Future iPhones may sport both telephoto and wide angle cameras, patent application suggests

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2015
Coming amid rumors of a next-generation iPhone with dual lenses, an Apple patent application published Thursday reveals a setup that features both wide angle and telephoto cameras.




According to Apple's patent filing for a "Small form factor telephoto camera," published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the company is investigating ways to fit two cameras into a portable device.

Specifically, Apple's invention proposes a separate small format telephoto camera be used in conjunction with a normal-to-wide angle camera like those found in current iPhone models. Considering physical restrictions and the current state of imaging technology, a dual-camera implementation would likely yield higher quality images than a comparable single-lens system with integrated optical zoom.

The document details a telephoto camera system with a total track length of 6mm or less, focal length of about 7mm and telephoto ratio within 0.74 and 1.0. The overall TTL/f must be less than or equal to 1.0 to be considered a telephoto lens system. In some embodiments, the telephoto camera may be equipped with an adjustable iris or aperture stop which, assuming a 36-degree field of view, would allow for focal ratios from about 2.4 to 10.0.


Source: USPTO


In practice, Apple's invention is a traditional digital camera arranged for telephoto photography. Light enters a lens assembly through an aperture and passes through infrared or other corrective filters to form an image on an image plane at or near a photosensor.

Like current iPhone cameras, the proposed telephoto system calls for multiple lens elements, in this case four or five separate refracting components made from plastic, glass or other suitable transparent materials. Also like modern iPhone shooters, the patent application makes note of a camera sensor with pixels sized at 1.2 microns or less.

A large chunk of the document details a variety of potential lens surfaces, magnification, curvatures and other physical dimensions. Also covered are light spectrums, optical prescriptions and solutions for chromatic aberrations.




Apple owns a number of patents relating to iPhone camera improvements, including IP describing a dual-sensor system that combines image data for high quality output. Other patents detail more exotic arrangements like a three-sensor camera with light-splitting cube for enhanced low-light performance, as well as a three-sensor, three-lens configuration for better color reproduction.

Late last year rumor had it that Apple was working on a dual-lens solution for its next-generation iPhone. Since that initial report, industry insiders have offered diverging opinions on the matter, with some saying the system will make it into the so-called "iPhone 6S," and others denying such claims.

Adding to intrigue, Apple recently disclosed the purchase of LinX Imaging, an Israeli company specializing in multi-aperture imaging technology. For $20 million, Apple bought access to a cache of inventions that leverage a plurality of camera sensors and special software to produce high-resolution images in both 2D and 3D formats.

Apple's compact telephoto camera patent application was first filed for in October 2013 and credits Romeo I. Mercado as its inventor.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 23
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    No phone has ever had two cameras in it before, excluding of course the two I have.

    Good luck with having this upheld in a court dispute if anyone is silly enough to grant a patent.
  • Reply 3 of 23
    cnocbui wrote: »
    No phone has ever had two cameras in it before, excluding of course the two I have.

    Good luck with having this upheld in a court dispute if anyone is silly enough to grant a patent.
    cnocbui wrote: »

    This Apple patent application isn't simply "two cameras in a mobile phone"

    It's 44 pages and 18,000 words describing... in great detail... a specific implementation of two cameras in a mobile phone.

    You cannot patent an idea. You can only patent the method of creating a particular real-world product.

    From the USPTO:

    "A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. The patent is granted upon the new machine, manufacture, etc... and not upon the idea or suggestion of the new machine. A complete description of the actual machine or other subject matter for which a patent is sought is required."

    In short... no one can patent the idea of two cameras in a mobile phone.

    But if you can come up with some unique way of doing it... which results in a useful product... then you can patent that specific method if building it.
  • Reply 4 of 23
    I wonder if two cameras open up the possibility of capturing 3D photos -- or even videos -- since the two cameras will see a scene from slightly different perspectives / points-in-space.

    But if so.... do the cameras need to be spaced farther apart to match the separation of human eyes? You could do this by placing one camera in the left & right corners of the phone.
  • Reply 5 of 23
    mubailimubaili Posts: 389member
    That is ugly as hell
  • Reply 6 of 23
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mubaili View Post



    That is ugly as hell



    The advantages are huge though. It will go from ugly to status symbol when it hits the market.

  • Reply 7 of 23
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,918member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Michael Scrip View Post



    You cannot patent an idea. You can only patent the method of creating a particular real-world product.

     

     

    Exactly!

     

    I seem to recall a Steve Jobs quote along the lines of -- coming up with ideas is easy; implementing them well is what's hard. 

  • Reply 8 of 23
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,223member
    mubaili wrote: »
    That is ugly as hell

    Yes, that's what the Cyclops family said about the Greeks. ;)
  • Reply 9 of 23
    ...in the digital realm wide angle lenses have been particularly problematic due to size constraints of small sensors and the need for short focal lengths, as compared to 35mm film especially...

    Kodak had a couple of benchmark dual lens cameras that offered 23mm equivalent prime lenses, with edge to edge optical quality so far unprecedented (to me knowledge) in the sub $1k price range, and arguably better raw optical quality than some above that price point, rarely even available at that wide angle. Software also assisted with barrel distortion correction, among other things. The feature set was unfortunately more 'point & shoot' than prosumer creative, so care was needed in tricking the camera automation to compensate for specific lighting issues...

    http://www.dpreview.com/products/kodak/compacts/kodak_v570
    http://www.dpreview.com/products/kodak/compacts/kodak_v705

    Unfortunately I'm of the impression now that many camera companies are run by those less interested in pure optical quality & more in marketing & feature lists - hopefully Apple can bring prime wide angle lens optical quality to the iPhone. My favourite was always in the 21mm range as 35mm equivalent...
  • Reply 10 of 23
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,223member
    cnocbui wrote: »

    Do you have the dates and details of the HTC patent on that device? Obviously any discussion slamming Apple by you is pointless with out an expert analysis of both sets of filings.
  • Reply 11 of 23
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,747member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post



    No phone has ever had two cameras in it before, excluding of course the two I have.



    Good luck with having this upheld in a court dispute if anyone is silly enough to grant a patent.

    Method.

     

    Not idea.

     

    Moron.

  • Reply 12 of 23
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,098member
    mubaili wrote: »
    That is ugly as hell

    That is an old and often reused fake. A mock-up that isn't even similar to the patent described.
  • Reply 13 of 23
    inklinginkling Posts: 731member
    The good news from this patent is that Apple isn't letting its dominance of the smartphone market be an excuse to stand pat. That's what got Blackberry and Nokia in trouble. It is exploring new ideas and new features. The camera isn't that big a deal with me, but it's a deal breaker for many.
  • Reply 14 of 23
    schlackschlack Posts: 692member
    could be to support intelligent details, whereby it merges the two images and the main subjects have better detail/resolution than the wider field of view of the image.
  • Reply 15 of 23
    A telephoto camera (or optical zoom) is at the top of my wish list for potential iPhone improvements. I can't think of anything else about my iPhone 6 that I ever find lacking--the battery life is way more than I need, as are the screen resolution, the thinness, the speed, apps available, the beauty of design, etc. I guess they could also make it waterproof and more durable, but that hasn't really been an issue for me so far either.

    I was recently traveling through some places with breathtaking landscapes and had forgotten my camera, but whenever I held up my iPhone with its wide-angle lens, everything looked so much worse that in most cases I didn't even bother. The camera is excellent of course for times when a wide-angle lens is suitable, but sometimes you just need a longer focal length to capture what you're seeing.

    Since iPhones already have two cameras, maybe they could just make it so both are high res, and the wide-angle one can swing around to face either side while a telephoto one is fixed to point to the rear.
  • Reply 16 of 23
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,030member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post



    No phone has ever had two cameras in it before, excluding of course the two I have.



    Good luck with having this upheld in a court dispute if anyone is silly enough to grant a patent.

    I own a Subaru with four wheels. I don't see Ford or Chevy taking Subaru to court over having the same number of wheels. Does someone own a patent on having one camera on a phone? 

     

    What two phones do you have that have multiple cameras? Are they specifically for 3D? If so, that's a different usage anyway so they aren't the same.

  • Reply 17 of 23
    He's never posted anything intelligent. Ever.
  • Reply 18 of 23
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,056member
    Quote:


     I wonder if two cameras open up the possibility of capturing 3D photos -- or even videos -- since the two cameras will see a scene from slightly different perspectives / points-in-space.



    But if so.... do the cameras need to be spaced farther apart to match the separation of human eyes? You could do this by placing one camera in the left & right corners of the phone.


     

     

    Another alternative would be to allow the cameras from multiple phones to be grouped together over a peer-peer network and synchronized to form a single imaging array to form a better and perhaps somewhat 3D image of the subject. Another alternative would be a variation of the panorama feature - instead of standing still while sweeping the camera across the scene you keep the subject in the center of the viewfinder while you walk perpendicular to the subject. This would create a subtle synthetic aperture effect. Yet another interesting variation of the panorama would be to allow you to walk completely around a subject while keeping the subject in the viewfinder. The camera would then stitch together the frames into a single 3D image. This would be a great way to capture a 3D image and would be especially interesting for things like people, sculptures, cars, etc. 

  • Reply 19 of 23
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Michael Scrip View Post



    You cannot patent an idea. You can only patent the method of creating a particular real-world product.

     

     

    Wrong. 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_(patent)

    Quote:

     In United States patent law, a method, also called "process", is one of the four principal categories of things that may be patented through "utility patents"... In that context, a method is a series of steps for performing a function or accomplishing a result


     

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_(patent)

    Quote:

     The Supreme Court has defined the term "machine" as "a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices.


     

    You patent a method of creating an image with two cameras. This is the idea of using two cameras. A machine patent is a specific series of lenses that you may use in a camera.

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by rob53 View Post

     

    I own a Subaru with four wheels. I don't see Ford or Chevy taking Subaru to court over having the same number of wheels.


     

    The patents for cars was granted to Karl Benz around 1880. There were many patents regarding the ability to steer a car with four wheels. If you've ever studied vehicles, it's not obvious at all.

  • Reply 20 of 23
    konqerror wrote: »
    Wrong. 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_%28patent%29

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_(patent)

    You patent a method of creating an image with two cameras. This is the idea of using two cameras. A machine patent is a specific series of lenses that you may use in a camera

    My point was idea vs invention. One of those you cannot patent... the other you can.

    The earlier comment was saying that some phones already have two cameras... so Apple shouldn't be granted a patent.

    But he didn't dig in to see what the patent application is actually saying. Yes... someone else has already put two cameras in a phone... and created an image using two cameras in a phone... but Apple's method could be very different.

    That's why they have to describe the method on the patent application in great detail.

    There are 159 sections and countless drawings and diagrams in Apple's patent application.

    I find it hard to believe that two separate companies could come up with the EXACT same method.

    We'd have to examine Corephotonics' dual-camera patent application to see how similar it is to Apple's patent application. (if at all)
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