Another week, another Apple smartphone imaging patent. This time the guys from Apple Insider have discovered an Apple patent application with the title "Small form factor telephoto camera" that, with a lot of technical detail, describes ways of using cameras with telephoto lenses which offer focal ratios from approximately 2.4 to 10.0x in small and thin devices such as smartphones. Apart from the smaller dimensions the design is not too dissimilar from existing digital cameras, with an aperture, corrective filters and several glass or plastic lens elements. There is also mention of an image sensor with pixels sized at 1.2 microns or less. 

The design would allow the use of such a telephoto camera alongside a wide-angle module as is currently common in smartphones. Presumably in a camera app a user could then either simply switch between the two modules for more lens reach or, more likely, a clever software algorithm could be implemented to allow for a "simulated" optical zoom lens and stepless zooming experience.

The advantages over a conventional optical zoom lens as they are used in digital compact cameras are obvious. The Apple solution requires less space and allows for the use of fast apertures on both cameras. Optical zooms are still bulky and usually significantly slower then their fixed focal length counterparts, limiting image quality in low light.

This patent application is also interesting in the context of Apple's recent purchase of LinX Imaging, a company specializing in multi-lens camera modules which can be used for 2D and 3D capture and offer a range of special functions such such as the ability to refocus an image after it has been captured or HDR modes. As usual there is no way of knowing if and when the technology will make it into a production model but all signs seem to indicate that Apple is looking into innovative ways of improving image quality and camera performance on forthcoming models.

Source: USPTO | Via: Apple Insider