A Look at LinX Camera Technology That Could Appear in Future iOS Devices

Apple's recent acquisition of LinX Imaging is one of the company's more exciting acquisitions in the last several months, as the technology being developed by LinX could lead to some significant improvements in camera quality in future iOS devices. Given the significance of the purchase, we wanted to take a deeper look at LinX's technology and what it could do for future iPhone photography.

No More Protruding Camera

LinX specializes in multi-aperture cameras for mobile devices, which offer several benefits over single aperture cameras, including the ability to pack impressive image quality in a smaller size. With a multi-aperture camera, LinX is able to take advantage of several smaller sensors rather than one large sensor, preventing the camera from needing a longer lens.

iPhone 6 Camera
The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus were equipped with protruding lenses so Apple didn't have to sacrifice image quality for thinness, but it's possible Apple could shrink the length of the camera in future iOS devices with LinX technology, resulting in a flush rear exterior. According to LinX, the use of multiple sensors over a single large sensor let it shrink the height of its camera device by a factor of 1.4 to 2. Comparatively, one of LinX's dual-aperture cameras was described by the company as "significantly" thinner than the iPhone 5s camera and able to "fit in a device thinner than the iPhone."

SLR Image Quality

LinX announced the launch of its most recent mobile-ready multi-aperture camera in June of last year, and in documentation [PDF], the company highlighted the many ways in which its technology improved upon other multi-aperture camera designs, citing image quality as its first priority.

When designing our algorithms and modules our first priority has always been IMAGE QUALITY. We even leveraged the multiple channels to boost the sensitivity of the camera which allows us to capture stunning images at very low light levels and keep exposure times short at normal indoor light levels.

LinX's mobile cameras were described as offering SLR-like images in normal lighting conditions with low noise levels, due to their ability to capture more details than standard single aperture cameras. To offer proof, LinX captured several photos with its LinX 8 mpix, a dual aperture camera with two 4-megapixel sensors with 2.0 micron BSI (backside illumination) pixels, and compared those to images taken with the iPhone 5s (equipped with an 8-megapixel single aperture camera with 1.5 micron pixels) and an iPhone 5.

Noise Reduction and Detail
The images captured by the LinX camera were brighter and clearer, with a significant reduction in noise. Available detail when zoomed into a photo was also much greater, as can be seen in the comparison below.

linxlownoise
Indoor Lighting
In the photo below, the image was taken in mid-levels of light, at approximately 40 to 50 lux, similar to a decently well-lit room in a house or restaurant. The LinX sensor let in more light than the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S4, for a photo that is clearer and sharper with less noise.

indoor40luxlightinglinx
Very Low Lighting
LinX technology is able to significantly improve low light performance by using multiple channels to increase the sensitivity of the camera for better detail. It also keeps exposure times short to cut down on the motion blurring that can impact photo quality in conditions where lighting is not optimal. For a mobile camera in one lux of lighting, the detail that the dual-aperture LinX 8 mpix was able to capture is impressive.

linxlowlighting1lux
Low light photos with less noise are also achieved through the use of clear pixels (adding clear pixels to standard red-green-blue filters) to let more light pass through in situations where lighting is low. The use of clear pixels lets in light without the need for larger pixels, keeping resolution high. Larger pixels typically result in more light for the sensor, but using large pixels cuts down on resolution. LinX technology doesn't have to compromise between pixel size and resolution, as it can use small pixels but still let in adequate amounts of light.

Pixel Technology

Smaller pixels also often introduce pixel crosstalk that can impact color clarity to result in muddier colors, but the LinX camera's clear pixels are less sensitive to this issue because they can collect more photons per pixel, also cutting down on noise levels.

In its documentation, LinX describes a 1x2 (aperture) camera module with two 5-megapixel sensors with 1.12 micron BSI (backside illumination) pixels, intended for a "super-slim handset with very limited space for the camera module." The camera is cheaper than the one found in the iPhone 5s, but delivers the same resolution due to its smaller pixels, so image quality is largely the same. Presumably Apple would use something a bit more cutting edge in its newer devices, but the product gives an idea of the type of technology LinX was working on.

Depth Mapping for 3D Models

With multiple apertures, LinX camera modules are able to calculate "ultra accurate sub pixel disparities" between images, letting them create detailed depth maps of a scene. With depth information on a per-pixel basis along with RGB information, LinX cameras can create 3D point clouds of objects from a single frame or a complete 3D model by combining several frames captured from different angles.

linxpointmapping

Point mapping with data taken from a single photo

Outdoors, depth can be calculated even in direct sunlight or in complete darkness with flash lighting (either visible or infrared).

This is interesting technology because it can be used in several fascinating ways. Depth mapping like this can let people create 3D scans of objects from simple photographs taken at multiple angles, and it can also determine the size of an object that's been photographed and its distance from another object (potentially useful for indoor mapping). It's also possible to use the depth information to refocus an image, introducing a synthetic blur that can emulate different depths of field (a method described in one of LinX's patents). In editing, the information could be used to remove and add objects to a photograph.

linxdepthmapping1

LinX Depth Mapping

LinX's Arrays

LinX offers several different camera options, each of which have unique applications. A 1x2 aperture array with a color and mono sensor, for example, can create low quality depth maps, improve low light performance, and produce better images.

A 2x2 array can create high quality depth maps with higher dynamic range, improved low light performance, and general image quality.

A 1+1x2 array uses two small apertures to create a depth map that provides focusing input for the main aperture, leading to ultra fast focusing even in conditions with very low lighting.

Apple and LinX's Technology

It's not clear how and when Apple will incorporate LinX's technology into its devices, but it's possible we could see these types of camera improvements as soon as this year. Rumors have suggested Apple is looking into a major camera boost for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, with new technology that could produce SLR quality images, and LinX's multi-aperture lens systems could potentially accomplish that feat.

Apple's iPhone is one of the most popular camera options in the world according to data from Flickr, which has led Apple to focus heavily on camera improvements over the years. Apple's commitment to photo quality has continually led to iOS cameras that offer superior images compared competing smartphones, and the acquisition of LinX could put it even further ahead of the competition.

More detailed descriptions of LinX's technology as well as additional comparison photos can be seen in a June PDF released alongside its latest products.

Related Forum: iPhone

Top Rated Comments

flavr Avatar
85 months ago
This will really improve the quality of pictures my friend likes to take of all his cats
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Shookster Avatar
85 months ago
Wait, this technology only cost Apple $20 million? That is a bargain.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ominx Avatar
85 months ago
There is no way this is going to make it into the 6S/6S+, just not enough time.

It may be already implemented through licensing and the purchase was simply to kill the competition.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Goldfrapp Avatar
85 months ago
Already listed two of my medium format cameras for sale hoping the next iPhone will be able to replace them.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Merkyworks Avatar
85 months ago
There is no way this is going to make it into the 6S/6S+, just not enough time.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Bhatu Avatar
85 months ago
The examples are impressive. But they have not shown any samples of moving object images. I am wondering how this dual camera system is going to handle rolling shutter issues.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Premium Subscribers Can Now Use iOS Picture-in-Picture: Here's How

Wednesday August 25, 2021 3:55 am PDT by
Google has rolled out picture-in-picture support as an "experimental" feature for YouTube premium subscribers, allowing them to watch video in a small window when the app is closed. If you're a premium YouTube subscriber looking to try out picture-in-picture, follow these steps: Launch a web browser and sign into your YouTube account at YouTube.com. Navigate to www.youtube.com/new. Scroll...
gradiente iphone white

Brazilian Electronics Company Revives Long-Running iPhone Trademark Dispute

Tuesday May 19, 2020 1:06 pm PDT by
Apple has been involved in a long-running iPhone trademark dispute in Brazil, which was revived today by IGB Electronica, a Brazilian consumer electronics company that originally registered the "iPhone" name in 2000. IGB Electronica fought a multi-year battle with Apple in an attempt to get exclusive rights to the "iPhone" trademark, but ultimately lost, and now the case has been brought to...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
ryanscoolios13thumbnail

Apple Releases iOS 13.1.3 With Bug Fixes for Phone, Mail, Health, and More

Tuesday October 15, 2019 10:09 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 13.1.3 and iPadOS 13.1.3, minor updates to the iOS 13.1.2 software that was released two weeks ago. This is the fourth update to the iOS 13 operating system that came out in September. The iOS and iPadOS 13.1.3 updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the updates, go to Settings > General > Software Update....
bluetti eb70 main

MacRumors Giveaway: Win a Bluetti EB70 Portable Power Station and 200W Solar Panel

Friday September 3, 2021 11:13 am PDT by
For this week's giveaway, we've teamed up with MAXOAK to offer MacRumors readers a chance to win a Bluetti portable power station and an accompanying solar panel. Bluetti makes a range of portable power station options that are useful for camping, emergencies, power outages, off-grid living, and similar situations. The Bluetti EB70 is a solid middle of the road option that offers 716Wh and...
M1X MBP Feature

Leaker: Upcoming MacBook Pro to See Price Hike Over Current Model, Equal Performance Across 14 and 16-Inch Sizes

Tuesday August 24, 2021 5:28 am PDT by
The upcoming 14-inch MacBook Pro is set to be more expensive than the current 13-inch MacBook Pro and both the 14 and 16-inch models will offer the same performance, according to the leaker known as "Dylandkt." The leaker shared the information on Twitter, explaining that both of the upcoming MacBook Pro models, expected to come in 14 and 16-inch sizes, will feature the same performance due...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Expecting iPhone and iPad Supply Constraints in September Quarter

Tuesday July 27, 2021 2:34 pm PDT by
During today's earnings call covering the third fiscal quarter of 2021 (second calendar quarter), Apple CFO Luca Maesteri said that Apple is expecting supply constraints to affect the iPhone and the iPad in the coming quarter. "The supply constraints that we've seen in the June quarter will be higher in the September quarter," said Maestri. The constraints will impact iPhone and iPad sales...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...
maxresdefault

Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak Discuss iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, Privacy, Shortcuts on Mac, and More

Saturday June 12, 2021 6:12 am PDT by
As is tradition, Apple executives Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak joined Daring Fireball's John Gruber in an episode of The Talk Show to discuss several announcements that Apple made over this weeks WWDC, including iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and a large focus around privacy. Federighi kicks off the conversation discussing the common architecture, now thanks to Apple silicon, across all of...