Apple patent points to better long-range photography for future iPhones

While recent iPhones have had excellent cameras, one area that has been left behind by Android rivals is long-range photography. The lack of a periscope camera holds iPhones back, but it seems like this might not be a problem for too much longer.

A patent spotted by Patently Apple outlines the company’s possible plans for a periscope system to enhance long-range photography. Titled “Folded Camera”, the patent outlines a system that comprises “two light folding elements such as prisms and an independent lens system, located between the two prisms, which includes an aperture stop and a lens stack”.

Although not explicitly stated, the goal seems to be introducing a complex camera system without adding unnecessary bulk to a camera hump. It’s no good being amongst the best camera phones you can buy if it requires substantial camera housing, deeply at odds with Apple’s iPhone aesthetic.

“The lens system may be moved on one or more axes independently of the prisms to provide autofocus and/or optical image stabilization for the camera,” the patent continues. “The shapes, materials, and arrangements of the refractive lens elements in the lens stack may be selected to capture high resolution, high quality images while providing a sufficiently long back focal length to accommodate the second prism.”

While it’s certainly true that Apple files a lot of patents that don’t end up in commercially available products, this one feels extremely likely to be actioned in some form or other. The iPhone 12 Pro offers 2x optical zoom, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers 2.5x – that’s a long way short of that offered by periscope cameras in the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and it seems safe to assume that the company will be looking to close that gap in the near future.

When is a trickier question though. While it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the technology outlined here could be introduced in 2022’s iPhone 14, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has previously stated that a periscope lens won’t arrive on iPhones before 2023

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