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Apple researched how to make it easier for a future iPhone user to directly see the difference between wide and ultra-wide lenses, giving power users more control.
Chances are, most iPhone 13 Pro users won’t know which of their three rear camera lenses is taking a photo. You can choose, although the iPhone will, for example, switch to macro mode if it determines that’s what you need.
Overall, though, you don’t think about the lens being used, because you don’t have to. Typically, you frame the shot and if you don’t like it, then swipe the controls to zoom in.
Or you’ll do what photographers call zooming with your feet. Getting physically close to an object or person is often the best thing to do, but Apple wants to make switching between iPhone cameras easier.
“Digital Viewfinder User Interface for Multiple Cameras”, is a newly revealed patent application to introduce a user to all the camera options of the iPhone.
It’s not only that it can give you better control when composing a photo, but it also has an effect on the image quality of your photo. Indeed, when you can see all the options through a digital viewfinder, you can also see when a choice will degrade image quality.
“Optical magnification provides better visual quality but introduces complexities into the optical train of the device,” Apple’s patent application states. “Digital magnification avoids these complexities, allowing for more efficient packaging of the device, but can suffer in visual quality.”
Optical zoom is always better than digital because basically the latter works by enlarging the image by doubling or tripling the existing pixels. Optical zoom brings an image closer without sacrificing quality.
However, the optical zoom “complex in the optical train of the device”, since it is obtained “by moving physical components (eg lenses)”. In other words, the optical zoom requires a thicker iPhone to accommodate its moving parts.
To keep an iPhone slim, while still offering optical zoom, Apple proposes to exploit how the phone includes multiple cameras.
“The use of multiple cameras allows for an approximation of optical zoom even if the underlying cameras are not capable of variable optical magnification,” the patent application continues.
This is why the iPhone already has several cameras. What it lacked was an easy way for a user to “take advantage of multiple on-board cameras without placing [them] excessive cognitive loads.
Apple’s proposal is to start with the usual iPhone viewfinder. Just like now, you open the Camera app and the image of what the phone would take if you pressed the shutter button is displayed.
At the bottom of the screen, however, Apple offers a visible control slider. As the user swipes through this control, they can see different options available from the cameras.
Without having to tap a list of cameras, just swipe along the slider to let them compose the shot they want. A single tap on the slider can switch the iPhone from one lens to another, but the user doesn’t have to know or care about that.
When the user cares
Apple always defaults to making things as simple as possible, and being able to just swipe to see which image suits you best is appealing. But there are also always users who care about the specific lens being used and want control over their choices.
For them, the same patent application covers another possibility. The single screen of the iPhone could also display two different images of the lenses.
The screen could present a separate, independent viewfinder image. So that you can see what the results of your choice would be.
This patent application is attributed to six inventors. Most, including Linda L. Dong, have multiple backgrounds related patents to do with iPhone cameras and viewfinder systems.