Apple was today awarded a patent for a Lytro-like Light Field camera that would let you refocus images after you’ve taken them with the help of a “refocusable imaging mode adaptor.”
The patent, titled “Digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adaptor,” describes a plenoptic camera, also known as light-field camera, that contains an adaptor with a micro lens array inserted between the lens and the sensor. The camera system has two modes, a low-resolution refocusable mode where the adapter is active, and a high-resolution non-refocusable mode where the adaptor is inactive.
Apple cites the Lytro camera as prior art in the patent, but notes that its solution is better since the micro lens array is a pluggable adaptor, while Lytro has the array as a fixed component, which can’t be “switched off”. It says that its solution can provide higher-quality and higher-resolution images.
Light field photography works with a microlens array placed between the sensor and the lens that measures light, which in turn helps deduce depth information which can then be used to do the refocusing in software.
Here’s a demo of an image taken with the Lytro camera. You can click on a portion of the image to focus on it, and click and drag for perspective shift:
Apple notes that such a camera system could be included in an iPhone, but there have been rumors in the past that claim Apple has considered making a standalone camera as well. Steve Jobs was reportedly interested in Lytro’s technology, and Lytro’s CEO had given him a demo of their technology before the device’s launch.