Apple has just recently been awarded a patent for a camera system that can refocus an image after the original shot has been taken. The technology is very similar to the Lytro light field camera.
The patent, first spotted by AppleInsider, was originally filed in 2011 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Entitled “Digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adaptor,” the documents also state that the technology could be added to a mobile device like an iPhone.
Currently, the Lytro is the best known camera that uses similar technology. You can even purchase the company’s pictured light field camera from Apple’s online store now for $399.95. Users of iOS devices can use the companion app, which was recently updated, to view photos taken with the device.
AppleInsider has a little more about Apple’s patent and how it compares to Lytro:
Light field technology uses so-called microlenses disposed in front of a CMOS or CCD sensor, which together form a “ray sensor” capable of capturing intensity of light as a function of position and angle. The microlens array directs light in a specific and predictable manner based on the lens aperture. In the case of Apple’s patent, each microlens corresponds to a fixed set of imaging pixels. After the light information has been recorded, software can be used to focus and refocus the corresponding image.
Unlike Lytro, Apple’s design employs a movable adaptor situated between the lens element and the imaging sensor. The adaptor holds the microlens array, meaning the camera can operate in two separate modes: high-resolution non-refocusable and low-resolution refocuasable. Lytro’s microlens component can also be moved closer and farther from the sensor, but cannot be completely removed from the light path.
The technology definitely sounds interesting, but I suspect it will be a few more years before it can be used with such a small device like the iPhone. I’d also be interested to see a light field video that can be refocused after shooting.
Just yesterday, another discovered Apple patent details, how in future iPhone models, the Touch ID sensor found in the iPhone 5s could also be used as an advanced trackpad.