There's a system for shooting photos out there in the world of Apple patents, one that looks to take the light-field camera and make a version of it much, much smaller. Small enough to fit inside an iPhone, as it were. The patent for this system describes the likes of a plenoptic camera, better known as a light-field camera, going so far as to cite the Ren Ng "Lytro" camera as prior art.
The patent's note of the Lytro camera suggests that they'll be able to make improvements on both the picture quality and the resolution of the invention, and that they'll be able to do it in a casing as small as the iPhone. While this concept does seem like a baffling enterprise, we had a chat about a light-field camera-packing iPhone it all the way back in July of 2012.
Back then it seemed quite impossible to add Lytro tech to a device as small as the iPhone. But pay heed - there was indeed a meeting between Steve Jobs and the CEO of Lytro, Ren Ng discussing the possibility of this technology being integrated into the iPhone.
In the version being spoken of in the patent revealed this week, Apple describes a system in which both a light-field system and a traditional system can be used in one camera setup. Users will be able to take highest-resolution photos without the Lytro-like tech or lower-resolution photos that are able to manually refocus.
This is what the technology is best at, after all. When a photo is being taken, a microlens works with a camera sensor to create a "ray sensor", here collecting a set of data for each of a series of fixed images. With Apple's solution, the microlenses are part of an array that's able to move out of the way, allowing for more than one mode in a single device.
When the final product is made with this light-field solution you've got a file, an adaptable image which can show multiple points of focus. The series of bubbles you see (marked 650 in the image above) is that microlens array, able to move out of the way for traditional flat photos.
The original patent for this system was filed all the way back in 2011, believe it or not, pre-dating the Steve Jobs / Ren Ng meeting by approximately a year. This system credits John Norvold Border and Richard D. Young as its inventors, and it notes more than one sort of iteration of the system for the future.
In one form, the system works inside a device with smartphone abilities - more than likely an iPhone. In another, this system works as an accessory that'd be able to attach to devices for any-camera working. Sound like a solution you'd like to work with?