Apple Invents a Camera Lens Accessory System for iDevices and MacBooks that Includes a Sensing Technology Interface
The iPhone is Apple's #1 product line and they focus most of their energy in advancing features of the iPhone annually to keep it the number one premium smartphone in the world. Apple puts a lot of energy into advancing the iPhone's camera system and today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to camera systems, and more specifically to adapting camera systems to accessory lenses. Apple began exploring a camera lens accessory system as far back as 2009-2010. Today's invention is far more advanced and hopefully we'll see this system surface to make us love our iPhone cameras even more.
Many small, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets or notebooks include small form factor cameras integrated within them. Accessory lenses are available that attach or mount in front of the camera lens on these devices and that can be used, for example, to either reduce or increase the focal length of the camera, or to enable closer-focusing macro capabilities.
However, to achieve optimal image quality, the optical axis of the accessory lens should be coaxial with the optical axis of the camera lens. In addition, spacing between the accessory lens and the camera lens should be correct. Due to manufacturing and other constraints, these goals are difficult to achieve "out of the box."
Apple's invention may provide improved image quality for a small format factor (SFF) camera when using accessory lenses. SFF cameras may, for example, be used in mobile devices such as smartphones, cell phones, pad or tablet devices, and may also be used in other devices such as laptop or notebook computers.
Accessory lenses may be provided that attach to or mount in front of the SFF camera's lens. These accessory lenses can be used to shrink or expand the focal length of the camera lens, or to enable closer-focusing macro capabilities, for example. To achieve optimal image quality, the optical axis of the accessory lens should be coaxial with the optical axis of the camera lens in the device to which it is attached. In addition, spacing between the accessory lens and the camera lens should be correct.
Embodiments of an SFF camera system include a lens system, a photosensor, camera control, image analysis, and image processing software (collectively referred to as a camera application) implemented by one or more processors, and technology, referred to as an actuator component or actuator, that is configured to mechanically or optically adjust the camera lens on one or more axes in response to direction of the camera application.
An accessory lens may be attached, mounted or held relative to the camera lens of a device such that the accessory lens directs light passing through the accessory lens to the camera lens. In some embodiments, the camera application may determine that an accessory lens is mounted on or attached to the device.
In some embodiments, presence of an accessory lens may be detected using a sensing technology interface, for example an electrical, magnetic, optical, or radio frequency (RF) sensing technology interface.
In Apple's patent FIG. 1A below we see an iPhone-like device that includes an embodiment of a small format factor (SFF) camera system to which an accessory lens may be attached.
Apple's patent FIG. 8 presented above is a flowchart of a method for adapting a camera system to an accessory lens that includes sensing technology.
Patent FIGS. 11A through 11D graphically illustrate methods for analyzing image data captured using a detected accessory lens according to one or more image metrics to determine alignment information.
More specifically, FIGS. 11A-D graphically illustrate methods for analyzing image data captured using a detected accessory lens according to one or more image metrics (e.g., sharpness, illumination, vignetting, Fourier spectrum, etc.) to determine alignment information, according to some embodiments. For example, the methods may be used to determine that the optical axis of the accessory lens is decentered with respect to the optical axis of the camera lens, and to shift the optical axis of the camera lens so that the two axes are collinear. Similar methods may be used to detect spacing and/or tilt of the accessory lens with respect to the camera lens.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q3 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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