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Apple Patents Directional Flash Tech For Cameras 145

tekgoblin writes "A patent application has surfaced that shows Apple's attempts at creating a new way for a flash to work on a camera. The way the new flash works is very intriguing: a user can select a dimly lit area of the photo and the camera will try to illuminate just that area with the flash. The way Apple is attempting to accomplish this is similar to the way the autofocus works on the iPhone 4 where you can touch the screen in certain areas to focus on that area. Instead you will be able to light up that area with the flash. This is accomplished by the camera flash passing through a 'redirector' so the flash can be placed other than directly centered when a photo is taken."
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Apple Patents Directional Flash Tech For Cameras

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  • Re:Sounds impossible (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @05:33AM (#33709150)

    That problem will be solved shortly. We just need a bit more computational power on the cameras and a separable flash.

    You point the camera to your target. The camerta creates a 3D map of the room, calculates the perfect surface for reflection and, in the screen, it points that angle to you.

    You separate the flash (camera in one hand, flash in the other) point it as the camera showed you, and make the picture.

    The camera will have a secondary flash to remove shadows.

    All the technology exists at this moment but I don't think a camera sized computer can do 3D maps at a reasonable speed.

  • by Bjecas ( 1753752 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @05:38AM (#33709176)

    The difference to a Canon EOS 50D being that the flash on the Canon is stuck to the top?

    I'm not that well versed in photography as to understand how much of an impact this can have, hence my original post. ;)

  • A Flash-spotlight? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @06:15AM (#33709314) Homepage

    Well, I have to say, it is a novel idea as far as I can tell. I could probably do one better by combining the power of a projector lamp and a DLP mirror system to paint a rather precise lighting system for the purposes of portrait photography. Light can be manipulated with very precise detail, coloring and intensity over the whole scene, not just one point. (Now, someone go patent this idea...) Using this technology, you could photoshop an image before you take it.

    As someone pointed out, it is not so easy or as good when photos are edited after the fact than before. The reason why, I will assert, is that there is an unlimited range of variables of light while there is a far more limited range of variables of pixel data. The act of capturing an image on a CCD is already lossy compression of information. By setting up the image before-hand, you are increasing your ability to edit a final product in a more pleasing way.

    I would be interested to know how Apple intends to integrate this into an iProduct. iPhone/iPad wouldn't be particularly good at this type of photography I don't think. To accomplish this, a complex focusing system would have to be implemented and while I have heard of liquid lenses (here on slashdot) before, I can't help but believe that the throw distance of such projection technology would be rather short.

    Still, all in all, this is a neat idea. And it's not quite a software patent, so I'm okay with it.

  • Re:Sounds impossible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @06:34AM (#33709388) Homepage

    I think he means a small LCD a millimeter or so in front of the flash, ie. completely inside the iPhone, no moving parts needed.

    I wonder if he's patented the opposite - select parts of the image where you don't want flash, or want less flash - eg. macro photography. The LCD could have a 16-level greyscale for fine control, I wonder if he's patented that as well. Gee, this thinking-up-patentable-ideas thing is really easy.

  • Re:Sounds impossible (Score:2, Interesting)

    by niftydude ( 1745144 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @07:55AM (#33709636)
    You won't need a separable flash. I'm willing to bet any money that they'll be using arrays of movable micro-electromechanical (MEMS) mirrors and micro-lenses in the in the camera to aim the flash automatically for you.
    MEMS mirrors are tiny, cheap to make now that we know how to make them, and are easily able to do this kind of application.

    I'm also not sure if a camera sized computer can do 3D maps at a reasonable speed yet - but a hardware chip which has instructions purely to implement that sort of algorithm definitely could fit on a camera or phone, and again would be tiny and cheap to add in once you were mass producing it.
  • I agree. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 27, 2010 @08:41AM (#33709846)

    Years ago we had industrial photographers come in and take a picture of the equipment
    we were building. Lots of curved stainless steel. They brought in a lot of lights, set
    them up high and low all over the place, and our boring-looking equipment started
    to look Really Good. Pictures came out great.

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {}> on Monday September 27, 2010 @09:47AM (#33710442) Homepage

    The nice thing about the little popup flashes in most SLRs these days is that they can trigger a remote flash wirelessly.

    (A modern take on the classic "optical slave" where the camera can actually control the remote flash's light output. Nikon calls this CLS, Canon calles it wireless E-TTL I think, Pentax calls it wireless P-TTL.)

    Most SLRs can be put in a mode where the onboard flash is reduced so much in output that it doesn't contribute significantly to exposure at all. (It will still, however, contribute some.) It can also be allowed to contribute to exposure, causing it to act as a small fill flash.

    One thing you didn't explicitly mention but have hinted at in past posts: Sometimes, instead of bringing a large reflective object (umbrella, softbox, etc), a photographer will use their environment. This is why highend flashes swivel/tilt - for example, to point the flash head at the ceiling. In this situation, the ceiling becomes a large diffuse light source. (Note: White ceiling required unless you're going for a funky effect. Black ceilings such as found at many concert venues are a pain in the ass. )

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor