Apple patent delves into new iPhone camera technologies

“This past week the US Patent & Trademark Office published a pair of patent applications from Apple that revealed another round of iPhone camera technologies,” Jack Purcher reports for Patently Apple.

“One of Apple’s latest inventions relating to a next generation auto exposure algorithm may have actually slipped into Apple’s latest iPhone 4S,” Purcher reports. “The second invention revealed this week relates to ‘Automatic Tone Mapping Curve Generation.’ Apple has made a number of great advancements in their latest iPhone 4S camera that now makes it even easier for consumers to capture those great at-the-moment photos that make everlasting memories.”

Purcher reports, “Other patented technologies that made it into this year’s iPhone 4S include video stabilization and face detection. If you happen to be a camera aficionado, then you might just want to delve into an overview of Apple’s latest goodies.”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. Camera is the most used app on my 4S aside from Safari, and the low-light (no Flash) pics it takes are just awesome, on par with most low- to mid-range point-and-shoots. The speed to take shots is blazing fast compared the Androids and Blackberry Torch that others tried pitting against me.

    Ironically, pics taken with the LED flash usually don’t turn out well, unless there’s ambient light already.

    And unfortunately, most people can’t take good pics with my phone–I know to keep the phone still and take several shots, especially in low light, no one else bothers so they turn out blurry. No wonder so many cell phone shots are crap…

  2. The keeping the phone still thing can be an issue when trying to take photos in a non-static situation, like a gig, for example. The tendency is to stab at the button, which automatically induces blurring. I’ve been guilty of that myself plenty of times. The tone mapping s-curve is one I used to use all the time in Photoshop, back when I used to run a Crosfield drum-scanner. Nice to see it used here. Be interesting to see what the next gen iPhone camera can do. Which is what my next upgrade will be.

    1. I have a case that covers the volume button that iOS5 doubles for a shutter, making things even worse. I never use the physical button precisely because of the blurring. The virtual button can be hit lightly. Problem with the virtual button is that when I ask non-iPhone users to take a picture with me in it, they almost always press the Home button instead.

    1. “Gig” is a type of English pudding, often eaten at holidays or other festive events. Gigs are sweet, pale, and gelatinous, with a tendency to jiggle.

      Photographers often evaluate different cameras on how well they are able to capture the sheen and jiggle of a fresh Gig. For photographers, snapping the perfect photo of a quivering, shimmering Gig is the holy grail.

      I’m guessing that Rorschach was referring to how well an iPhone camera would make out when attempting to photograph one of these delicious and undulating puddings.

      1. Lol and there was me thinking a gig was a concert or other musical gathering.

        Your description sounds more like English jelly.

        Well they say you learn something new every day.

  3. “…low-light (no Flash) pics it takes are just awesome, on par with most low- to mid-range point-and-shoots.” —mossman

    Sorry, but no way in hell. There is no way that low-light images captured by a sensor the size of the iPhone’s can even come close to matching the output of an average consumer point-and-shoot.

    What I do believe, however, is that the average point-and-shoot photographer doesn’t know the difference between one photo and another as long as the photos are properly exposed.

    1. My personal benchmark is admittedly my Canon, a mid-range model from 2007. Even though image sensor tech has greatly improved in 4 years, I would’ve thought the bigger lens, quality optics, and image processor in the Canon would have compensated for that, but when both the Canon and the 4S are in auto modes with flash off, there’s no comparison. I took identical shots just yesterday (I can handle and shoot both simultaneously).

      I will have to compare shots with my friend’s more recent Sony–his older Sony, circa 2008, took decent low-light no-flash shots but most had an odd orange tinge to it.

      (off topic: why did you top-post instead of just replying to my comment?)

      1. Re. top-posting: Just an oversight.

        First, a four-year-old compact isn’t really comparable to a modern pocket camera. The average pocket camera has improved considerably since then.

        Second, you didn’t say anything about the criteria you used in your comparison. Personally, I would look at noise and image detail in 100% crops of images taken with both cameras. I’ve looked at 100% crops of iPhone 4S images, and they are nothing to write home about. But, of course, it’s much harder to tell the difference between one image and another if you’re just looking at full-frame 500×800 reproductions on Flickr, which is what most people are doing.

        The fact remains: The sensor in the iPhone 4S is less than half the size of the sensor in most compact cameras. If the technology existed to make the smaller sensor perform better than the bigger sensor, don’t you think the makers of compact cameras would be using that technology? Did Apple invent some revolutionary new sensor technology? And if they did, why haven’t we read a single word about it?

        1. The iPhone 4S uses a new backside illumination sensor with an integrated IR filter. The compound lens optics provide a relatively fast f/2.4 aperture. You can read more about the iPhone 4S’s camera here:

          Here’s a site comparing the iPhone 4S’s camera images with those from some point-and-shoot as well as DSLR cameras. I understand your skepticism, omalansky, but those comparison shots may surprise you…

          1. I saw these comparison shots when they were first posted. Shots like these are exactly what I was talking about: full-frame 500×800 images (these are actually 600×800) that aren’t large enough to get any real sense of the underlying quality of the originals. To actually compare the image quality of these shots, we would have to look at 100% crops of detailed parts of the photos produced by different cameras.

            I admit that the iPhone 4s images look good in full-frame comparisons, and I understand that this is all most casual photographers care about anyway. But this is not to say that the iPhone 4s is actually as good a camera as the other cameras it is being compared to. Indeed, one of the cameras in the comparison is the Canon 5D Mk II, a full-frame DSLR that costs about $2200. Notice that in these small reproductions, the iPhone 4s images look almost as good as the 5D Mk II images, whereas the Canon’s output quality is actually several orders of magnitude better than the best photo the iPhone 4s is capable of producing. We can therefore conclude that it is impossible to discern meaningful differences between the output quality of different cameras by looking at images at such small sizes.

            So these comparison suggest that people who only intend to post their photos on Flickr or Facebook may be completely satisfied with the images produced by the iPhone 4s. But this is most definitely not the whole story.

  4. I like the Shark story using the iPhone 4S to capture a great white off the coast of North Carolina. If you missed it, the link is available at the bottom of the Patently Apple report.

  5. As the iPhone gets thinner, it might become increasingly difficult to fit a high-quality camera into that thickness. So I was thinking, would be be possible to place the camera “sideways” (so that it points toward an edge)? Then, have a mirror re-direct the “view” to the front or back.

    The mirror could flip between pointing the camera view forward and back, so that there only needs to be ONE higher-quality camera (instead of one for front and one for back). The sideways placement makes thinness irrelevant, so the parts can take up more “length.”

    Perhaps the mechanical aspect (of the mirror moving) would make reliability a problem.

    1. Rather than rotate, the mirror could rock and have the shape of a ‘v’ (when viewed from the side) with one side blocking the unwanted side while the other reflected.

      I would think the minuscule amount of light able to reflect would not be kind to photographs, though.

  6. If you can’t use the volume button shutter release, rather than stabbing at the on-screen shutter release, a trick is to press and hold it and let go of it to take the pic. This lessens the movement of the phone since you are just removing your finger rather than pushing AND releasing.

    1. A recent blog posting suggests plugging in the iphone headset, then using the volume button on the headset to activate the shutter. Would wotk best when using a tripod. Apparently will also work with a bluetooth headset. I haven’t tried as yet s I don’t have an iPhone and my ipod touch is 3g. Would like to see feedback from anyone who has tried.

    2. The fact that people have to think up tricks to activate the iPhone camera’s shutter without shaking the device underscores the iPhone’s questionable status as a substitute for a real camera. Some photographers are doing outstanding creative work with the iPhone camera, but this doesn’t change the fact that an iPhone is, in some very important ways, an extremely limited photographic tool.

    1. Of course you can shake any camera if you’re not careful. The question is: how much special care is required to avoid shaking the camera? For most cameras, the answer is: not very much. For the iPhone, the answer is: quite a bit. There’s a difference there, no? One has to be quite careful with an iPhone to avoid camera shake. This is simply not true of most modern digital cameras.

        1. I’m not sure what your point is. A lighter camera is actually harder to hold steady when shooting. Of course, DSLR’s can be quite heavy; but you brought them into the discussion, not me.

          1. [further explaination is required it seems since you obviously are not awaken]:

            I answered your point where it was no question of DSLR!
            (Of course you can shake any camera if you’re not careful. The question is: how much special care is required to avoid shaking the camera? For most cameras, the answer is: not very much. For the iPhone, the answer is: quite a bit. There’s a difference there, no? One has to be quite careful with an iPhone to avoid camera shake. This is simply not true of most modern digital cameras.)
            That was blatant for anybody but you.

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