Apple files for patents for a folded lens system with multiple lens

Future iPhones and iPad could sport folded a folded lens system with three, four or five refractive lens as evidenced by new patent filings 20170276914, 20170276913, and 20170276912.

In the patent filings, Apple notes that the advent of small, mobile multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet or pad devices has resulted in a need for high-resolution, small form factor cameras for integration in the devices. However, due to limitations of conventional camera technology, conventional small cameras used in such devices tend to capture images at lower resolutions and/or with lower image quality than can be achieved with larger, higher quality cameras. 

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Achieving higher resolution with small package size cameras generally requires use of a photosensor (also referred to as an image sensor) with small pixel size and a good, compact imaging lens system. Advances in technology have achieved reduction of the pixel size in photosensors. However, as photosensors become more compact and powerful, demand for compact imaging lens system with improved imaging quality performance has increased. Apple feels it has a solution.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “Compact folded lens systems are described that may be used in small form factor cameras. Lens systems are described that may include three lens elements with refractive power, with a light folding element such as a prism, located between a first lens element on the object side of the lens system and a second lens element, that redirects the light refracted from the first lens element from a first axis onto a second axis on which the other lens elements and a photosensor are arranged. 

“The lens systems may include an aperture stop located behind the front vertex of the lens system, for example at the first lens element, and an optional infrared filter, for example located between the last lens element and a photosensor.”

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.