The team at Apple Insider has come across a patent that was recently granted to Apple describing how a spherical image sensor can be used to design a very compact camera module. The sensor is spherically curved and eliminates the need to correct for curvature of field, meaning a simpler, brighter (in this case F1.6) and ultimately smaller lens design can be used. The downside to the design is barrel distortion, the strength of which varies with focal length, aperture and other parameters. Apple proposes to correct for it through a software algorithm.

To boil it down, a curved lens translates to a simpler lens design, as the need to flatten the curvature of field is removed. The lens can be smaller and brighter, and will give more consistent performance across the sensor, as light is hitting each pixel straight on rather than at an angle. You can read more about the technology in our discussion of Sony's curved sensor design.

As usual, there is no way of knowing if this patent will ever see the light of day in an actual product, but given the consumer's desire for ever thinner and smaller devices, and the camera module being one of the limiting factors in this respect, it's no surprise Apple and other mobile manufacturers are looking at ways of reducing camera module dimensions without negatively impacting on image quality.

Source: USPTO | Via: Apple Insider