the glass plate is situated between the lens and imaging sensor. Light is redirected by the glass pane onto the sensor to create an image of the scene as would a normal camera. The glass has a thickness and refraction index that compensates for the focal plane adjustment made to accommodate the microlens array. This mode allows for the sensor's full resolution to be used.

Plenoptic
High-resolution non-refocusable mode with microlens array inactive.


In some embodiments, the hardware includes smartphone-like features, like the ability to place phone calls and connect to a wireless network. Other forms of the patent include a system that can be used as an add-on accessory for any existing camera, an interesting thought given the standalone Lytro starts at $299.

It is unknown if Apple will employ the technology in a later iPhone model, though the solution would be a welcome addition for many users who have trouble focusing on small screens. Perhaps most interesting is the possibility of a light-field video camera. Refocusable movies would be a great addition to the iPhone, which lacks tactile controls for focusing on the fly.

Apple's plenoptic adaptor patent was first filed for in 2011 and credits John Norvold Border and Richard D. Young as its inventors.
post #2 of 69
I was just thinking about this yesterday in relation to Apple's acquisition of the 3D scanner company. Maybe they align with each other to create some cool new capacities?
post #3 of 69
Did Apple acquire Lytro a while back?
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #4 of 69
Kind of off topic, but it makes me wonder how many animals can see more depth than we can with single eyes, using tricks like this.
post #5 of 69
Just as Digital killed Film, a "light field" camera will kill the fixed focal length photography. There is nothing that the fixed focal length camera can do, that the "light field" does just as well; and many very neat effects that are available on the "light field" camera, that are impossible to do with the fixed focal length camera.

Apple "gets it". The camera on the iPhone is disrupting the entire photography industry. This is the next revolutionary (rather than evolutionary) change.
post #6 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Did Apple acquire Lytro a while back?

Apple doesn't appear to have either purchased or invested in Lytro. The only evidence of any interaction is Steve Jobs meeting with their CEO back in 2011.

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post #7 of 69
Birds, especially non-preditory birds have various tricks for good depth perception. Pidgeons, for example move their heads back and forth as they walk, like they are peckin the air. Other birds, like ducks use a combination of moving thier head forward and back, as well as left/right. I'm unaware of any animal that has a removeable lense for this ability.
post #8 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hodar View Post

There is nothing that the fixed focal length camera can do, that the "light field" does just as well

 

Fixed focal length cameras have much higher resolution due to the fact that they do not need to split the sensor. This might somehow change in the future, but at the moment that's how it works.

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post #9 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doxxic View Post

Kind of off topic, but it makes me wonder how many animals can see more depth than we can with single eyes, using tricks like this.

Some insects have multiple eyes, like a fly or a bee.

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post #10 of 69
No wonder there's a switch back to normal focusing because image resolution degrades so rapidly with light field on small mobile sensors that the result is almost unusable. Can't see 150 megapixel sensors in iPhones anytime soon that would allow for a decent light field photos. Still, cool tech and I wonder when we will see Blade Runner style tech that would allow to capture a true 3D picture.
post #11 of 69
How long until the crop of Android also rans announces that their phones will have light field cameras? It happens pretty much every time Apple does anything innovative, or possible innovation is even hinted at. Samsung and Google rush to release their product before Apple, and most of the time the rush job is apparent in the quality, or lack there of.
post #12 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by mknopp View Post

How long until the crop of Android also rans announces that their phones will have light field cameras? It happens pretty much every time Apple does anything innovative, or possible innovation is even hinted at. Samsung and Google rush to release their product before Apple, and most of the time the rush job is apparent in the quality, or lack there of.

You got that right ...

... here we are all reading some of Samsung's and Google's R&D departments' research work ... err ... I mean Apple Insider ... 1wink.gif
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post #13 of 69

IT BEGINS. IT. BEGINS.

 

Here goes Apple, revolutionizing photography. Again. This will be huge.

post #14 of 69
I am certain we will see major advancements in this area in all high end digital photography in the years to come. Not only the ability to select the point of focus but to also select the view angle to some extent. It will no doubt come in several varieties, high end plug-ins for Aperture and Photoshop and automatic versions in iPhones etc. using AI. Much the same way HDR is today. I can't wait to dive into playing with this technology, I can imagine in macro photography it would be a blast. Heck imagine iMovie being able to make a movie traversing through the depth of focus and perhaps the angles viewed (see behind things) in a single image. I can imagine wee iOS apps allowing the same thing. Creativity will take a leap forward.

Edit: Lytro already offer all of the above I now see ... OMG the future is now 1smile.gif

AI was lit up with some great comments about all this back in 2011 (I assume).
Edited by digitalclips - 11/26/13 at 7:20am
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post #15 of 69
Miniaturizing light-field imaging for use in a small device while maintaining acceptable resolution seems like a huge challenge to me - not just in terms of technology but because basic physics is working against you. In the microlens array solution, the image size (resolution) is equal to the dimensions of the microlens array. One can certainly envisage construction of a vey fine array of such lenses, but when one remembers that each microlens requires a separate 2-D array of sensors to capture the light field, both sensor light sensitivity and the diffraction limit become serious issues.

Sensor sensitivity can conceivably be increased but, given the small sensor size in a cell phone, even the large-aperture diffraction limit for visible light of, at best, a couple of micron, limits raw sensor array size to around 10 MP. Reserving just a 10 x 10 array for each microlens to capture the directional light field data drops the spatial resolution by a factor of 100, leaving just a 0.1 MP image.

Right now it seems to me that sensor sensitivity improvements may instead lead to something resembling high-speed burst mode focus stacking, which leaves spatial resolution unchanged, as a far more practical solution to the same problem.
post #16 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

IT BEGINS. IT. BEGINS.

Here goes Apple, revolutionizing photography. Again. This will be huge.
Because of a patent filing??
post #17 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post

Because of a patent filing??

Oh ye of little faith 1wink.gif

Actually what Apple will do IMHO is make an esoteric feature like this, an everyday feature people, as they always do, take for granted. How many folks using an iPhone even know what HDR is for example, yet use it everyday? That said I want this on a high end Canon 1smile.gif
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post #18 of 69
walt-mossberg-parallax-asiad-400.gif

I think the parallax effect capable with a light field camera is a natural fit for the iPhone.
Being able to control the 3D view using the gyroscopes in iPhones and iPads would be magical. Apple loves magical.
post #19 of 69
Also being able to create your own wallpaper with parallax for your iPhone and iPad will be a novelty.
post #20 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

walt-mossberg-parallax-asiad-400.gif

I think the parallax effect capable with a light field camera is a natural fit for the iPhone.
Being able to control the 3D view using the gyroscopes in iPhones and iPads would be magical. Apple loves magical.

Great picture of Walt ... I hope anti sea sickness pills are included ... 1biggrin.gif
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post #21 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

Also being able to create your own wallpaper with parallax for your iPhone and iPad will be a novelty.

Ah you cracked the obviously hidden secret! That's how they did it! iOS7 obviously already has the play back ability ...
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post #22 of 69
Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post
Because of a patent filing??

 

Because of what they’ll do with the patent.

post #23 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

walt-mossberg-parallax-asiad-400.gif

I think the parallax effect capable with a light field camera is a natural fit for the iPhone.
Being able to control the 3D view using the gyroscopes in iPhones and iPads would be magical. Apple loves magical.

Don't be waggin' your Lytro thing at me, Walt.
Edited by Flaneur - 11/26/13 at 8:42am
post #24 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Did Apple acquire Lytro a while back?

No, but AppleInsider acquired all of Apple's patent illustrations, apparently 1wink.gif

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post #25 of 69
We are getting closer to being able to reproduce the still photos from Gallifrey.

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post #26 of 69
The file sizes on refocus-able video would be huge.
post #27 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

We are getting closer to being able to reproduce the still photos from Gallifrey.

That would be cool ... Apple just need that extra dimensional ability in there ... 1wink.gif

It occurs to me this technology could be used reciprocally ... as in allowing a Mac or iDevice far more adaptive reading (fuzzy math AI?) of a user's motion with their recently acquired tracking system.
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post #28 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by OwlBoy View Post

The file sizes on refocus-able video would be huge.

Not necessarily. A video could be 'extracted' from a single image by recording the movement through the DOF and various angles. I would imagine a simple iOS app could do this for you. But I understand what you meant...
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post #29 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

No, but AppleInsider acquired all of Apple's patent illustrations, apparently 1wink.gif

I keep saying ... AI AKA Samsung/Google R&D Department ... 1wink.gif
Edited by digitalclips - 11/26/13 at 10:07am
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post #30 of 69
Mmm...

I am about the farthest thing form a camera expert there is.

I've been doing a lot of surfing/research about cameras in the last several days...

My 17-year-old (18 in January) thinks she is interested in photography. She has suggested to her parents and to me that instead of buying her separate Christmas, birthday and graduation gifts -- that we pool the money so she can spend $1,500-$2,000 on a good DSLR camera, lenses, filters, bag, accessories...

Her dad feels that $2,000 is too much for a starter camera -- especially since she only thinks she is interested.

As it turns out, I have some old film DSLR kit that my mother bought in the mid 1970s. This includes bag, filters, tripod, and lenses -- Pentax K-Mount lenses.

So part of my research has been to determine if we could buy only a camera base and Pentax adapter, period -- use the Pentax lenses and existing kit as a more [financially] gentle introduction to DSLR photography. Then if things work out, she can earn money by filming weddings, church and sports events -- and buy lenses, etc. later, from a position of need and knowledge.


Another reason for my research is the recent Apple related articles related to cameras -- this article, some other patent articles, and the PrimeSense purchase.


In no particular order here is what I have found:
  • The DSLR market is going South in a way similar to the PC market. The reason appears to be that high-end smart phones are good enough that you don't need to carry (or buy) a DSLR camera except for special needs
  • Steve Jobs said he wanted to reinvent photography
  • A critical spec of a camera is its light gathering capability
  • A critical spec of focusing a camera is physical movement of the optics (lenses)
  • A potential alternative to a large, protruding, lens is folded optics
  • The patent in this article involves physical movement of the optics
  • High-end cameras have capability to do image stabilization and other processing
  • High-end cameras have less compute, motion and graphics processing capability than high-end phones


So... Here are some interesting questions.

What if Apple decided to make a camera -- a camera with an A7 64-bit APU, M7 Motion sensor, etc?   Even with a cell radio, it could be very price competitive with a mid-range DSLR camera body. And, it would blow the socks off the DSLR as far as image manipulation, processing power, features, etc.

What if Apple were to replace the current Apple Logo on the back of iPads and iPhones with the camera lens?   The Logo is about 5-6 X the area of the current camera lens aperture -- this could improve the critical light-gathering capability of the iPhone and iPad Cameras.

Could the [circa 2009] Folded Optics technology be updated to provide, say, 3-5 X Optical Zoom with no physical lens protrusion or movement?  This could make an iPhone or iPad form factor quite competitive with a DSLR camera with a basic lens.

Could the patent in this article be used in an iPhone or iPad (or an Apple Camera) to offer after-the-fact focus capability not available in high-end DSLR cameras?

Could the 3D Depth-Sense and unique object identification/tracking of the PrimeSense technology be integrated with the normal camera capabilities of the iPhone and iPad (or an Apple camera)?

Mmm...
Edited by Dick Applebaum - 11/26/13 at 11:10am
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post #31 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by mknopp View Post

How long until the crop of Android also rans announces that their phones will have light field cameras? It happens pretty much every time Apple does anything innovative, or possible innovation is even hinted at. Samsung and Google rush to release their product before Apple, and most of the time the rush job is apparent in the quality, or lack there of.

Considering Apple didn't invent the light-field camera, I don't think that will be a valid complaint when another company implements some version of it. I imagine most companies know that they can't get too close to Apple's patented version now that Samsung has lost that big lawsuit.
post #32 of 69
This is not on ground as shaky as a lot of software patents Apple applies for, but it still seems like something not worthy of a patent due to obviousness. Here Apple has attached an existing technology to a basic mechanism for movement. It would be the same if I invented frosted glass window panes and then someone came behind me and patented a door with a frosted glass window.

It's different because it's in a door!

Edit: To be clear, I am very excited that Apple is looking at light-field cameras for smartphones. I'm just not excited that they're trying to patent this implementation.
Edited by wakefinance - 11/26/13 at 11:24am
post #33 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by wakefinance View Post

This is not on ground as shaky as a lot of software patents Apple applies for, but it still seems like something not worthy of a patent due to obviousness. Here Apple has attached an existing technology to a basic mechanism for movement. It would be the same if I invented frosted glass window panes and then someone came behind me and patented a door with a frosted glass window.

It's different because it's in a door!

Edit: To be clear, I am very excited that Apple is looking at light-field cameras for smartphones. I'm just not excited that they're trying to patent this implementation.

Isn't software-controlled physical movement of camera optics within a sealed camera a pretty big deal -- can you provide a link to someone who has done that before?
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post #34 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post


Isn't software-controlled physical movement of camera optics within a sealed camera a pretty big deal -- can you provide a link to someone who has done that before?

 

Isn't that what auto-focus does?  Sure it's adjusting lenses fore and aft as opposed to up and down, but it's still a software-controlled physical movement of camera optics within a sealed camera system.

post #35 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post


Isn't software-controlled physical movement of camera optics within a sealed camera a pretty big deal -- can you provide a link to someone who has done that before?

 

I can't find a camera that switches out lenses like this so it might be more "novel" than I thought.

post #36 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

Mmm...

I am about the farthest thing form a camera expert there is.

I've been doing a lot of surfing/research about cameras in the last several days...

My 17-year-old (18 in January) thinks she is interested in photography. She has suggested to her parents and to me that instead of buying her separate Christmas, birthday and graduation gifts -- that we pool the money so she can spend $1,500-$2,000 on a good DSLR camera, lenses, filters, bag, accessories...

Her dad feels that $2,000 is too much for a starter camera -- especially since she only thinks she is interested.

As it turns out, I have some old film DSLR kit that my mother bought in the mid 1970s. This includes bag, filters, tripod, and lenses -- Pentax K-Mount lenses.

So part of my research has been to determine if we could buy only a camera base and Pentax adapter, period -- use the Pentax lenses and existing kit as a more [financially] gentle introduction to DSLR photography. Then if things work out, she can earn money by filming weddings, church and sports events -- and buy lenses, etc. later, from a position of need and knowledge.


Another reason for my research is the recent Apple related articles related to cameras -- this article, some other patent articles, and the PrimeSense purchase.


In no particular order here is what I have found:
  • The DSLR market is going South in a way similar to the PC market. The reason appears to be that high-end smart phones are good enough that you don't need to carry (or buy) a DSLR camera except for special needs
  • Steve Jobs said he wanted to reinvent photography
  • A critical spec of a camera is its light gathering capability
  • A critical spec of focusing a camera is physical movement of the optics (lenses)
  • A potential alternative to a large, protruding, lens is folded optics
  • The patent in this article involves physical movement of the optics
  • High-end cameras have capability to do image stabilization and other processing
  • High-end cameras have less compute, motion and graphics processing capability than high-end phones


So... Here are some interesting questions.

What if Apple decided to make a camera -- a camera with an A7 64-bit APU, M7 Motion sensor, etc?   Even with a cell radio, it could be very price competitive with a mid-range DSLR camera body. And, it would blow the socks off the DSLR as far as image manipulation, processing power, features, etc.

What if Apple were to replace the current Apple Logo on the back of iPads and iPhones with the camera lens?   The Logo is about 5-6 X the area of the current camera lens aperture -- this could improve the critical light-gathering capability of the iPhone and iPad Cameras.

Could the [circa 2009] Folded Optics technology be updated to provide, say, 3-5 X Optical Zoom with no physical lens protrusion or movement?  This could make an iPhone or iPad form factor quite competitive with a DSLR camera with a basic lens.

Could the patent in this article be used in an iPhone or iPad (or an Apple Camera) to offer after-the-fact focus capability not available in high-end DSLR cameras?

Could the 3D Depth-Sense and unique object identification/tracking of the PrimeSense technology be integrated with the normal camera capabilities of the iPhone and iPad (or an Apple camera)?

Mmm...

Nikon and Canon beware!

Excellent post and lots to think about. Seriously Apple could really do some amazing stuff if they worked with Canon for example.

Check out a Canon T3i or T4i 18MP and a few lenses which would depend on what she wants to photograph. Should be able to squeeze body and a couple of nice lenses in for around that 2K. Canon's latest IS is amazing. I have been Nikon and Canon user for over well 40 years but these days find I prefer the Canon gear. Plus of course, Aperture and Photoshop CS6. Like many things you get what you pay for and if she wants to be serious she needs decent gear. But hey, I'm biased. 1smile.gif
Edited by digitalclips - 11/26/13 at 2:24pm
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post #37 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hodar View Post

Just as Digital killed Film, a "light field" camera will kill the fixed focal length photography. There is nothing that the fixed focal length camera can do, that the "light field" does just as well; and many very neat effects that are available on the "light field" camera, that are impossible to do with the fixed focal length camera.

Apple "gets it". The camera on the iPhone is disrupting the entire photography industry. This is the next revolutionary (rather than evolutionary) change.

This is just incorrect. A high-end DSLR with quality lenses will run circles around the Lytro, with or without the refocusing capability of the Lytro. As I understand it, images taken in the refocus mode are much lower resolution than the typical digital camera.

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post #38 of 69
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

Mmm...

I am about the farthest thing form a camera expert there is.

I've been doing a lot of surfing/research about cameras in the last several days...

My 17-year-old (18 in January) thinks she is interested in photography. She has suggested to her parents and to me that instead of buying her separate Christmas, birthday and graduation gifts -- that we pool the money so she can spend $1,500-$2,000 on a good DSLR camera, lenses, filters, bag, accessories...

Her dad feels that $2,000 is too much for a starter camera -- especially since she only thinks she is interested.

As a practical matter, a 17-year old should be finding way to pay for a $2000+ camera herself, or at least come up with a better plan than "asking for more expensive gifts"

I personally think a 17-year old needs to start solving problems with, and living within resource constraints. It's a crucial skill.

It also suggests that if it was her money, she might pick more modest equipment to learn photography with. I mean, if someone wants to learn to be a race car driver, Formula One is not the place to start. Let the $2000+ camera be the goal, not the starting point.

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post #39 of 69
Some Color on this patent and IP: John Border a former scientist/engineer with Kodak originally applied in 2011 for this 8,593,564 patent, granted on Nov. 26th 2013 to Apple. This is one of two things: Either Border is working on behalf of Apple now, ex Kodak, or this is part of the IP/patent package that Kodak sold last year and Apple, MS, Google and Intellectual Ventures (troll) bought as defensive patents. It has absolutely nothing to do with Lytro other than using Ng's invention as prior art.

To Hodar, There is a trade off in signal/noise and dynamic range when using post image processing or stereoscopic to define an entirely focused image, or selectively focused. This is why you do not see LF cameras yet in machine vision or scientific applications.
post #40 of 69
This has already been done in a free app for Windows phones. The app is called Nokia Refocus and it does exactly what the lytro cameras do for FREE! You can change the focus point of your image after the you have captured the image. It also enables you to make the entire frame in focus.

I installed the app on my Nokia 928 and it works great!

You can read more about in the announcement covered by The Verge website:

http://www.theverge.com/2013/11/13/5099000/nokia-refocus-download-for-pureview-lumia-windows-phones
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AppleInsider › Forums › General › General Discussion › Apple patents Lytro-like refocusable camera suitable for iPhone