Apple is working on Optical Image Stabilization and improved Autofocus for iPhone camera
Apple never cared much about megapixel count in iPhone cameras. They started with 2 megapixels in the original iPhone, when Nokia was already shipping smartphones with 5 megapixel modules. It took Apple 3 years to get to by then standard 5 megapixels in iPhone 4. And its latest iPhones are still stuck with 8 megapixel sensors, when every other flagship smartphone comes with 13 megapixels or more.
Despite that, every iPhone review comes to the conclusion that Apple’s handsets are among the best camera phones out there, handily beating any rival Android, with only viable competition coming from Nokia. Which proves that Apple was right to focus on better lenses, bigger pixels and sensors, advanced image processing algorithms, and not the pixel count. The only thing disappointing about 8 megapixel iPhone 5S camera was the lack of optical image stabilization, which allows for much better low light performance and better videos.
But the lack of OIS in iPhone 5S doesn’t mean that Apple is doesn’t care about it. In fact, we can now confirm that Apple is indeed working on optical image stabilization and improved autofocus system for iPhone cameras. Yesterday Apple’s patent application called “VCM OIS actuator module” was published on USPTO. It describes how Apple plans to go about adding OIS and improved autofocus in future iPhones.
Apple will be using voice coil motor actuators to move the camera lens in various directions around the optical axis to provide both – better autofocus and OIS:
Actuator module may have integrated therein a mechanism to provide the AF function and a mechanism to provide the OIS function. The AF mechanism is configured to both move the lens along the optical axis and actively tilt the lens. The lens tilt may be used to compensate for parasitic lens movements due to, for example, tilting of the device within which actuator module is implemented. The OIS mechanism is configured to move (e.g., shift) the lens in directions orthogonal to the optical axis to correct for handshake motions in the center of the image. By shifting, as opposed to tilting the entire camera (e.g., the lens and image sensor together as a rigid body), the associated image sensor substrate can remain stationary, substantially simplifying both camera manufacture, size and packaging in the mobile electronic device.
It is unclear how far Apple has advanced with its OIS/AF system. But patent filing dates show that they have now been working on it at least since early 2012, and should be pretty far along towards a viable commercial product. Yesterday’s rumors about iPhone 6 camera with OIS point towards the same, as well.