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Apple patent introduces simultaneous photo capture with multiple cameras

The latest patent filed by Apple details the idea of using two cameras to simultaneously capture two different fields of view in the same direction. By taking two photos with different focal lengths, a device like a phone could have an effective optical zoom without an actual moving lens.

The patent, first picked up by by Patently Apple, shows diagrams of two cameras side by side, the first with a larger field of view and the second with a smaller field of view that is a subset of the larger one, with their visual axes aligned. The device can then store the two photo data structures separately.

With these two data structures, the device can display both photos, switch between them or create an intermediate photo, enhancing the quality of the larger field of view picture with data from the smaller field of view.

For an example of this technology being used, Apple described taking video of a baseball game. With this design, someone could take equal-quality zoomed in and wide angle video at the same time and use that in the coverage of the game. With one device, a video operator could focus close up on a batter swinging while also focusing on the wider outfield and crowd reaction.

To ensure simultaneous image capture, Apple included a portion in the patent to index and compare the times at which the photos are captured in each of the cameras.

Apple's patent isn't just for phones, it also includes computers, tablets, cameras and gaming consoles. This technology could very well become a part of many different future Apple products.

There is no mention of using the side-by-side cameras for 3D within the patent, and the slight offset of the two images raises the question of how well an intermediate composition of the two photos would actually look. There are no details about how the photo data would be analyzed and combined.

As always, patent applications aren't proof that we'll actually see the technology in a finished product, but it does show us some of the things Apple is considering for its future camera systems.

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