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Apple patents Lytro-style refocusable camera

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apple camera patent
apple camera patent

Apple appears to have some interest in Lytro-style refocusable cameras. In a patent filed in 2011 and granted today, Apple describes a camera that would be able to switch between capturing two types of images: low-resolution images that could be refocused after capture, and high-resolution photographs that can't be changed. To do both, the camera would include an adaptor with a "microlens array" that would slide between the camera's lens and sensor when capturing a refocusable image, and slide away when capturing a traditional photo. The image above depicts the cross section of such a camera while the adaptor's microlens array — labeled "430" — is positioned to shoot a refocusable image.

While a number of companies have attempted to mimic Lytro's camera with just software, no one has recreated anything quite like its novel hardware. Apple doesn't hide that it's taken inspiration from Lytro either: it references Lytro founder Ren Ng's own patent, but argues that it doesn't describe the perfect solution. "There remains a need for a method to enable a camera system to be switched or changed between a low-resolution refocusable mode and a high-resolution non-refocusable mode," the patent reads. Though the patent mentions that such a camera could be included on a mobile device, there's no way to tell from the text alone whether Apple has any further plans for this idea.