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Apple knows how to make the iPhone’s camera better without adding a single megapixel

Published May 8th, 2014 1:57PM EDT
iPhone Super-Resolution Camera Mode

Apple has not entered the megapixel camera war that other smartphone makers are engaged in and has instead preferred to improve picture quality in its iPhones without increasing the number of megapixels of the main camera. In the future, Apple may further ignore megapixels, a new patent application discovered by AppleInsider reveals, as the company has found a way to offer iPhone users a super-resolution camera mode without actually needing to increase megapixel count in future iPhone versions.

The patent, titledSuper-resolution based on optical image stabilization,” reveals that with help of an optical image stabilization (OIS) camera and an image processing engine, the iPhone would be able to stitch multiple images together and create high-resolution pictures.

“[This patent describes] a system and method for creating a super-resolution image using an image capturing device,” Apple wrote in the patent’s abstract. “In one embodiment, an electronic image sensor captures a reference optical sample through an optical path. Thereafter, an optical image stabilization (OIS) processor to adjust the optical path to the electronic image sensor by a known amount. A second optical sample is then captured along the adjusted optical path, such that the second optical sample is offset from the first optical sample by no more than a sub-pixel offset. The OIS processor may reiterate this process to capture a plurality of optical samples at a plurality of offsets. The optical samples may be combined to create a super-resolution image.”

iPhone users will be able to choose between taking regular pictures or select a “Super resolution mode” menu that would allow them to capture photos that exceed the camera’s megapixels.

It’s not clear when such a camera feature will be available on an iPhone, as inventions described in patents and patent applications do not always make it into upcoming devices.

Some rumors said that the iPhone 6 will have an 8-megapixel camera just like its predecessors, but that it would pack OIS support. However, a more recent report said that this year’s iPhone would not have an OIS rear camera. Without an OIS camera that would ensure the smooth and automatic movement of the camera’s lens, a super-resolution feature as described in this patent application would not be possible.

Oppo has its own way of capturing high-resolution images, that far exceed a phone’s capabilities. The Find 7 can take 50-megapixel shots with a 13-megapixel camera.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.