That the iPhone camera is the most popular camera in the Flickr photo community is no coincidence. It’s not about image quality (what’s more, the iPhone 3G is still more popular than the 4, despite its 5 megapixels), but about the convenience, ease and variety of applications available to take an image, subject it to as many processes and touches as we want and share it with the world in a few taps.
For this reason, it is not surprising that Apple has filed ten patents this week related to photography and video covering everything from automatic blur correction or skin tone masking (both currently available in iPhoto) to color noise reduction or automatic exposure enhancement through orientation detection.
Specifically, one of the most interesting is undoubtedly the patent covering a system by which to capture a sequence of images by recording the movement of the phone in that time interval through the accelerometer and other mechanisms to automatically select the one taken in a more stable manner.
To ensure that at least one clear image is obtained, the iPhone’s camera would be constantly storing in memory all the information captured by its sensor, which would also make it possible to eliminate the time lapse that occurs from the time we press the shutter button until the photo is finally captured by directly extracting the corresponding image from this buffer. According to the patent, this could initially store 10 images, although space could be made available for 20 or even 50 if the user so specifies or conditions require (for example, for a capture in very low light or a user with a particularly tempered pulse).
The masking of skin tones on the other hand allows different adjustments to be applied to these areas to achieve a more natural look, distinguishing them from the rest (clothes, landscape…) which could, for example, be fearlessly saturated to create more visually attractive images.
Finally, it is also worth mentioning the system of colour noise reduction proposed by Apple, not so much because of the way it works but because of the way it is applied in relation to a very common optical defect in the small and simple lenses that are mounted not only by mobile phones but also by compact cameras or even by reflex cameras: the vignetting, a term with which the darkening of the edges of the image is known. To correct this, not only would a radial increase in exposure be applied to make these areas lighter, but also noise would be progressively reduced in them to compensate for its more than likely appearance after processing.
Other patents filed by the apple company include automatic tone mapping for cameras, video processing to mask artifacts that appear during encoding using dynamic noise maps, video encoding and transcoding…
As you can see, the addition of the new high dynamic range (HDR) mode introduced by Apple in iOS 4.1 could be just the first in a series of improvements that could be introduced in a phased manner in successive updates.