Google has just been granted a patent for a mobile device with multiple flashes. Yep, more than one. And the patent is encompassing of a whole number of possible arrangements and use-cases. So the next Nexus phone (or, for that matter, the next Motorola flagship device) might come with quite a bit of innovation in the imaging department.
LED flashes are notoriously worse than Xenon flashes, but with multiple LED flashes being used, it’s conceivable that they will be able to provide enough light to finally reach Xenon-like quality. And without the associated high power consumption and big spacing requirements (especially in terms of thickness) of Xenon flashes, we’d assume.
The simplest possible arrangement for Google’s multiple flashes is in the image above – a ‘ring’ of them circling around the camera lens. There are other possibilities discussed as well – such as flashes that are on different sides of the phone, or ones that can be moved up or down (think of some digital camera flashes that ‘spring’ up when you take a photo and you’ll get the idea, only in this case you’d be able to control the movement manually).
So what can you do with multiple flashes? First of all, obviously they can all be ‘fired’ at once, providing extremely good lighting and virtually shadow-free images. The shadows are listed by Google as one of the big downsides of the one-LED flash solution (or even dual-LED if they’re mounted too close to each other).
Then, the phone could selectively trigger only some of the flashes, based on an analysis of ambient lighting at any given time (perhaps you don’t need all that light after all; or, this could take existing light sources into account).
There could also be an HDR-like use-case for this invention. The phone could take a number of pictures in quick succession, each one using either just one of the flashes, or a group. The end result you’d be shown would be a composite image made out of all of those, but ‘stitched together’ a la HDR. This could obviously be an easy way to achieve high-quality pictures. Oh, and this idea can also be combined with ‘true’ HDR (using different camera settings for each of those photos) for the ‘ultimate’ in image processing results.
Or, get this – the phone may even do some fancy depth processing based on comparing the shadows in each image and then spit out a compound 3D image of the subject of your photos.
All in all, if something like this ever makes it to shipping smartphones, it will open up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of image capture on such devices.
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