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
82 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
82 months ago
Wait, this technology only cost Apple $20 million? That is a bargain.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ominx Avatar
82 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
82 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
82 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
82 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)

Top Stories

iPhone 13 Always On Feature

iPhone 13 to Bring Over a Major Feature From the Apple Watch

Wednesday July 28, 2021 2:21 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone 13 lineup will feature an always-on display akin to the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6, according to recent reports. In his weekly Power On newsletter, Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman, who often reveals accurate insights into Apple's plans, said that the iPhone 13 may feature an Apple Watch-inspired always-on mode. The Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch...
REC ASA CODE2016 20160601 205816 2745

Elon Musk Reportedly Demanded to Become Apple CEO as Part of Potential Tesla Acquisition [Update: Musk Denies]

Friday July 30, 2021 9:04 am PDT by
Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly once demanded that he be made Apple CEO in a brief discussion of a potential acquisition with Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook. The claim comes in a new book titled "Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century," as reviewed by The Los Angeles Times. According to the book, during a 2016 phone call between Musk and Cook that touched on the possibility of ...
duracell battery bitter coating

Apple Says Don't Buy AirTag Replacement Batteries With Bitter Coating

Wednesday July 28, 2021 11:08 am PDT by
Since AirTags were just released earlier this year and are expected to have a year-long battery life, it may be some time yet before AirTag users need a replacement battery, but when the time comes for a refresh, Apple is warning customers not to buy batteries with a bitter coating. AirTags use coin-shaped CR2032 batteries, which happen to be a size that's easy to swallow. Some battery...
nothing ear 1 buds 1

Nothing 'Ear (1)' True Wireless Earbuds Launch to Take on AirPods Pro With ANC and Unusual Design for $99

Tuesday July 27, 2021 7:57 am PDT by
Nothing, a new brand from OnePlus founder Carl Pei, has today officially launched the "Ear (1)" true wireless earbuds after months of anticipation around the company's AirPods Pro rival. The Ear (1) features an in-ear design, Active Noise Cancelation, Bluetooth 5.2, IPX4 water resistance, and a charging case with Qi-compatible wireless charging and a USB-C port. Fast pairing is supported on...
General Apps Messages

Android iMessage Competitor Puts Pressure on Apple

Friday July 30, 2021 3:15 am PDT by
Google and the three major U.S. carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, will all support a new communications protocol on Android smartphones starting in 2022, a move that puts pressure on Apple to adopt a new cross-platform messaging standard and may present a challenge to iMessage. Verizon recently announced that it is planning to adopt Messages by Google as its default messaging...
Apple Leak Feature

Apple Demands Leaker Reveals Sources Under Threat of Being Reported to Police

Wednesday July 28, 2021 6:53 am PDT by
Apple has sent a cease and desist letter to a leaker based in China as part of its continuing attempts to curtail leaks of unreleased products, according to Vice. A Chinese citizen who shared images of stolen Apple prototypes on social media was sent a warning letter from Fangda Partners, Apple's law firm in China, on June 18, 2021. An extract from the letter read:You have disclosed without ...
apple rtp land

Apple Preparing to Occupy 200,000 Square Feet of Temporary Space Ahead of New $1 Billion North Carolina Campus

Thursday July 29, 2021 9:14 am PDT by
Back in April, Apple announced a $430 billion investment over the next five years to create more than 20,000 new jobs as the company continues to expand. One significant piece of that plan is a new engineering and research center in North Carolina where Apple will be investing over $1 billion and hiring at least 3,000 employees. Assemblage of seven properties in Research Triangle Park owned by ...
iOS 15 General Feature Purple

Everything New in iOS 15 Beta 4: Safari Tweaks, MagSafe Battery Pack Support, Notification Updates and More

Tuesday July 27, 2021 11:47 am PDT by
Apple today released the fourth betas of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, introducing additional refinements to the new features that are coming in the software updates. In these betas, Apple has introduced changes for Safari, Notifications, Focus mode, and more. Safari Updates Apple is continuing to refine the design of Safari on the iPhone, and in iOS 15, there are tweaks to improve usability. ...
new m1 chip

Tim Cook on Apple Deciding to Manufacture Components: 'We Ask Ourselves If We Can Do Something Better'

Tuesday July 27, 2021 3:04 pm PDT by
During today's earnings call for the third fiscal quarter of 2021 (second calendar quarter), Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked how Apple decides what components to purchase and what components to develop, and Cook said that Apple asks if it can be done better. We ask ourselves if we can do something better. If we can deliver a better product. If we can buy something in the market and it's great...
a15 chip

iPhone 13 and Redesigned MacBook Pro Chip Production Hit With Gas Contamination

Friday July 30, 2021 5:44 am PDT by
The most important TSMC factory that manufactures Apple's chips destined for next-generation iPhone and Mac models has been hit by a gas contamination, according to Nikkei Asia. The factory, known as "Fab 18," is TSMC's most advanced chipmaking facility. TSMC is Apple's sole chip supplier, making all of the processors used in every Apple device with a custom silicon chip. Industry...