The Two-Camera iPhone 7 Plus Is Just the Beginning of the Camera Count Competition

Apple dips into the multicamera waters, while startup Light gets ready to ship a 16-camera device

2 min read
Apple's new iPhone 7 Plus boasts two cameras to do zoom and background blur
Photo: Apple

At today’s Apple launch event,  senior vice president Phil Schiller explained two gee-whiz features of Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus—a zoom that doesn’t sacrifice picture quality up to a factor of two, and an ability to create a depth of field effect in which foreground images are clear while the background is blurred. Both of these features are basic requirements for serious photographers. The secret to incorporating them into a small mobile device is stitching together the images captured by multiple camera modules with different focal lengths.

Apple is using two camera modules in the iPhone 7 Plus: a standard 25-millimeter wide-angle equivalent along with a 66-mm telephoto equivalent.

This means that images zoomed up to 66 mm don’t lose pixels, because the 66-mm lens uses the full 12 megapixels of its image sensor. (For zoom levels between 25 and 66 mm software interpolates the images.)

Apple isn’t the first smartphone maker to use multiple camera modules—Huawei introduced a phone with a monochrome and a color camera module, both wide angle, to improve image quality and do some rough simulation of depth of field; LG, like Apple, took on zoom.

The iPhone 7 Plus will likely be the first mobile device out of the gate to do both. I say likely, because Schiller indicated that that feature will not be ready for the phones’ 16 September ship date, and will come as an update later this year, no specific date promised.

Meanwhile, startup camera company Light concluded some time ago that multiple camera modules are the way to do zoom, improve image quality, and allow selective focusing in a digital device, but isn’t stopping at two. The company announced its plan almost a year ago and showed prototypes at CES last January. It will be shipping its 16-camera module Android-based gadget early in 2017, complete with optical zoom to 150 mm and blur at any depth of field, not just background.

We’re done with one-upmanship on how big a camera screen can be (too big, it turns out, for many users). Battery life, a continuing issue, isn’t seeing any major breakthroughs anytime soon. Resolution is going beyond what the eye can distinguish. Phone makers clearly were ready for another quantifiable feature to distinguish their products, and make phone users willing to upgrade, and upgrade again.

So get ready to start counting cameras.

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Digging Into the New QD-OLED TVs

Formerly rival technologies have come together in Samsung displays

5 min read
Television screen displaying closeup of crystals

Sony's A95K televisions incorporate Samsung's new QD-OLED display technology.

Televisions and computer monitors with QD-OLED displays are now on store shelves. The image quality is—as expected—impressive, with amazing black levels, wide viewing angles, a broad color gamut, and high brightness. The products include:

All these products use display panels manufactured by Samsung but have their own unique display assembly, operating system, and electronics.

I took apart a 55-inch Samsung S95B to learn just how these new displays are put together (destroying it in the process). I found an extremely thin OLED backplane that generates blue light with an equally thin QD color-converting structure that completes the optical stack. I used a UV light source, a microscope, and a spectrometer to learn a lot about how these displays work.

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