Apple researching 'light folding' to make periscope lenses for iPhone

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 28
A newly-revealed patent application shows that Apple is pressing ahead with its search for a "folding camera" for the iPhone.

iPhone 12 Pro


Apple has been expected to develop a "folding camera" for a future iPhone. Most recently, Apple has reportedly been searching for a supplier to make such a periscope lens, and now a new patent application explains the thinking behind it.

It's previously been reported that a folding lens system could reduce the camera bump on the back of iPhones. However, Apple has been researching this for several years, already holding multiple patents on the topic.

This latest patent application, "Camera Including Two Light Folding Elements," is specifically concerned with the balance between having an improved camera while keeping the small form factor of an iPhone, or an iPad.

"The advent of small, mobile multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet or pad devices has resulted in a need for high-resolution, small form factor cameras that are lightweight, compact, and capable of capturing high resolution, high quality images at low F-numbers for integration in the devices," says the application.

"However, due to limitations of conventional camera technology, conventional small cameras used in such devices tend to capture images at lower resolutions and/or with lower image quality than can be achieved with larger, higher quality cameras," it continues.

Apple says that what is needed is a "photosensor with small pixel size and a good, compact imaging lens system." But as these have been developed, demand for even better ones has increased.

"In addition," it continues, "there are increasing expectations for small form factor cameras to be equipped with higher pixel count and/or larger pixel size image sensors (one or both of which may require larger image sensors) while still maintaining a module height that is compact enough to fit into portable electronic devices."

Detail from the patent showing a series of light folding prisms or mirrors
Detail from the patent showing a series of light folding prisms or mirrors


Apple's proposal is a lens system may be configured in the camera to move on one or more axes independently" of a prism or mirror in the iPhone body. This patent application describes very many different combinations of types of lens, and the number of lenses, but broadly the proposal follows one core idea.

"The camera may include an actuator component configured to move the lens system," it says, along with "two light folding elements (eg two prisms, or one prism and a mirror.") As well as the zoom function that a periscope lens is expected to give, this particular configuration could also "provide optical image stabilization (OIS) functionality for the camera."

The patent application is credited to Yuhong Yao, whose previous work includes several granted patents on related topics. Chief among those are a series of patents for folding lens systems with three, four, or five refractive lenses.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    It still surprises me in this new era of computational photography they continue to place so much reliance on a small cluster of sensors. Why not drastically increase the number of smaller optical elements in order to synthesize images which would be a combination of image angles, resolutions and light waves more akin to a 3-D scanned, textured and lit scene?
    kurai_kageswat671
  • Reply 2 of 13
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,949member
    I don’t understand the point to all this research when Apple seems to just purchase models elsewhere. For example, Samsung purchased the company that makes their periscope cameras. Apple is talking to Samsung about purchasing those cameras for their own phones. Why didn’t Apple buy that company? And with all the R&D that Apple is doing here, why are they looking to purchase cameras anyway? 

    I would think that after all the years they’ve been spending on R&D in cameras, sensors, etc., that they would have come up with their own sensors, optical plastics and even optical glasses. Take some of that money being thrown away on stock buybacks and spend it on thus instead. How much does Canon and Sony spend on their R&D for photo products? It can’t be more than a small fraction of what Apple’s around $20 billion is, and yet they manage to come out with several new cameras and anywhere from six to ten new lenses a year, plus significant accessories. Apple can surely take $250 million a year and develop their own leading edge cameras and sensors, considering how important to sales cameras have become for smartphones.
    muthuk_vanalingamswat671watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    The Light Folding element is a prism.

    I'm not sure what the author means by "folding camera"
    SpamSandwichwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,949member

    It still surprises me in this new era of computational photography they continue to place so much reliance on a small cluster of sensors. Why not drastically increase the number of smaller optical elements in order to synthesize images which would be a combination of image angles, resolutions and light waves more akin to a 3-D scanned, textured and lit scene?
    That’s interesting but very complex. Now, I’d rather see them drop one camera and have a wide angle camera with a 3:1 zoom, say 12mm to 36mm, and a second tele zoom with 36 to 144, which would be 4:1. They could easily fit two equal size, and larger sensors, in the space they have two now. Frankly, I don’t care if the camera is a bit thicker to accommodate them, just round the back edges of the camera a little, for comfort. It would also allow a bigger battery, which nobody would object to.

    one reason why cameras have mostly been stuck at 12MP is that the SoCs aren’t powerful enough to do all the processing at 16mp. That may have been true, but no l9nger. The very high rez cameras we see in some phones aren’t processed as much.

    so two cameras with 16mp and good optical zooms. That would be much better than what’s available now.
    SpamSandwichwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    melgross said:
    I don’t understand the point to all this research when Apple seems to just purchase models elsewhere. For example, Samsung purchased the company that makes their periscope cameras. Apple is talking to Samsung about purchasing those cameras for their own phones. Why didn’t Apple buy that company? And with all the R&D that Apple is doing here, why are they looking to purchase cameras anyway? 

    I would think that after all the years they’ve been spending on R&D in cameras, sensors, etc., that they would have come up with their own sensors, optical plastics and even optical glasses. Take some of that money being thrown away on stock buybacks and spend it on thus instead. How much does Canon and Sony spend on their R&D for photo products? It can’t be more than a small fraction of what Apple’s around $20 billion is, and yet they manage to come out with several new cameras and anywhere from six to ten new lenses a year, plus significant accessories. Apple can surely take $250 million a year and develop their own leading edge cameras and sensors, considering how important to sales cameras have become for smartphones.
    Right on all points. Apple could’ve bought Sony’s photography and camera division by now.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 13

    melgross said:

    It still surprises me in this new era of computational photography they continue to place so much reliance on a small cluster of sensors. Why not drastically increase the number of smaller optical elements in order to synthesize images which would be a combination of image angles, resolutions and light waves more akin to a 3-D scanned, textured and lit scene?
    That’s interesting but very complex. Now, I’d rather see them drop one camera and have a wide angle camera with a 3:1 zoom, say 12mm to 36mm, and a second tele zoom with 36 to 144, which would be 4:1. They could easily fit two equal size, and larger sensors, in the space they have two now. Frankly, I don’t care if the camera is a bit thicker to accommodate them, just round the back edges of the camera a little, for comfort. It would also allow a bigger battery, which nobody would object to.

    one reason why cameras have mostly been stuck at 12MP is that the SoCs aren’t powerful enough to do all the processing at 16mp. That may have been true, but no l9nger. The very high rez cameras we see in some phones aren’t processed as much.

    so two cameras with 16mp and good optical zooms. That would be much better than what’s available now.
    The idea I suggested is already happening with so-called “light field” cameras, but nothing prevents a smaller matrix of sensors from being used to achieve the same effects. It’s almost akin to using an array of orbital and ground based telescopes to synthesize a much sharper view of the universe.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 13
    Meh. Let's imagine for the moment Apple always had the capital it had now. If they'd decided to buy the maker of the Rio, what would the iPod have looked like? If they bought BlackBerry (let's imagine they had the capital at the time), what would the iPhone look like? And if they bought Intel, what would the M1 Macs look like? 

    Obviously, Apple's R&D track record isn't perfect — far from it. But I think they've had enough high-profile successes to create some doubt around the assumption that they can't beat camera makers at their own game.
    tmaywatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 13
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,512member
    It still surprises me in this new era of computational photography they continue to place so much reliance on a small cluster of sensors. Why not drastically increase the number of smaller optical elements in order to synthesize images which would be a combination of image angles, resolutions and light waves more akin to a 3-D scanned, textured and lit scene?

    Basically, a light field camera which we know Apple have looked at in the past yet for various reasons all the manufactures have moved out of consumer models.
    Interesting Sony now have an eyetracking light field display screen that would seem to align with Apples goals as well.

    There also seems to be a few papers floating around about using light fields with a ground truth depth map like depth maps  and structural sensors Apple have been playing with to get faster processing and higher resolution out of a Light field array so maybe now Apple have matured those technologies into their devices they could swing back to a light field.

    Wouldn't the light folding in the Application let them spread the lens array out from a single sensor without needing as much depth?
    edited January 28 watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 13
    I'm not sure you can (or can easily) make a true light field camera small enough for a phone. I think you need too large of a lens assembly.

    https://raytrix.de

    Remember the Light L16 with it's various cameras on the back, or LG's 16 camera concept (not actually light field).
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 13
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,949member
    mknelson said:
    The Light Folding element is a prism.

    I'm not sure what the author means by "folding camera"
    Maybe it will have a bellows.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 13
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,949member


    melgross said:

    It still surprises me in this new era of computational photography they continue to place so much reliance on a small cluster of sensors. Why not drastically increase the number of smaller optical elements in order to synthesize images which would be a combination of image angles, resolutions and light waves more akin to a 3-D scanned, textured and lit scene?
    That’s interesting but very complex. Now, I’d rather see them drop one camera and have a wide angle camera with a 3:1 zoom, say 12mm to 36mm, and a second tele zoom with 36 to 144, which would be 4:1. They could easily fit two equal size, and larger sensors, in the space they have two now. Frankly, I don’t care if the camera is a bit thicker to accommodate them, just round the back edges of the camera a little, for comfort. It would also allow a bigger battery, which nobody would object to.

    one reason why cameras have mostly been stuck at 12MP is that the SoCs aren’t powerful enough to do all the processing at 16mp. That may have been true, but no l9nger. The very high rez cameras we see in some phones aren’t processed as much.

    so two cameras with 16mp and good optical zooms. That would be much better than what’s available now.
    The idea I suggested is already happening with so-called “light field” cameras, but nothing prevents a smaller matrix of sensors from being used to achieve the same effects. It’s almost akin to using an array of orbital and ground based telescopes to synthesize a much sharper view of the universe.
    Apple has at least three patents on light field cameras, that I know of. I think that’s a dead end though. Look at what Canon has with their split pixel sensors. They can capture depth without all the lenses that reduces resolution by up to 90%, making it pretty much useless. Remember that the company that started this went out of business, I tried one of their cameras. Ugh! Horrible pictures in every way. You need a 100 million pixel sensor to get a medium rez picture. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 13
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,949member

    mgrad92 said:
    Meh. Let's imagine for the moment Apple always had the capital it had now. If they'd decided to buy the maker of the Rio, what would the iPod have looked like? If they bought BlackBerry (let's imagine they had the capital at the time), what would the iPhone look like? And if they bought Intel, what would the M1 Macs look like? 

    Obviously, Apple's R&D track record isn't perfect — far from it. But I think they've had enough high-profile successes to create some doubt around the assumption that they can't beat camera makers at their own game.
    A-ple has been making phones for 14 years. The first patents I saw for cameras in phones from Apple was a good ten years ago. They’ve gotten many since then. They own hundreds, and maybe thousands of Kodak patents. So what have they been doing with all that? Apparently nothing.

    there’s nothing wrong with them buying companies for technology. They buy around 24 every year. They R&D’d touch sensors for several years, and had a number of their own patents. But they bought the leading manufacturer, combined their nascent product with Apple’s work, and came out with Touch ID. That’s not the first time they did that, nor has it been the last. They’re doing it with micro LED.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 13
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,512member
    melgross said:


    melgross said:

    It still surprises me in this new era of computational photography they continue to place so much reliance on a small cluster of sensors. Why not drastically increase the number of smaller optical elements in order to synthesize images which would be a combination of image angles, resolutions and light waves more akin to a 3-D scanned, textured and lit scene?
    That’s interesting but very complex. Now, I’d rather see them drop one camera and have a wide angle camera with a 3:1 zoom, say 12mm to 36mm, and a second tele zoom with 36 to 144, which would be 4:1. They could easily fit two equal size, and larger sensors, in the space they have two now. Frankly, I don’t care if the camera is a bit thicker to accommodate them, just round the back edges of the camera a little, for comfort. It would also allow a bigger battery, which nobody would object to.

    one reason why cameras have mostly been stuck at 12MP is that the SoCs aren’t powerful enough to do all the processing at 16mp. That may have been true, but no l9nger. The very high rez cameras we see in some phones aren’t processed as much.

    so two cameras with 16mp and good optical zooms. That would be much better than what’s available now.
    The idea I suggested is already happening with so-called “light field” cameras, but nothing prevents a smaller matrix of sensors from being used to achieve the same effects. It’s almost akin to using an array of orbital and ground based telescopes to synthesize a much sharper view of the universe.
    Apple has at least three patents on light field cameras, that I know of. I think that’s a dead end though. Look at what Canon has with their split pixel sensors. They can capture depth without all the lenses that reduces resolution by up to 90%, making it pretty much useless. Remember that the company that started this went out of business, I tried one of their cameras. Ugh! Horrible pictures in every way. You need a 100 million pixel sensor to get a medium rez picture. 

    They also picked up a few when they acquired LinX. Who clearly still focus on tiny camera modules to fit in phones.

    watto_cobra
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