One of our favorite toys here at Cult of Mac is the the Lytro, a bizarre and radically cool digital camera that allows you to refocus your images after you snap them. The Lytro is fairly big — it’s about the size of a small flashlight — and the pictures it outputs are pathetically low-resolution by modern smartphone standards, but the promise is obvious: with the Lytro, you might never take a bad photo again.
The Lytro’s so incredible that before he died Steve Jobs reportedly wanted to put its light field technology into the iPhone. Today, Apple has patented a method of doing just that.
In U.S. Patent 8,593,564, Apple patents a method for a “digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adapter.” Citing Lytro as prior art, the patent basically describes a method for shrinking the Lytro down while amping up its resolution so that it could fit in an iPhone.
How does a light field work? Essentially, it replaces a camera’s lens with a number of micro-lenses in front of the camera’s imaging sensor, which allows the camera to detect not just whether light is hitting it, but the intensity of that light, as well as position and angle. By capturing this data, a light field camera can essentially emulate different focuses in post-processing.
It’s potentially revolutionary stuff if it can ever be shrunk down small enough to go into a smartphone, but even with Apple patenting a method to do so, this sort of functionality is still likely years off. Still, maybe by the iPhone 10!