This Apple patent application will make iPhonographers happy

Published: June 14, 2012

Over the last few years smartphone camera technology has come a very long way. It is now to the point that some seriously impressive images can be taken with a pocketable smartphone. Each generation of smartphones is being fitted with better image sensing technology, and it's convincing a lot of people – serious photographers and tourists alike – to leave their dedicated cameras at home for the much more portable smartphone.

Quality is still far short of that of a DSLR or mirrorless camera; smartphone image sensors are still pinholes in comparison to those of dedicated cameras. And there's certainly room for improvement. But that doesn't stop average Joes, Janes and professional photographers from capturing some impressive shots with them.

I'm no professional photographer, by any means. Amateur would even be a stretch of a title. I do, however, like to dabble in photography for fun, from time to time. And, to date, some of the best shots I have captured have been taken with smartphones – either the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy Note or iPhone 4S. (I took this one with my iPhone 4S the day it released.)

And things are only getting better. At Mobile World Congress, Nokia debuted and demoed their PureView technology on the PureView 808, a rather chunky, Symbian-powered phone equipped with a 41-megapixel shooter. It isn't exactly intended to take 41-megapixel photos, but it has a much larger sensor than your average smartphone camera and, essentially, can take some jaw-dropping stills.

But the iPhone 4S never ceases to prove that it isn't all about the sensor. Glass plays a major part, too, as does software. With a f/2.4 aperture and a backside illuminated, 8-megapixel sensor, it constantly impresses me by capturing some very impressive images.

Something else that continues to put DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in a league of their own, however, are interchangeable lenses. If you need a wider viewing angle, a wide angle lens can help bend the view to fit more in the picture. If you need to get up close and personal with your subject, pop a macro lens on and you can snap a crystal clear shot no more than a few centimeters away.

Of course, there are third-party companies who have created some interchangeable lenses for smartphones. I bought some for myself a few months ago, just to play around with. And I actually find myself still carrying them around and using them to this day. I have since ditched the individual lenses for an all-in-one olloclip (which I absolutely love). But carrying around a couple lenses in your tight jean pockets isn't exactly fun or efficient.

If Apple chooses to use technology included in a recent patent application, though, interchangeable lenses could be integrated right in (or on, actually) the phone itself.

Currently, the iPhone 4 and 4S back plates are relatively easily removable. With the right tools, the battery door can be removed in a matter of minutes. But Apple's patent application details how Apple could integrate at least two different lenses on a single back plate by making it easily removable. Simply pop the back panel off and rotate 180 degrees to use a separate lens.

To me, this seems like a novel idea. Though the lenses appear to lack adequate glass for significant or dramatic effects, such as fish eye, this would be a more efficient way of swapping out lenses and carrying them everywhere you go. Different lenses would be one or two to a back plate and would be much more fitting for pant pockets.

That said, Apple may be simply applying for a patent so no one else will use this idea. As Jon Fingas of Engadget notes, Apple isn't big on replaceable parts.

Either way, this sort of technology would have iPhonographers – yes, that's what they call themselves – drool a little bit. And I'm at least happy in knowing that, if Apple is to use this tech, they're staying away from the unibody design we've been seeing and hearing rumors of. One way or another, I hope this patent actually comes to fruition. What say you, readers? Do you hope this is only the beginning of interchangeable lenses? Or would you prefer something like this never happen?

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