Apple’s wireless camera ‘Illumination System’ patent: what do you think?

A patent has been uncovered for an Apple wireless camera lighting system. But is it a good idea and would you ever use it?

Apple iFlash

Apple iFlashCould Apple be working on their own wireless photographic lighting system? That’s what a number of tech sites are wondering, after a two-year-old patent, uncovered by the Apple Insider news site, revealed designs for an “Illumination System” to work with iOS devices.

The patent application details what would best be described as a flash triggering system, similar in some respects to Nikon’s Advanced Wireless Lighting (AWL) and Canon’s Radio Transmission systems. Not only does the method involve pairing a camera or cameraphone with lights, it even mentions the Apple equivalent of through-the-lens (TTL) exposure metering and pre-flash measurements:

“…As the light source is activated, capturing a test image of a scene illuminated by the at least one light source by the image capture device. Then, analyzing the test image to determine if an illumination of the scene should be adjusted and if the illumination of the scene is to be adjusted, providing a control signal to the at least one secondary device including at least one of a position instruction, an intensity level, or timing data.”

That is, imagine you are taking a picture with your iPhone (or iPad or ‘iCam’) and your friends are assembled around the subject, brandishing their own “slave” iPhones (or iFlashes). Your “master” camera would sync with the lights on the slave devices, then take a test shot to measure the scene, using this information to tell the lights to change their intensity, duration and location to obtain a correct/desired exposure.

Apple Illumination System patent drawing figure 5
A patent drawing showing “a top elevation view of an illumination system utilizing the image capture device”

How could the devices move location on their own? With an on-screen instruction saying something to the tune of: “Barry, take two steps to your left” to your trusty human photo assistant, or to the photographer so they can walk over and adjust the position of their lights. Of course, the method describes to a certain extent what people already do to get better lighting with their cameraphones today, but with spoken words being the wireless band of choice.

The application, by inventor Richard L. Baer, also moots a “remote flash or removable light source” (i.e. iFlash), which plugs into the phone’s Lighting connector or audio jack or else is incorporated into the phone/camera itself. So if the built-in light source of the day’s iPhone doesn’t cut the mustard, a more powerful accessory might be able to provide the oomph:

Apple Illumination System patent drawing of a 'removable light source'
The patent application suggests a “removable light source for the image capture device” built into a phone charger

Being a patent application alone, there is no guarantee that Apple will ever put such a system into production. Do you think they should? Or someone else? Can you imagine yourself ever using it? Or would you rather the company was focussing on other kinds of camera improvements, such as better lenses and image sensors, or other parts of the phone entirely? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

David Selby
Based in Paris, France, David Selby is editor of Lighting Rumours, a part-time photographer and a quantitative analyst.
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