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

iPhone 11
iPhone 11 (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple patent reveals potential tech behind refractive lenses.
  • Revolves around prism to angle light 90 degrees into a camera sensor.
  • Could allow sensor to be placed further from lens, reducing form factor of camera housing and the iPheon as a whole.

Two Apple patents published today have revealed how Apple could use refractive lenses to improve picture quality in its cameras whilst potentially reducing the size of the camera bump on the back of Phone, and perhaps the thickness of the device overall.

As reported by AppleInsider, two patents were published today, the first titled "Folded lens system with five refractive lenses", the second "with three refractive lenses".

The description for the patents states:

The advent of small, mobile multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet or pad devices has resulted in a need for high-resolution, small form factor cameras for integration in the devices. However, due to 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 larger, higher quality cameras. Achieving higher resolution with small package size cameras generally requires use of a photosensor (also referred to as an image sensor) with small pixel size and a good, compact imaging lens system. Advances in technology have achieved reduction of the pixel size in photosensors. However, as photosensors become more compact and powerful, demand for compact imaging lens system with improved imaging quality performance has increased.

The patent reveals a configuration of either five or three refractive lenses that are positioned 90 degrees away from the camera sensor and the back of the smartphone, as per the image below.

As such, the part of the camera we all see would remain in the same position, however the actual sensor could be position further away, potentially reducing the depth of the camera system so as to reduce its overall thickness. As you'll note from the diagram, a prism would bounce the light 90 degrees and into the photosensor.

As AppleInsider notes:

Each of the elements use concave and convex elements to manipulate the light, but they offer two different purposes.The five-element version can offer a 35mm-equivalent focal length in the range of 50 to 85mm, and with field of views of between 28 degrees and 41 degrees, making it useful for a wide-angle camera. Meanwhile, the three-element is said to provide a 35mm-equivalent of a 80-200mm focal length range, and with a field of view between 17.8 and 28.5 degrees, which would put it as a telephoto assembly.

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

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9