Apple Patent Suggests Using Smartphones as Off-Camera Flash

Apple has been awarded a patent to tie multiple smartphones together as an off-camera illumination system

iPhone 5 led

iPhone 5 led

Smartphone "flashes" are terrible. Yes, in some cases they're better than nothing, but most of the time you should avoid them like the plague. But a new patent awarded to Apple could substantially boost their capability, by tapping into other devices around you to function as slaved off-camera lighting. By linking together your iPhone with those of a number of friends, you could provide a substantial boost to the lighting of a situation.

Unlike a standard lighting setup, the newly awarded patent wouldn't simply use metering from the master unit or manually set levels. Instead, it would fire an initial photograph using some or all of the slaved devices, analyze it, and then adjust the lighting levels produced from each device to make the photo turn out well.

The method includes initiating a master-slave relationship between the image capture device and at least one secondary device. Once the master-slave relationship is initiated, remotely activating one of an at least one light source of the at least one secondary device. 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. 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.

Unfortunately, the patent itself is extremely broad, with language that extends far beyond smartphones. This being Apple, you can see the application most likely being for binding together multiple iPhones and iPad, but the patent is actually far more expansive. It refers primarly to use with an "image capture device" such as "a camera or mobile electronic device." The patent even concludes:

The foregoing description has broad application. For example, while examples disclosed herein may focus on utilizing a smart phone or mobile computing device, it should be appreciated that the concepts disclosed herein may equally apply to other image capturing devices and light sources. Similarly, although the illumination system may be discussed with respect to activating a series of light sources, the devices and techniques disclosed herein are equally applicable to any type of output. Accordingly, the discussion of any embodiment is meant only to be an example and is not intended to suggest that the scope of the disclosure, including the claims, is limited to these examples.

Apple has something of a history for litigation, so here's hoping this described patent is far enough away from what dedicated cameras are doing that neither the big photography companies nor Apple will feel the need to but heads over patents for off-camera illumination. As it stands, the idea of being able to use multiple iPhones to create an impromptu controlled strobe situation is pretty neat.