Apple patent shows how refractive lenses could improve camera quality and reduce lens "bump"

Cupertino, October 8, 2019

What do you want to know

  • The Apple patent reveals a technological potential behind refractive lenses.
  • It articulates around the prism to orient the light at 90 degrees in a camera sensor.
  • This could allow to place the sensor further away from the lens, which would reduce the form factor of the camera case and the iPheon as a whole.

Two Apple patents released today revealed how Apple could use refractive lenses to improve the image quality of its cameras while potentially reducing the size of the camera on the back of the phone and perhaps even the thickness of the device.

According to AppleInsider, two patents were published today, the first entitled "System of folded lenses with five refractive lenses", the second "with three refractive lenses".

The patent description states:

The advent of small versatile mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets or digital tablets has resulted in a need for high resolution and reduced form factor cameras for integration into devices. However, due to the limitations of conventional camera technology, conventional small cameras used in such devices tend to capture images at lower resolutions and / or with lower image quality than can be achieved with bigger and better cameras. To achieve higher resolution with small cameras, cameras typically require the use of a photosensor (also called an image sensor) with a small pixel size and a compact and powerful imaging lens system. Advances in technology have reduced the size of the pixels in the photosensors. However, as photosensors become more compact and powerful, the demand for compact imaging lens systems offering improved image quality performance has increased.

The patent reveals a configuration of five or three refractive lenses positioned at 90 degrees from the camera sensor and from the back of the smartphone, as shown in the image below.

patent refractive lenses

As such, the part of the camera that we all see would stay in the same position, but the actual sensor could be placed further away, potentially reducing the depth of the camera system to reduce its overall thickness. As you will see in the diagram, a prism returns light at 90 degrees and in the photosensor.

As AppleInsider notes:

Each element uses concave and convex elements to manipulate light, but they have two different purposes.

The five-element version can offer a focal length equivalent to 35mm in the range of 50 to 85mm and a field of view of 28 to 41 degrees, making it useful for a wide angle camera. Meanwhile, it is said that the three elements provide a 35 mm equivalent of a focal length range of 80-200 mm and a field of view of between 17.8 and 28.5 degrees, which would place it as a telephoto lens.

Of course, it is important to note that, as always, a patent does not mean confirmation that we will ever see this technology. It is however interesting to note how Apple could try to improve its iPhone camera, especially if this improvement could also reduce the overall form factor of the phone and get rid of the camera hump!

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