An Apple Patent Reveals more work on a Folded Camera Lens that will advance Zoom Capabilities for iPhones
While recent benchmark testing proved that Apple's A15 chip powering the iPhone 13 Pro Max is far more powerful than Samsung's latest Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung's big win over the latest iPhone is their advanced camera zoom. Apple has been working on an advanced zoom lens for iPhone for some time now (01 – dates back to 2018 – and 02). The hang-up in delivering this feature for the iPhone revolved around a patent dispute Apple had with Corephotonics which didn’t allow Samsung to supply Apple with periscope technology.
Then in October Patently Apple posted a report titled "LG Innotek reportedly secures a deal with Apple for a future Periscope Lens for iPhone while advancing Liquid Lens Technology." LG had defeated Corephotonics in a Korean patent case which opened the door for LG to work with Apple on a periscope lens for advanced zoom capabilities.
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a new patent application from Apple that relating to camera systems, and more specifically to magnification (zoom) in small form factor cameras and lens systems.
Apple's invention covers folded lens systems that may, for example, be used in small form factor cameras in mobile multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet or pad devices.
A folded lens system may include one or more prisms and/or mirrors, and a lens stack of a plurality of lens groups, each lens group including one or more refractive lens elements such that positions of different ones of the lens groups along an optical axis may be varied, enabling magnification of an image to be varied, and enabling a "zoom" feature, e.g., continuous magnification of an image of an object between two endpoints of magnification.
The lens system includes at least three movable lens groups that are movable along a common optical axis. Each of the three movable lens groups is coupled to a corresponding actuator. Responsive to a request for a change in focal length or magnification, a controller sends a corresponding signal to each of the actuators that move the corresponding lens group by a corresponding distance in a corresponding direction.
The various movable lens groups may be moved by different distances and in different directions of movement. An f-number of the lens system is less than f/3.0. Focusing of an image cast onto an image sensor is accomplished by adjusting the position along the optical axis of one of the movable lens groups.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a camera that includes a folded lens system with a plurality of lens groups, some of which may be moved to various locations along an optic axis; FIGS. 3A, 3B, 3C illustrate a folded lens system that produces various magnifications.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 below is a flow diagram of a method of increasing magnification of an image produced by a lens system, such as the lens systems of FIGS. 1-3.
Like most patents, Apple doesn't want to limit this zoom camera feature to just an iPhone and lists possible future applications and devices as follows:
"A personal computer system, desktop computer, laptop, notebook, tablet, slate, pad, or netbook computer, mainframe computer system, handheld computer, workstation, network computer, a camera, a set top box, a mobile device, an augmented reality (AR) and/or virtual reality (VR) headset, 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."
While today's patent does mention the power of the lens ranging from approximately 78 millimeters (mm) and 130 mm in 35 mm equivalent focal length, Apple's rumored work with LG's InnoTek would advance zoom capabilities much closer to that of Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra.
For the finer details, review Apple's patent application number 20220050270 titled "Zoom Lens and Imaging Apparatus." Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Masaharu Hosoi: Optical Design Engineer (came to Apple via Sony)
Yoshikazu Shinohara: Camera Engineer (came to Apple via Fujifilm)