Even the most advanced smartphone cameras on the market have one major flaw: the LED flash. The LED units on smartphones just don't the same reach as the more powerful flashes on compact cameras and make it much more difficult to achieve good results at night portrait or impromptu food photo shoots.
Google may have the solution. The search giant has patented a design featuring eight fixed flashes surrounding the smartphone’s camera. One rendering displayed the flashes in a ring—perhaps imitating the ring flash effect often used by portrait photographers. Other drawings show four flashes in various arrangements around the lens.
The patent includes the technology to trigger one or multiple flashes at once based on the direction that the natural light is hitting the subject. This could mean the smart illumination of shadows in a daylight portrait situation.
The light could come from either individual sources for each flash or from a single source that is then funneled out through “light pipes.”
Google’s patent also includes a section specifically for HDR image recording as well as an ambiguous section that may cover the recording of a “three-dimensional representation of a subject of the plurality of images using shadow information.”
Google is not the first company to use multiple flashes. Nokia's Lumia 920 and Motorola's Droid X both have a dual flash system to light up a scene. The difference with Google's patent is that instead of grouping the flashes together, the flashes will be fixed on different sides of the phone.
While none of this technology is in production, the patents are a good sign for mobile photographers who are frustrated with flat, weak LED lighting.
You can read the full patent here.