On May 16, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a next generation lighting system for iDevices. The new system is designed to provide superior lighting to your photos day or night in a unique manner. Apple's patent also describes a new remote light source accessory while strongly hinting that a standalone camera is still a future option of theirs. With Samsung's Galaxy Zoom or the like on the horizon, a standalone or new kind of hybrid iDevice camera or advanced camera accessory isn't out of the question for the future.
The Problems with Current LED Flash for iDevice Cameras
Many cameras include a strobe or flash for capturing photographs or images in low light. The range of these integrated flashes may be limited. For example, a typical flash may have a light intensity that decreases by a square of the distance from the source. Use of these integrated flashes may lead to photographs having harsh foreground lighting but poor or no background lighting since the flash originates from the camera and may cast strong shadows as light intensity decreases with a square of the distance from the camera. Additionally, corners of a captured image may have a significant decrease in intensity as the width of the flash may be limited.
In addition, many photographs taken by cameras having an integrated flash may end up with typical "red-eye" problems. This occurs because the flash is typically located near a lens of the camera, and thus a person or animal may be facing the flash as the image is taken. Red-eye reflections are typically due to light from the flash being focused straight on a person or animal and, due to the high frequency of the flash, the eye does not have time to close. This results in light from the flash being reflected off a retina of the person or animal's eye; this reflected light is then captured by the camera.
Increasing a separation between the flash and the lens can decrease the occurrence of red-eye reflections. However, in small cameras or devices (e.g., smart phones with an integrated camera) this may be difficult to achieve.
Apple's proposed Illumination System
Apple's invention may take the form of a method for capturing an image with an image capture device, such as a camera or mobile electronic device. The method includes initiating a master-slave relationship between the image capture device and at least one secondary device such as an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or other kind of device. Once the master-slave relationship is initiated, remotely activating the LED Flash from a secondary device is possible.
As the light source is activated, taking a test picture of a scene illuminated by the original camera could be done and analyzed to determine if an illumination of the scene should be adjusted. If the illumination of the scene is to be adjusted, providing a control signal to a secondary device (or more) at least one of a position instruction, an intensity level, or timing data can be configured.
The Illumination System
According to Apple, the camera of an iDevice may provide signals and/or may control a series of secondary devices in order to illuminate a scene within the Field of View (FOV). Apple's patent FIG. 5 is a top plan view of a diagram illustrating the originating master illumination system along with one or more secondary iDevices 202A, 202B, 202C that are considered "Slave" devices.
In the noted example above in patent FIG. 5, the master iDevice camera noted as #100 controls the light source or LED Flash of each of the secondary iDevices noted as devices 202A-202C to provide a desired illumination of the scene.
Apple states that the light source the master iDevice camera may send a pre-flash sequence of light flashes to indicate to the secondary devices 202A-202C to activate their respective light sources (LED Flash).
Adjusting the Light Intensity and Duration
The illumination system that is illustrated in patent FIG. 5 may be used to vary the light intensity, overall image exposure, and/or light positioning for an image captured by an iDevice camera. As discussed above, the master camera may provide more than one control signal to the secondary devices 202A-202C. The additional control signals may vary the intensity, timing, and/or directions which to move a location of the light sources.
In one example, the master iDevice camera may display a graphical user interface (GUI) on the display so that a user can selectively adjust the illumination and/or timing of the light sources of the secondary iDevices 202A-202C. Apple's patent FIG. 8 illustrated below is a front plan view of the master iDevice camera illustrating a new example user interface.
The GUI 240 noted above may include an image 248 of a scene, a control icon 242 for the controller, as well as a secondary device indicator 246A, 246B, 246C for each secondary device 202A-202C in communication with the master iDevice camera. Apple states that it should be noted that the GUI illustrated in FIG. 8 is just one example only, and other displays and controllers are envisioned.
Users could Adjust Lighting live or in Editing
Apple states that the image 248 of the scene noted above in the GUI may be an actual image captured by the image sensor or a sample image. For example, the captured image may be a previously taken photograph or may be a view of a sample photograph, e.g., as viewed by the lens prior to actually capturing the image. Accordingly, the user may adjust the light sources to affect a new image of the scene.
In some embodiments, the GUI may be displayed on the iDevice's display and/or on another computing device (e.g., MacBook Pro or iMac) in communication with the iDevice.
The Light Controller
Apple points to the GUI of patent figure 8 to emphasize the control icon 242 and controller 244. The control icon may be represented as substantially any type of icon, and in one embodiment as shown in FIG. 8 may be a bar. The controller may be moved with respect to the icon to adjust a particular setting. For example, the control icon may correspond to an intensity of a particular light source (e.g., light sources 108, 208). As a user manipulates the controller the intensity level for the light source may vary. In this example, a first end of the control icon may be a high intensity and a second end of the control icon may be a low intensity, and depending on the placement of the controller, the intensity level for the particular light source is varied.
In some embodiments, as the controller is moved, the displayed image may adjust correspondingly. For example, as the intensity of the light source for a particular secondary device 202A-202C is increased, the brightness of the portions of the image illuminated by that secondary device 202A-202C may be increased. In this manner, the user may be able to see how the adjustment may affect the eventually captured image. This may allow the use to better be able to determine how to adjust a particular light source in order to achieve a desired image.
Apple Presents Stand Alone Camera
So as to not limit the patent's scope, Apple indicates that their new lighting system could apply to a standalone camera as well. Apple states that the device "may be a stand-alone camera or a camera otherwise incorporated into another type of device.
Apple's patent FIG. 2A noted above is a front perspective view of a standalone camera while 2B is the backside of the camera. Apple's backside illustration presents a clickwheel type of controller that could be incorporated into the standalone camera.
It should be noted that this is a patent application and not a design patent. Therefor the illustration is only used as a generic concept and not what an actual standalone camera from Apple would look like. Apple has the freedom to create any kind of hybrid device as well. For instance, Apple has shown us that their thinking of a future iPhone that would incorporate a wraparound display. So it's not a stretch to conceive that a next generation standalone camera could actually end up being an iPod touch or iPhone with a backside that could support dedicated camera controls and features such as is presented above.
Secondly, the backside could actually be representative of a virtual front display graphical interface while the backside unit could be a future accessory just like Samsung's latest design patent indicates. Samsung's design is rumored to be the forthcoming Galaxy Zoom.
Apple has hinted of a future standalone camera since at least 2009 and one of their acquired Kodak patents describes a modern ARM processor based camera system that works with a cloud network. So the idea of a standalone camera or some form of hybrid is out of the question down the road.
Remote Light Source
And lastly, in addition to the secondary devices 202A-202C, or as a secondary device 202A-202C, a remote light source may also be used to illuminate the desired scene. Apple's patent FIG. 10 noted below is a rear perspective view of an iDevice with a remote light source 400 connected to it via a lightning connector.
Apple's patent FIG. 11A is a standalone view of the remote light source 400. Alternatively or additionally, the connection mechanism may be configured to be received within a wall outlet or other charging apparatus.
In certain embodiments, the remote light source may not be connected to the iDevice camera. Apple notes that the remote light source may provide illumination with a decreased change of red-eye illumination.
Apple credits Richard Baer as the sole inventor of patent application 20130120636 which was originally filed in Q4 2011. It should be noted that our patent report is based on Apple's "Detailed Description" segment of their patent application. To review Apple's 20 patent claims, see Apple's patent filing. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing to market of such an Apple product is unknown at this time.
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