An iPhone with Lytro Plenoptic technology would be amazing

Published: January 25, 2012

As many of you know, I'm a sucker for a phone with a nice camera. And recently, that's one piece of the puzzle that has been under the microscope more than anything else. Between the Galaxy S II, iPhone 4S and several different Nokia phones with Carl Zeiss optics, there are quite a few pocket-sized computers worth replacing your digital camera with.

And it's only going to get better in the coming months and years.

Microsoft has made a vow to make your next Windows Phone the best camera you've ever owned. Now that they're in bed with Nokia and due to the fact they have tight control over what's used in licensing partners' devices, that's a serious possibility. Even Samsung and HTC have come quite a ways over the last six months with their own image sensors. And Sony, well, is slowly beginning to integrate their Cybershot line with Xperia devices.

After seeing the several different directions that the non-SLR mobile camera market is moving at CES, I'm extremely excited for the future of smartphone cameras. In the near future, we'll see even more, incrementally improved optics with better glass. Eventually, however, we're talking about a strong partnerships between camera manufacturers and mobile phone OEMs. At this rate, it's inevitable.

How awesome would it be to have an HTC-made phone with Canon optics? A Samsung phone with a Nikon lens? Preferences aside, just imagine your favorite phone pairing with your favorite camera maker. The thought of something like that alone is enough to make a guy like me week at the knees. But in comparison to a confirmed rumor from earlier this week, this would be only a baby step towards an endgame.

Back on Monday, it was revealed by 9to5Mac that the CEO of Lytro, a light field camera maker, had met with Steve Jobs to pitch him some ideas that involved Lytro technology in future Apple gadgets.

For those of you who don't know, Lytro cameras are not your average cameras. Instead of capturing a standard, 2-D shot that is permanently focused the way it was focused when the shot was taken, Lytro cameras capture light rays – 11-megarays, to be exact – and remove the need to pick a single focal point at the time of the exposure. With the finished product, you can tweak and manipulate the focus of the image until your heart is content, producing both a cool effect and some rather unique photos. (Seriously, if you have never experienced manipulating a light field photo, go here and try it out. It's both interesting and fun.)

According to an upcoming book, titled Inside Apple, Steve Jobs had a huge interest in reinventing mobile photography, and he planned to do so by including Lytro's light field sensors in Apple products, creating focus-free mobile cameras.

Naturally and ironically enough, when I first learned of Lytro cameras a few months ago, the first thought that came to mind was, "Now that would be cool to have in a phone." Unfortunately, light field cameras require a little more hardware than your run-of-the-mill camera. Earlier light field cameras were roughly equivalent to the size of old supercomputers. In other words, a camera capable of capturing light field rays from just a few years ago was large enough to fill a decent-sized room. Over time, this technology has undergone quite the overhaul and has been shrunk down to about the size of an iPod Nano that's 4.41-inches thick. That's quite a feat in itself.

That said, Lytro's equipment is currently quite a bit larger than anything you would want slapped on the next iPhone model, so I wouldn't expect anything in the next couple models. But even the fact that Jobs was contemplating this is enough for me to retain hope of such an awesome thing.

The iPhone 4S is already my favorite camera of any I've ever owned, and recently, I fell in love with it even more, thanks to a handful of interchangeable lenses I bought for it. Removing the need to focus intently while taking the photo would only make it that much better.

What say you, folks? Do you think a light field sensor in an iPhone is possible within the next two years? Three? Would you want a focus-free camera in your phone?

Image via MacTrast

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