For years, phone makers raced to pack in as many megapixels as possible into mobile cameras. The small size of phone sensors means more megapixels will only make you so good. Now, the trend is towards more camera sensors. Some phones pack as many as four rear-facing camera sensors, but LG has plans for several times that. In a recent patent filing, LG shows off a concept for a phone with 16 of them.
Dual camera setups on smartphones came into existence during the brief era of 3D phones. In fact, LG was one of the first with two cameras on its ill-fated Optimus 3D. With that phone, the goal was to take 3D photos that looked cool on the phone's screen and nowhere else. When 3D phones died, the multi-camera designs did not completely die off. HTC equipped the One M8 with a secondary camera as a depth sensor, which is similar to many phones of today. However, the depth effects were buggy – it would take a few years before even two cameras would become appealing to consumers.
LG's new camera patent is, in some ways, a throwback to the days of 3D. With 16 lenses in a 4 x 4 matrix, the concept phone could snap multiple photos simultaneously from slightly different angles. According to the patent, LG believes phones could be made with these lenses on a flat surface like a traditional phone or a concave curve. The latter could be more interesting, providing 3D information about a scene.
Photos captured on a phone right now, even those with devices with fancy depth sensors and telephoto lenses, are flat. The information in the image is all visible in the 2D image. The imaginary phone in LG's patent could collect data about the subject from multiple angles, allowing you to manipulate the final product. For example, you could replace parts of an image with data from a different sensor to correct for a blink or completely change the perspective of an object.
Smartphone manufacturers patent theoretical technology all the time, but this one does not seem completely outside the realm of possibility. We are already seeing phones with four main cameras, and more cameras offer more functionality. Because of the size limitations in smartphones, it's easier to pack in more sensors than to include a single larger lens that can adjust like on a real camera. However, the brute force approach of adding more sensors may not help LG turn around its faltering mobile division. Google's Pixel phones have one rear camera sensor and they offer the best photo-taking experience of any Android phone. Gathering 3D image data will not do you good if you do not have the computational photography technology to make it more than a novelty.
Now read: Researchers Create 'Master Fingerprints' to Unlock Phones, Sharp Announces the Aquos R2 With 2 Screen Notches, and Google's 'Night Sight' Photo Mode Rolling Out to Pixel Phones Today