Apple Granted Light Field Adjustable Focus Camera Patent

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If Apple's new patent in any indication, the next iPhone may let users take photos and focus later. The new patent describes a plenoptic, or light field, system that captures an image, then lets users choose where to focus after the fact.

Apple patent describes a post-shot adjustable focus camera systemApple patent describes a post-shot adjustable focus camera system

Plenoptic camera systems have the potential to make it easier to snap photos and to get just the right shot because they capture an image without delays from focusing. After the image is captured, you can choose where to set the focus.

The idea is cool, but it isn't exactly new. Lytra already makes an adjustable focus light field camera and has been selling them to Mac users for some time.

Apple's patent, however, also describes a system where the camera can capture both low resolution images that can be refocused as well as fixed focus high resolution shots. It also details a system where the technology can be adapted to digital cameras that are already on the market.

Assuming Apple plans to use an adapter system in its camera design, future iPhones could include some sort of mounting system for add-on lenses. Currently, third-party lenses can be used with the iPhone, but they involve their own special attachment systems either through clamps, adhesive mounting rings, or cases.

Apple isn't talking publicly about its plans for the patent so for now we're left to speculate as to how -- or if -- it'll show up as a feature in future iPhone models.

[Thanks to Patently Apple for the heads up]

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Assuming Apple rolls its plenoptic patent into new iPhone models, it looks like the company is ready to take on the consumer digital camera market.

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Typo alert: Lytro, not Lytra.

Paul Connell

“The idea is cool, but it isn’t exactly new.”

Exactly, so how did Apple win a patent for it?  Ok, they combined this existing idea with taking a traditional still at the same time.  Traditional stills, nor recording two types of images simultaneously are new ideas or techniques either, so again, how did they win a patent for it?

It’s become absurdly pathetic, especially for a company who takes such issue to anyone else creating something remotely similar to one of their products:

Hey Tim, check out Lytro, they’re making this cool camera that you can focus AFTER taking the image.  I bet we could dupe the patent office again by combining their idea with some other ordinary stuff like… oh, I don’t know, maybe something easy like capturing a normal still at the same time. 

Tim:  Do it!!  Now!!  By the way, can you get me an update on our various lawsuits?  Can’t have people stealing our patented icons or pinch gestures.

Krack Ho

1) It’s “Lytro”
2) Lytro has been available for Windows users for a long time.
3) Apple is just trying to keep up with Nokia - who has this technology coming out on a smartphone in early 2014. -


It is common practice for large companies to patent anything they can. This is part of how they try to work within a broken system.

In my opinion, the things that should be protected are not, therefore companies have to resort to extremely silly things to fight within the legal system.


I would probably be excited to see this camera tech built in to an iPhone, but unless the “low res” mode was 3-5 MP I would likely use the normal high res mode 99% of the time.

Playing with Lytro’s web site (about a year ago) it seems that while it is useful to fix focus after the fact, the loss of resolution means that it’s only worth doing for artistic value of sharing an adjustable-focus picture with people. But then only some scenes have enough contrast in terms of element depth for this effect to be cool. These are not the kind of scenes I would normally photograph.

It’s something worth keeping my eye on, but only really useful when the resolution reaches a critical threshold.


+ looks like the company is ready to take on the consumer digital camera market.

Given that smartphones—especially iPhones—now take more pictures than any other cameras out there, I’d say Apple has long since taken on the digital camera market.

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