Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Apple awarded patent for post-snapshot refocusing tech

Some say that smartphone cameras were the death of Flip video cameras, and we now have to wonder about the future of Lytro now that Apple has won this patent. On Tuesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded the Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics giant a patent on a camera that allows for refocusing after a shot is taken (via AppleInsider).

If it sounds like Lytro's technology, it is. In fact, Apple's patent, No. 8,593,564 for a "Digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adaptor," even cites Lytro as prior art. Apple points out, however, its own microlens array can produce higher-quality images due to a higher spatial resolution.

Apple's patent says the following about its tech:
A digital camera system configurable to operate in a low-resolution refocusable mode and a high-resolution non-refocusable mode comprising: a camera body; an image sensor mounted in the camera body having a plurality of sensor pixels for capturing a digital image; an imaging lens for forming an image of a scene onto an image plane, the imaging lens having an aperture; and an adaptor that can be inserted between the imaging lens and the image sensor to provide the low-resolution refocusable mode and can be removed to provide the high-resolution non-refocusable mode, the adaptor including a microlens array with a plurality of microlenses; wherein when the adaptor is inserted to provide the low-resolution refocusable mode, the microlens array is positioned between the imaging lens and the image sensor.
Yes, it's a lot of techno-geek-speak, but it is essentially a camera that, as we said, allows an image to be refocused after the fact.

Considering how easy it is to blur an image on a small device by moving it only slightly, this sort of addition would probably be a welcome feature for end users.

It's not unique, though. In addition to the Lytro system, Nokia recently released an app -- yes, an app -- that allows some of its Lumia cameras to do the same thing. The Nokia Refocus app allows users to take a photo first and choose what they want in focus later.

It's unclear if the tech will ever make it into a real product. A patent award does not mean that a company will necessary take functionality into the real world.

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