Back in July 2020 Patently Apple posted a report titled "While a Periscope Camera Module was supposed to be ready for iPhone 11, a new Rumor claims that the Project is still ongoing." Then in December a rumor report from The Elec claimed that Apple could decide to use Samsung parts for a folded lens zoom in 2022.
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to folding camera invention with a range between 85-160mm.
Apple's invention covers a folded camera that may, for example, be used in small form factor cameras. Embodiments of a folded camera are described that include two light folding elements (e.g., two prisms, or one prism and a mirror) and a lens system located between the two light folding elements.
The lens system may be independent from the light folding elements. The lens system may include an aperture stop and lens elements with refractive power mounted in a lens barrel. The light folding elements and lens system may collectively be referred to as an optical system. Either two prisms or one prism and a mirror provide a "folded" optical axis for the camera, for example to reduce the Z-height of the camera.
The lens system may be configured in the camera to move on one or more axes independently of the prism(s)/mirror(s). The camera may include an actuator component configured to move the lens system on (parallel to) the second axis (AX 2) relative to and independently of the prisms to provide autofocus functionality for the camera.
In some embodiments, the actuator may instead or also be configured to move the lens system on one or more axes perpendicular to the second axis (AX 2) relative to and independently of the prism(s)/mirror(s) to provide optical image stabilization (OIS) functionality for the camera.
In some embodiments, one or both of the light folding elements (e.g., prism(s) and/or mirror) may be translated with respect to the second axis (AX 2) independently of the lens system and/or tilted with respect to the second axis (AX 2) independently of the lens system, for example to provide OIS functionality for the camera or to shift the image formed at an image plane at the photosensor.
Apple's patent FIG. 1A below illustrates components of a folded camera with two light folding elements and an independent lens system; FIG. 1B illustrates movements of the lens system relative to the light folding elements in a camera as illustrated in FIG. 1A.
As with most Apple inventions, Apple may illustrate a preferred device that the folding lens may debut on, such as an iPhone, but notes that the invention could apply to various types of devices, including, but not limited to, a personal computer system, desktop computer, laptop, notebook, tablet or pad device, slate, or netbook computer, mainframe computer system, handheld computer, workstation, network computer, a camera, a set top box, a mobile device, a wireless phone, a smartphone, a consumer device, video game console, handheld video game device, application server, storage device, a television, a video recording device, a peripheral device such as a switch, modem, router, or in general any type of computing or electronic device.
For finer details, review Apple's patent application number 20210026117 Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.