Apple invention details single-sensor, multi-lens camera system for iPhone

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 2015
An Apple patent filing published Thursday describes a mechanism capable of directing light from two apertures onto a single image sensor, facilitating smaller iPhone form factors while ensuring identical image quality from both front- and rear-facing cameras.




As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's patent application for a "System and method for capturing images" combines a novel array of electrically switchable mirrors, lenses and other components to channel light from two or more apertures onto a single image sensing module. Applied to iPhone and iPad, the invention could mean smaller devices, consistent image quality and potentially cheaper hardware.

A bulk of today's filing deals with techniques of directing light from at least two separate entrance points onto a single sensor. Currently, Apple's portable devices sport front- and rear-facing cameras, which are respectively branded iSight and FaceTime HD with the latest iPhone 6. Due to internal size constraints, the FaceTime HD "selfie" camera uses a smaller, lower resolution sensor compared to its 8MP iSight sibling.

Today's invention seeks to replace this multi-sensor setup with a single imaging package.

The goal of Apple's system is to redirect incoming light from two apertures, or lens-covered openings in an iPhone or iPad chassis, onto one sensor. In some embodiments, light enters the device from two opposing directions, much like current iPhones, but instead of hitting a sensor directly after exiting a series of lenses, it is bounced off of machine controllable mirrors.


Source: USPTO


Electrically switchable mirrors are therefore key to Apple's proposed design. These components are capable of transitioning between reflective and transmissive modes when an electric current is applied, allowing for highly adjustable light manipulation without moving parts.

Mounted at an angle using transparent support structures, the one or more ESMs redirect light entering either the first or second aperture to an internal lens element and onto an image sensor. A moveable lens apparatus is also implemented to compensate for distance differentials between the first aperture to the image sensor, and the second aperture to the same image sensor.

In one embodiment, Apple describes an arrangement with one ESM and one standard mirror. A first signal puts the ESM into reflective mode, thus directing light from a first aperture to the internal sensor. A second signal invokes transmissive mode, allowing light entering a second aperture opposite the first to pass through, hit the standard mirror and reflect down onto the sensor.




Another embodiment, as seen above, figures in a second ESM. In this case, a third signal forces the second ESM into complementary transmissive mode, allowing incoming light entering the first aperture to pass through to the sensor. The signal is timed to complement the reflective mode of the first ESM. A fourth signal switches things around and puts the second ESM into complementary reflective mode to reflect stray light from the first aperture away from the sensor. The fourth signal is likewise timed to complement the first ESM in transmissive mode.

The document further covers alternative designs including varied ESM timing, single-piece ESMs, ESMs composed of multiple pieces, alternate mirror arrangements and more.




It is unclear if Apple intends to employ such advanced camera technology in an upcoming iPhone model, but the company is already pushing the limit with successively thin device designs. Soon, a single component or assembly will likely dictate how thin Apple can take iPhone and iPad. Earlier this year, SVP of Design Jony Ive admitted his iPhone 6 design was too svelte to completely incorporate Apple's iSight camera module, resulting in "camera bump" that breaks up otherwise clean lines.

Apple's mirror-based single-sensor camera patent application was first filed for in September 2013 and credits Ning Y. Chan as its inventor.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    This patent sounded like a continuation of last week's patent covering multiple sensors. Upon fact checking last week's patent, I discovered Ning Y. Chan was listed on that and this patent.

    http://appleinsider.com/articles/15/03/24/apple-invents-3-sensor-iphone-camera-with-light-splitting-cube-for-accurate-colors-low-light-performance
  • Reply 2 of 16

    hello,

    really awesome one. nice info on apples sensors

    thanks dude

    http://www.thecheesyanimation.com/Interior-Design-&-Rendering.html

  • Reply 3 of 16
    Aaaaagh!

    Seeing that protruding camera up close is like a nightmare come true.

    Still, if this patent can make it flush, then it's in a worthy cause.

    Kudos to those on this forum who have already outlined the details of this patent.
  • Reply 4 of 16
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,383member
    At some point this technology will surely advance to a point where many more lenses will be used akin to a fly's eye giving RAW images extensive post DOF and POV adjustment as well as exposure. I hope Apple lead the way in this and I also hope Canon and Nikon are on board for the pro end,
  • Reply 5 of 16
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,185member
    At some point this technology will surely advance to a point where many more lenses will be used akin to a fly's eye giving RAW images extensive post DOF and POV adjustment as well as exposure. I hope Apple lead the way in this and I also hope Canon and Nikon are on board for the pro end,

    ...and Pentax (Ricoh) :D
  • Reply 6 of 16
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,383member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    ...and Pentax (Ricoh) :D

    I only mentioned the two most important, especially Canon as the pre eminent lens maker. Obviously all would get on board if this ever came to pass. I don't want to even think about the file sizes though! Then there is 4K and 8K video with RAW and a fly's eye lens ... ! :\
  • Reply 7 of 16
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,185member
    I only mentioned the two most important, especially Canon as the pre eminent lens maker. Obviously all would get on board if this ever came to pass. I don't want to even think about the file sizes though! Then there is 4K and 8K video with RAW and a fly's eye lens ... ! :\

    I only mentioned Pentax because of a new-found appreciation for some of their 30 year old FF lenses. The 50mm F1.2 and 85mm F1.8 are simply amazing and built like tanks. I'm currently using a K3 because of the out-of-the-box compatibility with vintage glass.
  • Reply 8 of 16
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,756member

    But, Apple doesn't innovate.

  • Reply 9 of 16
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,383member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    I only mentioned Pentax because of a new-found appreciation for some of their 30 year old FF lenses. The 50mm F1.2 and 85mm F1.8 are simply amazing and built like tanks. I'm currently using a K3 because of the out-of-the-box compatibility with vintage glass.

    I actually purchased an Olympus to Canon adapter just for the fun of trying all my old Olympus M1 and M2 lenses on my Canon 70D. Obviously full manual but the glass is still very good and the F/1.8 prime is very nice. That said I prefer my L lenses and IS :) Nostalgia just goes so far, as I discover every time I fire up a Mac Plus or an Apple ][.
  • Reply 10 of 16
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,383member
    mike1 wrote: »
    But, Apple doesn't innovate.

    Of course not they use magic! :D
  • Reply 11 of 16
    mike1 wrote: »
    But, Apple doesn't innovate.

    Of course not they use magic! :D

    They do; Steve Jobs said so in the iPad keynote. ????
  • Reply 12 of 16
    wonkothesanewonkothesane Posts: 1,551member
    Yes, sounds innovative. Sounds also more prone to breaking due to the moving parts, especially mirror positioning. People are less careful with phones than with a DLR I'd assume.
  • Reply 13 of 16
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 1,937member
    Yes, sounds innovative. Sounds also more prone to breaking due to the moving parts, especially mirror positioning. People are less careful with phones than with a DLR I'd assume.

    That was my first thought too. But then I read the article...

    "Electrically switchable mirrors are therefore key to Apple's proposed design. These components are capable of transitioning between reflective and transmissive modes when an electric current is applied, allowing for highly adjustable light manipulation without moving parts."
  • Reply 14 of 16
    wonkothesanewonkothesane Posts: 1,551member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bageljoey View Post





    That was my first thought too. But then I read the article...



    "Electrically switchable mirrors are therefore key to Apple's proposed design. These components are capable of transitioning between reflective and transmissive modes when an electric current is applied, allowing for highly adjustable light manipulation without moving parts."



    Ah, missed that part. Thx for pointing it out. I was referring to  "A moveable lens apparatus is also implemented".

  • Reply 15 of 16
    rivertriprivertrip Posts: 124member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post





    I actually purchased an Olympus to Canon adapter just for the fun of trying all my old Olympus M1 and M2 lenses on my Canon 70D. Obviously full manual but the glass is still very good and the F/1.8 prime is very nice. That said I prefer my L lenses and IS image Nostalgia just goes so far, as I discover every time I fire up a Mac Plus or an Apple ][.



    Do you mean Olympus Zuiko lenses for the OM1 and OM2 (and OM3 and OM4) cameras? Some were wonderful, but others were not very good.

  • Reply 16 of 16
    calicali Posts: 3,494member
    If this means no sensors outside the lens, the iPhone aesthetic could see a nice bump.
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