Implementing optical zoom into a smartphone camera has proven to be a challenge. Many companies have attempted to circumvent the physical restrictions of creating a telephoto inside a smartphone, but none have successfully done so on a commercial level.
That could change though, now that Apple is looking to get into the game of smartphone telephoto technology.
A new patent from Apple (U.S. Patent No. 9,316,810) describes a ‘folded telephoto camera lens system’ that will use a mirror inside a camera module to effectively lengthen the focal length of an image without the need to increase the physical depth of the camera.
Better yet, this camera module wouldn’t need to be static. By moving the lens in front of the imaging sensor even a slight bit, Apple would be able to effectively create a wide focal length range with absolute minimal room inside the camera module.
What’s interesting is that Apple mentions this specific module stop could be used inside of a secondary module. Theoretically, this could mean the long-rumored dual-camera setup Apple is expected to ship with the iPhone 7 could use both a wide-angle lens, as well as an optical zoom telephoto lens, giving users the ability to choose between wider shots and telephoto shots.
What could be more interesting is if Apple decided to implement this technology into both camera modules of an upcoming device. By making one camera a 24–50mm equivalent and the other 50–100mm, Apple could effectively give future iPhones a 24–100mm focal range without any need for resource-intensive post-processing.
This isn’t the first time folded optics has been implemented in photography. It’s been around for a long time. In fact, it was first seen back in 1957 when camera company Tessina introduced the Concava S.A, a 35mm camera.
More recently, a company called Light showed off its plans to use multiple modules inside a pocket-sized camera that would use folded optics of various focal lengths to capture DSLR-quality images in a much smaller package.
Regardless of whether or not this comes to fruition, it’s interesting to see Apple getting in on the folding optics bandwagon. There’s a lot of potential.
And if any company is going to figure out how to get it done right, Apple’s team of engineers and designers will certainly be at the top of the list.
[via Apple Insider]