Apple iPhone 7 Plus will bring light-field photos to the masses

apple-iphone7plus-jetblk-quick-preset_600x450Apple introduced the iPhone 7 Plus, offering dual cameras for first time in an iPhone. The iPhone 7 has a six-element f/1.8 aperture 58mm lens, optical-image stabilization and 12-megapixel sensor, while the Plus version adds a second 12-megapixel camera with a 28mm wide-angle. The user will be able to choose a 2x optical zoom and a 10x digital zoom.

The dual 12-megapixel cameras will also enable a new depth-of-field effect, using both cameras on iPhone 7 Plus to capture images. This effect, called “Portrait,” will be released as a software update later this year.

Of course, Apple isn’t the first company to introduce dual-lens smartphones; They just act like they are. LG, Huawei and HTC have introduced dual-lens versions of their products, sometimes with an emphasis on 3D photography (as in 2011’s LG Optimus and HTC Evo 3D).

The proposed “Portrait” mode is another implementation of light-field technology, where multiple lenses are used to gather information about a scene to allow for additional focus options. The now-defunct Lytro cameras had this “post-focus” as a major feature, where different focal points could be chosen in a photo, after capture. While innovative in design and a frequent subject of glowing press reviews, Lytro cameras never really took off, and the company has pivoted to VR applications.

More recently, the Light Co. launched its 16-lens L16 light-field Android-powered light-field camera. This brick-like camera hasn’t yet started shipping, despite a lengthy PR cycle, but early looks have shown the L16 to be much more versatile than Lytro still cameras – although still very pricey.

The introduction of the iPhone 7 Plus could actually be a boon to light-field photography. Most consumers have no idea the technology exists, and if there’s one thing Apple is good at, it’s bringing complex actions down a level the every day consumer can learn. Insiders tell me one of the challenges of cracking the light-field camera code is getting correct the UX/UI; the technology is actually pretty straightforward.

Apple hasn’t disclosed any more dual-lens features for the iPhone 7 Plus other than the “Portrait” mode. If the Cupertino crew don’t develop the smartphones innate dual-capture capability, I’m sure a third-party app developer will. This would be a Camera+ update worth paying for!

Once iPhone 7 Plus users start using these computational photography features, it may whet their appetite for more advanced capabilities in cameras like the L16.

One more thing…

Kodak EasyShare V705
Kodak EasyShare V705

Interestingly, the Apple implementation is reminiscent of a breakthrough V-series series of Eastman Kodak dual-lens digital cameras from the mid-2000s. Starting with the EasyShare V570 in 2006, the V-series featured two lens and sensor systems. The sleek, inch-thin camera had a 23mm ultra-wide angle lens and an 39-117mm optical zoom lens, secured behind a sliding lens cover. The 5 megapixel camera had a 2.5-inch LCD screen and a “photo frame” dock. The model won a gold medal in the 2006 Industrial Design Excellence Awards. Kodak followed up with two more dual lens models, the 6-megapixel EasyShare V610 and the 7.1 megapixel EasyShare V705.

Since Apple bought EK intellectual property in the bankruptcy fire sale of 2012 , it does make you wonder if some of that Kodak technical goodness lives on in the iPhone 7 Plus.