Apple files patent for a folded camera for the iPhone (and maybe iPad)

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20210026117) for a “camera including two light folding elements” that hints at a folded camera for an upcoming iPhone and perhaps iPad. A folded camera refracts light like a periscope and has lenses and sensors placed horizontally and not vertically. 

In the patent filing, Apple notes that the advent of small, mobile multipurpose devices such as iPhones and iPads has resulted in a need for high-resolution, small form factor cameras that are lightweight, compact, and capable of capturing high resolution, high quality images at low F-numbers for integration in the devices. The tech giant says that, 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 with small pixel size and a good, compact imaging lens system. 

Advances in technology have achieved reduction of the pixel size in photosensors. However, Apple says that, aas photosensors become more compact and powerful, demand for compact imaging lens systems with improved imaging quality performance has increased. In addition, there are increasing expectations for small form factor cameras to be equipped with higher pixel count and/or larger pixel size image sensors (one or both of which may require larger image sensors) while still maintaining a module height that is compact enough to fit into portable electronic devices. 

The result is a challenge from an optical system design point of view is to provide an imaging lens system that is capable of capturing high brightness, high resolution images under the physical constraints imposed by small form factor cameras. Apple’s solution is a foldable camera.

On Dec. 8, 2020, TheElec  reported that the company was considering the use of components made by Samsung for its folded zoom camera on iPhones launching in 2022. Samsung will supply components such as actuators and lens to LG InnoTek, a long-time supplier of camera modules to Apple, per the article. LG will use them to make the folded zoom camera module to supply to the iPhone maker.

On Nov. 30, 2020, Korea IT News reported that Apple had begun looking for suppliers of “folded cameras” in order to strengthen the optical zoom feature of its iPhones, the article says.

Here’s the summary of the new patent filing: “An optical system includes a first light folding element (e.g., a prism), a second light folding element (e.g., another prism or a mirror), and a lens system located between the first light folding element and the second light folding element. In some cases, the lens system includes a lens stack having either four or five lens elements with refractive power. The first light folding element redirects light from an object field from a first axis to the lens system on a second axis. 

“The plurality of refractive lens elements in the lens stack refract the light to the second light folding element. The second light folding element redirects the light from the second axis onto a third axis to form an image of the object field at an image plane. The optical system has a 35 mm equivalent focal length within a range of 85 to 160 mm.”

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.