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Apple patents a three-sensor iPhone camera with light splitter cube to offer better low-light photography

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And Apple continues to amaze us with its out of the box inventions. The Cupertino giant has now received a patent for “Digital camera with light splitter”, which precisely outlines the possibility of fabricating three-sensor prism-based camera to an iPhone.

Though, the title sounds a little bit complex, the patent relates to a digital camera component having a light splitter cube that splits incident light from a camera scene into three color components, and three image sensors each being positioned to receive a respective one of the color components.

Though the tech is available in some  high end video recorders, no idea of fabricating it to a smartphone had ever surfaced, until now. the whole purpose of doing so is to maximize pixel array resolution.

The image sensors may be clear pixel array sensors that have no color filter array or color separation capabilities, making them relatively inexpensive yet more accurate (due to no color interpolation or de-mosaicing required). In such a color splitting architecture, the amount of light incident on each pixel is about three times greater than in a conventional Bayer-pattern color filter array (CFA) sensor.

The light splitter cube can also be combined with a deflector that is positioned to reflect the incident light from the camera scene, and an optical lens system, such as a zoom lens, an autofocus lens, or a fixed focus lens, that is positioned in the path of the deflected incident light between the deflector and the entrance face of the light splitter cube.

The deflector may be oriented to deflect the incident light by about 90 degrees. This arrangement allows a z-height of the combination deflector, optical lens system, light splitter cube and image sensors as a whole to be in the range of 3 mm-9 mm.

This technique is popularly used in high end cameras manufactured by expert brands such as Canon, Panasonic. If fabricated to a smartphone, it would carry the whole smartphone bloodline to a yet an another level. It would enhance the colors of the photographs that we are able to capture with the cameras incorporated to present era smartphones. Plus, it would also bring more possibilities of taking clear, crisp images in low light conditions.

As usual, we are not sure if Apple would ever succeed in bringing this technology to iPhone or may just add it into its cluster of patents. Apple’s cube light splitter camera system patent was first filed for in 2011 and credits Steven Webster and Ning Y. Chan as its inventors.

Senior Writer

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