We’ve witnessed smartphone manufacturers get more and more ambitious with the cameras in their handsets, but one of the most promising techs we’ve been talking about for smartphone cameras has yet to arrive on any just yet: Lytro-style plenoptic light field cameras which let you refocus images after the fact. We’ve heard of Nokia’s interest in such systems, and seen software releases that attempt to approximate the effect, but no one’s yet to put a light field camera in a phone. As we wait to see who’ll be first, a new patent reveals Apple’s potential interest in the idea.
A newly issued Apple patent describes a system for a convertible light field camera. It can function as a traditional high-res image sensor, but then that key to plenoptic operation – an array of micro-lenses – slides into place when needed to start capturing refocusable images.
Now the big question is whether or not Apple intends to actually use this patent of its when constructing a future iPhone. Honestly, we’re skeptical: moving components like that sliding lens array are a big headache in smartphone design, as it’s going to both require more space than a traditional camera component, as well as likely be more prone to failure. Still, it would be really neat to see happen, and if anyone can find a way to make it practical, it just might be Apple’s R&D team.