Apple patents ultra-compact folding telephoto lens for mobile devices

Posted:
in iPhone
The days of being forced to deal with a bulbous camera bump to enjoy optical zoom in a smartphone may soon be over, as Apple has invented a new variety of compact telephoto lens system.




The patent -- rather unimaginatively titled "folded telephoto camera lens system" -- describes a method of forming a telephoto lens into a sort of lowercase "r" shape, reminiscent of an old-fashioned periscope. Light is channeled in through the primary lens, bounced off of a mirror, and redirected to the secondary lens which focuses it on the image sensor.

Moving the secondary lens up and down, even by tiny increments that may amount to fractions of a millimeter, would achieve the telephoto results.

Interestingly, Apple discusses one scenario in which the folding telephoto lens would be included as a secondary option. Users would be free to choose between it and a more standard wider-field lens when taking photos.

Rumors that Apple was considering moving future iPhones to a dual-camera setup have persisted for years, but they have really picked up steam with the so-called "iPhone 7." Numerous supply chain reports and even supposedly leaked parts have pointed to such a move, meaning the new telephoto lens system may make its debut sooner than later.

Apple credits Romeo I. Mercado with the invention of U.S. Patent No. 9,316,810.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    I'd love to see them put this into future iPhones.
  • Reply 2 of 21
    irelandireland Posts: 17,299member
    It seems like a no-brainer that as devices become thinner the camera would move to look up the body of the phone and bounce out. I've blue-skied about this myself a time or two. Once it's environed it's hard to imagine future phones go any other way.
    edited April 2016
  • Reply 3 of 21
    tzterritzterri Posts: 93member
    My Panasonic underwater camera has had folded optics for years now.
  • Reply 4 of 21
    tzterri said:
    My Panasonic underwater camera has had folded optics for years now.
    Minolta released a pocket-sized point & shoot with folded optic zoom lens 14 years ago.

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minoltadimagex

    There has to be more to Apple's patent that AI isn't telling us about.
  • Reply 5 of 21
    kbrumkbrum Posts: 3member
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  I am a long time (60 years) engineer and user of expensive cameras and phones.  The bump is what I like and want, I can easily clean the lens and most important keep the lens clean at all times just like the SLR camera lens.  I want a tele in my phone and I really don't care if the bump is a little more significant.  



  • Reply 6 of 21
    tmaytmay Posts: 2,864member
    tzterri said:
    My Panasonic underwater camera has had folded optics for years now.
    Minolta released a pocket-sized point & shoot with folded optic zoom lens 14 years ago.

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minoltadimagex

    There has to be more to Apple's patent that AI isn't telling us about.
    Probably the IP necessary to fit folded optics within a 6 mm thickness.
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 7 of 21
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  

    Your opinion on the topic of camera design is legitimate, but your opening insult was unnecessary and counter-productive.
    wonkothesaneretrogustoradarthekatmacky the mackyjony0
  • Reply 8 of 21
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,509member
    tzterri said:
    My Panasonic underwater camera has had folded optics for years now.
    Minolta released a pocket-sized point & shoot with folded optic zoom lens 14 years ago.

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minoltadimagex

    There has to be more to Apple's patent that AI isn't telling us about.
    There is nothing surprising about folded optics. In this case it appears that AI missed an important element here, the patent appears to be related to a production method. If so that is very patentable if unique. In fact folded optics are so well known I can't imagine it being anything other than a production method patent. In any event a cell phone camera with a decent optical zoom would be fantastic.
    tmaywonkothesaneradarthekat
  • Reply 9 of 21
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 30,645member
    Heh. This is what I've been saying here for years. Now, they just need to have the sensor flat using another two mirrors, and they can make it much bigger than it is now.
  • Reply 10 of 21
    19831983 Posts: 1,062member
    tzterri said:
    My Panasonic underwater camera has had folded optics for years now.
    Yes, and Minolta were the first company I believe to incorporate a 'periscope' folded optics zoom, in a digital compact years before that too! Also from what I understand from the patent application, this arrangement allows for either wide-angle or telephoto lens options. That's not a real zoom, its a dual focal length setup. Similar to what I remember using as a kid with 110 format film cameras back in the 70s! Nothing really new under the sun then.
    edited April 2016
  • Reply 11 of 21
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 394member
    melgross said:
    Heh. This is what I've been saying here for years. Now, they just need to have the sensor flat using another two mirrors, and they can make it much bigger than it is now.
    Not sure that is such a great idea. More mirrors=more light loss.
  • Reply 12 of 21
    wonkothesanewonkothesane Posts: 1,181member
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  I am a long time (60 years) engineer and user of expensive cameras and phones.  The bump is what I like and want, I can easily clean the lens and most important keep the lens clean at all times just like the SLR camera lens.  I want a tele in my phone and I really don't care if the bump is a little more significant.  



    Congrats for making no friends at all with your insult in the first post and sentence. 
  • Reply 13 of 21
    The Polaroid SX-70 camera had folded optics beginning in 1972.
  • Reply 14 of 21
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,474moderator
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  I am a long time (60 years) engineer and user of expensive cameras and phones.  The bump is what I like and want, I can easily clean the lens and most important keep the lens clean at all times just like the SLR camera lens.  I want a tele in my phone and I really don't care if the bump is a little more significant.  

    ---

    What represents ignorance best is failing to recognize that there's absolutely nothing about a folded lens that precludes the primary lens bump.  In fact, this setup would allow a larger primary lens as the distance from it to the mirror is increased, and in turn allows more zoomability (my word, don't you love it)?  But hey, thanks for playing.


    edited April 2016
  • Reply 15 of 21
    roakeroake Posts: 566member
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  I am a long time (60 years) engineer and user of expensive cameras and phones.  The bump is what I like and want, I can easily clean the lens and most important keep the lens clean at all times just like the SLR camera lens.  I want a tele in my phone and I really don't care if the bump is a little more significant.  



    Seems a bit odd.  I'm glad you like the lens bump, since it means the current high-end iPhone may give you more pleasure than most of the rest of us get.  I personally feel confident that I can clean a lens that is flush with the case just as easily as a lens that sticks out (if not more easily, since it would no longer require a ridge around the lens). Telephoto is good, I agree, but telephoto without a lens bump is better.  Again, seems a bit odd that you call us ignorant because we don't prefer the protruding lens, but if you get pleasure from it, I guess that's fine.

    For the record, I may be ignorant, but I prefer no lens bump.
  • Reply 16 of 21
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,888member
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  I am a long time (60 years) engineer and user of expensive cameras and phones.  The bump is what I like and want, I can easily clean the lens and most important keep the lens clean at all times just like the SLR camera lens.  I want a tele in my phone and I really don't care if the bump is a little more significant.  



    I'm glad to hear you're an old man. I'll excuse your initial statement as being something coming from an old man trying to justify his life. Your statement about using expensive cameras and phones is ironic, as is cleaning them the same way. I don't clean my SLR lenses the same way I clean my iPhone 6 lens, which has a protective sapphire crystal covering any lenses, something no commercial SLR lens manufacturer uses. As for having a bump, I feel it only gets in the way of my case and creates an easily to harm feature while putting it in my pocket. Oh wait, you probably keep your expensive phone in a camera bag and only take it out to shot wide angle photos.

    The patent calls for a focal length of 8mm to 14mm and includes a variety of lens shapes (not just the one shown above). I'm guessing the final zoom camera might only be 6-8mm thick. My iPhone 6s is 7.1mm thick (iPhone 6s Plus is 7.3mm) so there's a possibility this camera could fit into the existing iPhone case without an ugly bulge. I'm not an engineer, just a retired computer system manager with close to 40 years of experience.
    macky the macky
  • Reply 17 of 21
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,725member
    The Polaroid SX-70 camera had folded optics beginning in 1972.
    Pretty sure this is 50 times smaller; so the process to make this, would be very very different.
  • Reply 18 of 21
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,676member
    tzterri said:
    My Panasonic underwater camera has had folded optics for years now.
    Minolta released a pocket-sized point & shoot with folded optic zoom lens 14 years ago.

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minoltadimagex

    There has to be more to Apple's patent that AI isn't telling us about.
    Probably has something to do with it only being about 5mm - 6mm thin.
  • Reply 19 of 21
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,184member
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.  

    Your opinion on the topic of camera design is legitimate, but your opening insult was unnecessary and counter-productive.
    I though he was being facetious.
  • Reply 20 of 21
    kbrum said:
    I feel  you all are really ignorant.  I like the lens bump.
    I just added some new lenses to my collection today and have reviewed the info pretty closely. I also read the patent.

    First, today's iPhone cameras have very wide-angle lenses. They're easy to focus and you're less likely to see blur, but you have to stand close to your subject, resulting in eg, lousy portraits because the subject's nose is enough closer that it gets exaggerated. The fine print in the patent defines a lens with about twice (or more) the “focal length,” meaning that your nice little bump becomes a breakable nipple protrusion.

    Second, the most obvious trouble with today's cameras' image quality comes from the small sensor size. Unfortunately, making a bigger sensor means a proportionately longer distance from the lens to the sensor, ALSO turning the bump into a nipple (a larger one, at that!). Trying to make a normal lens, or especially a telephoto, with a larger sensor is ridiculously impractical without the bent light path. You'd have to have a flip-out lens or some other kludge.

    So this patent is not about a lens bump. Your opinions on the bump are irrelevant, off-topic, wasted (besides rude). Instead, the patent is about allowing a lens that could zoom out to a telephoto without being ridiculous.

    PS: the patent references earlier, non-Apple patents for folded light paths in compact cameras. I didn't try to see how the new one is significantly different. I *DID* notice a similar generic formula for the asphericity of lenses, so that's not it; perhaps it's the specific lens shapes being able to be zoomed in the way envisioned.
    edited April 2016
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