back to article LG: Fsck everything, we're doing 16 lenses in smartphones (probably)

In a move that wouldn't seem out of place in The Onion, LG has invented a 16-lens camera for use in phones. A US patent application granted last week alludes to a method of handling images from a 4x4 sensor array. The filing is coy, as most applications are, but suggests stereoscopic output as one use case. Are more sensors …

  1. overunder

    Small room, large AI.

    There's only so much physical room these can occupy to gather light that having too many might start to become conflicting in readings. Besides, unless you're running around with a RED phone with attachments, the CMOS is only going to see so much in these tiny units. I'm sure it helps the AI pull off photoshop techniques, but to what extent of quality that can't already be assumed in software.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      Re: Small room, large AI.


      I think of this in terms similar to a Multiple Mirror Telescope. (MMT)

      But that's just me. ;-)

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Small room, large AI.

      My problem with smartphone camera systems is the fairly short focal length. With most of the photography I do, my Sony Alpha with a 300mm lens struggles to make the subject of the photo to be more than a pin prick - I was out a few weeks ago and managed to get some photos of a bird of prey on a field, but the cropped image was only around 300x200 pixels. I didn't have a bigger lens with me, enough to identify the bird, but not really a photo to keep.

      But for such photography a smartphone is a non-starter. If the lenses were progressively stronger or could be used to make a decent 400mm - 500mm telephoto image at high resolution, then it is a nice step forward - i.e. each lens concentrates on a small piece of the overall image, in high resolution. If they just make offests and 3D, I am not really interested.

      So, I'll withold judgement, until we actually see what the whole contraption brings to finished images.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Small room, large AI.

        The focal length basically prohibits that.

        Short lens: crap magnification, but wide field of view.

        Long lens: great magnification, but restricted field of view.

        Smartphones inherently are flat(ish) and so will always have a short lens and therefore are always going to be worse at magnification than any camera. Smartphones are simply the new baseline for low end cameras for low end personal photography and are really only notable by their ubiquity meaning that they are often "in the right place".

        Frankly though, when it comes to improving the quality of pictures from smartphones some rudimentary knowledge of photography basics would deliver a better result than many technical improvements would do...

  2. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge

    Throw all the hardware and software you like at it, a photo is only as good as the person taking it. Some of the best photos are those were shot on 35mm film using pocket cameras.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      @Fuzzy not exactly...

      There is only so much you can pack in to 35mm of film.

      Back in the 80's Kodak came up with a B&W film that had extremely small grains and gave one of the sharpest images available.

      But if you wanted truly good images, you needed to go to a larger format. 120mm for example. Or plates.

      Don't get me wrong. I grew up using a Nikon F. and beyond. (All Nikon)

      I haven't done any black and white work in years, but I bet I can still unload canister and put it in the can for processing in under 2 minutes. either in a bag or in a darkroom.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "120mm for example."

        120 is not a size, it's a Kodak film format - which usually identify both the film size and cartridge/sprocket used - the film is actually about 60 mm wide and is usually used for sizes from 6x4.5 to 6x9 or even larges in some panoramic cameras.

        220 is the same film without backing paper. 35mm is 135 in the same Kodak classification, while 110 was the tiny 16mm film used in Pocket Instamatic cameras. It used cartridges like the 126 (Instamatic) - which uses 35mm film but unperforated... but 127 is 46mm roll film... lots of different film formats in the Canon catalogue over the years... and some designations were reused, i.e. there was an older 110 type in the late XIX century.

        Sheet film (plates usually refer to emulsion on glass or other rigid surface) sizes are usually in inches or centimetres, as large format cameras predates both film and Kodak.

    2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

      35mm film is an analogue medium, with an equivalent resolution of 87 million pixels, and greater colour "versatility" (no Bayer patterns) with greater equivalent color depth. Because of that, nothing under at least 100Mpixels is going to compete, and even then you probably need 10 bits per pixel...

      The thing on the back of a cellphone still has a long way to go....

      1. DougS Silver badge

        I think you missed the point

        If you are worrying about resolution. A good photographer will take a better picture with a generic 4 Mp cell phone camera found on a $100 cheapo smartphone than 99% of Reg readers could do with the most expensive and technologically advanced camera in the world.

        What distinguishes the work of a better photographer is not resolution, HDR or other technology gimmicks, but presenting the right subject, lighting, angle, etc.

        1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

          @DougS Re: I think you missed the point

          Not exactly...

          Yes, I agree with you that most who use their camera phone would do much better if they actually took a photography course on composition.

          Of course with higher pixel count, you can do a better job of cropping and post work that lets you salvage an ok print.

          And a camera (DSLR or mirrorless) will do a better job than a phone even if the phone has a higher pixel count.

        2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

          Re: I think you missed the point

          I know you missed the point: _the same_ photographer will, with very few and rare exceptions[1], take a better picture with a better photosensor than he/she will with a worse sensor.

          Every technological advance, be it in-camera exposure meters, auto-metering, focus assist, autofocus, image stabilization, etc was initially poo-poohed by people making the same point ("A good photographer can capture a great image with a scrap of film, a can and a pin"[2]) before being adopted and added to the arsenal of tools available to them. The archtypical good photographer tends to like new tools...


          [1] Sometimes, in rare instances, the essence of a photograph is improved by deficiencies in the equipment, for example in "lomography" (which uses terrible lenses to create interesting images). In every case I've seen, it is _possible_ to duplicate the effect in post-production (in the darkroom with enlargers and chemical trays or Photoshop), but it is frequently hard to visualize in advance the effect that bad lenses or lousy sensors will create, which is why people still enjoy deliberately playing with less-than-stellar equipment.

          [2] A classmate at school captured a very recognizable and "quite interesting" image of Maggie Thatcher (at the time, leader of the opposition) sitting in her car, using a physics class pin hole "camera" made from an empty film canister with a hole in it, covered with a piece of tape in which the pin hole was made, using an actual pin... This would have been in the summer of '78, before the Airey Neave assassination, when MPs tended to park/wait on the streets around the palace of Westminster, so it was much easier to get close to their exulted selves!

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "A good photographer will take "

          Probably not, because he/she will lack the level of control he/she is used to have on a real camera while taking an image - and will be forbidden to use many techniques now AI desperately try to imitate in software, like shallow DOF.

          Photography is both mastering the technique and creativity - it is true you can achieve good result with simple instruments, but you can't achieve the Sistine Chapel with a pencil.

          There's a reason why some photographers chose specific techniques to achieve their vision - and any artist in any art does the same. Duchamp's ready-mades could be the "simplest" form of art, but they also are limited by their own technique.

      2. hmv

        I think you might be comparing the very best film stock with the very 'worst' of digital sensors.

        And I'm not sure the resolution of film can be directly compared with digital sensors. It _may_ be higher in resolution (although I've seen different calculations), but it also tends to be "noisier" (film grain).

        And in terms of dynamic range, the very best film stock is about 8 stops of range whereas the very best digital sensors is about 14 stops of range.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          " in terms of dynamic range, the very best film stock is about"

          Which matter only in images that actually need a DR larger than that available - less common that most people think. DR was mostly an issue with reversal film.

      3. DropBear Silver badge

        "Because of that, nothing under at least 100Mpixels is going to compete"

        As an interesting bit of trivia, photos easily exceeding that resolution were commonly taken even over a decade ago (well, commonly among those who cared for that sort of thing). It's just that the weapon of choice allowing that was not a traditional photo camera at all - but an even more "traditional" camera obscura with a, uh, flatbed scanner where the image formed. And yes, the subject had to be perfectly immobile while the "shot" completed, so it was mostly scenery shots only...

      4. Ledswinger Silver badge

        35mm film is an analogue medium, with an equivalent resolution of 87 million pixels, Because of that, nothing under at least 100Mpixels is going to compete,

        That isn't true in my experience, which is that a good 12 Mp image is better than the vast majority of 35mm film. The simple grain size of analogue film is nothing like the effective resolution, I would guess because the grain shape means that the resolution is at best the longest dimension of each halide crystal, but then you've got the blurring effect between adjacent crystals. I've still got a range of 35mm enlargements to compare to, and I can see this very clearly. Even the best colour prints (usually reversals from slide film stock) exhibit not much better real world resolution than a good 12 Mp image. The randomising effect of grain gives the image a different and perhaps "more natural" perceptive quality, but the ability to properly resolve lines or point data is an order of magnitude different to a 100 Mp image.

        and greater colour "versatility" (no Bayer patterns) with greater equivalent color depth.

        Colour depth I agree, and versatility up to a point. There's no denying digital noise on very gradual colour gradients like clouds, and analogue film handles that far better. But then you need to factor in the various colour balances of film stock, which mean that (even before lighting and filters, processing and paper choice) analogue film is rarely a true to life colour balance.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "which is that a good 12 Mp image is better than the vast majority of 35mm film"

          Evidently a lot depend on the quality of film, and its development. Bad development will usually make grain more visible. Also scanning film requires good specific scanners, and skill. Negative film is harder to scan then positive one. Noise reduction algorithms needs to be specific for film.

          That said I don't believe even Technical Pan film could reach 80mpx.

        2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

          Getting interestingly off topic, but you shouldn't compare colour prints with digital images, because the prints depend on two photographic processes, and include the characteristics of the paper, too.

          The way to compare the two is shoot pictures of the same "resolving power" target with the film and digital, but you have to use the same lens (because lenses mess up resolving power something rotten: an indifferent lens will kill as much 70% of the native power of the photosensitive material, while a good lens may only cost you 40%). Once you have equivalence through the lens, you have to use a contact print on the film to find out what the lens did to the image, and apply correction to the size of the digital sensor that most closely matched the film.

          (And that lenses-do-nasty-things point is at least part of why film prints don't look as good as digital prints: they go through two lenses, and get messed about to the tune of 40-70% each time).

          THEN you have to repeat the whole exercise with a range of different colours, because of course the sensitivity of both the film and the digital sensor varies with light frequency, even for black and white subjects.

          All in all, a bit of a palaver, and you'd end up with a number that's utterly useless for the reason you mention: all the _other_ factors in play can make a lower resolution digital image far better (or far worse) to the human eye than the "logical equivalent" shot on film. And the human eye cares about funny things (e.g. green, but not red or blue to nearly the same extent, hence 4:2:2 sampling for video). So we don't care at all that a piece of film can faithfully record tens of thousands of shades of blue while a digital sensor can only distinguish a few hundred.

    3. hmv


      But those photographers using 35mm pocket cameras may well have produced more "best photos" with better equipment. One example could be Robert Capa's images of the landing at Omaha which were mostly destroyed by the developer; if he had a digital camera (impossible for sure) those images would have survived[0].

      0: Yes it's possible for card failures which is why some of us use cameras with dual card slots.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "if he had a digital camera (impossible for sure) those images would have survived"

        No, if the idiot tasked to "process" the images had formatted the card(s) and overwritten them before reading them.

        Maybe it was good it was more difficult to wipe all of them at once.... although he did his best to destroy as many as he could.

        Or maybe Capa would have found the batteries were dead... anyway, AFAIK he was using a Contax model - one of the best cameras of their times, for that kind of photography.

        There is also a story about the "lost film" made on D-Day by an operator sent behind the lines in advance... it looks those people in London handling films from the shores of Normandy had drunk too much the night before....

      2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge


        Dual card slots doesn't necessarily solve the problem. The medium can be mishandled.

        You could always use wi-fi to back up the shots in subjective real time. As to ruining shots... yeah,

        it could have been processing, it could have been the film and/or film cartridges itself. (Depending on the camera and film. ) With 35mm if you have an older reusable case, light can get in. On 120mm rolls this too could be a problem. If the film wasn't inserted properly...that too could cause errors. (Think about loading a roll under fire.) Plates are another story and handling of them could pose an issue even before the shot.

        My dad had a "pocket" camera that he took with him. Of course that was in Dec '44 just in time to help wrap up the battle of the bulge and then some. (14th Armor) The irony... he captured images of people during a time that he wanted to forget. (remembering them, brought back memories of how some of them died..)

        But back to the point.

        Back in the '30s there were some incredible shots taken with a pocket 35mm camera. A Leica I think .

        In focus with a good depth of field. (A skating waiter??? IIRC)

        It was well framed and told a story.

        Some of the best boxing photos were taken with 4x5s and a flash.

        When I was growing up in the 70's in one of the classes on composition, we had a guest speaker who was a professional sports photographer. One thing he said was that getting a good shot meant being in the right place at the right time. That meant planning. He only shot 6-12 photos during a game. Ansel Adams also took a lot of time setting up and waiting for the right shot.

        Which goes to another point. One can argue that today's smart phones are ruining photography. Rather than take your time, frame the subject and create a good shot, people just point and click taking multiple shots hoping something works out.

        Its a give and take world.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      "Some of the best photos are those were shot on 35mm film using pocket cameras."

      Depends on what "look" you're looking for. Stephen Shore made his "American Sufaces" serie using a pocket camera, but exactly because he was looking for that kind of images (he also had them developed using a "consumer" lab). But for his "Uncommon places" serie, he switched to a 8x10 camera, and a very different "look". Every device, if you know what it can achieve, and its limitations, can be used to express an idea. The problem may arise when you attempt to use something outside its "envelope". You can still use the "strange" results at your own advantage, if you know what you're doing, or just deliver crap images when you don't, and do it only because someone sometimes got something good in a totally different situation.

      Yet often photographers prefer to rely on highly reliable cameras - when your living depends on it, you may not want something that could break anytime, or being interrupted by a call...

  3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    It does mention capturing moving images so perhaps phased array video photography. Whether it flies or not, it might just see like one.

  4. Elfoad Regfoad

    Light L16

    A startup called Light has something like this, it has 16 separate sensors with different focal lengths (28mm, 70mm and 150mm) that are combined to create 52 megapixel images. the idea was to replace a DSLR and a bag of lenses, though I haven't had a chance to play with one to see if it lives up to the hype. interesting idea though.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Light L16t

      I had the impression that Light only released a product in the hope a smartphone company would licence their technique. This LG patent application suggests that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

  5. ivan5

    Now all they need to do is take the phone junk out, make the case easier to hold and they then have a camera that is good enough for snap shots.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Coming soon from Apple... "you won't believe what we just invented"

  6. DougS Silver badge

    Pretty soon

    You'll have to hold your phone around the edges while taking pictures, because the back will be completely filled with lenses!

  7. Adam 1 Silver badge

    20 years from now .....

    * Hey guys, remember when cameras only had a dozen sensors? A dozen sensors!? Luxury! We used to dream of a dozen sensors ... (Four Yorkshire Men memes will still be funny)

    * These 4 MegaSensor claims are really misleading. If it was really 4MS, it would have 4,194,304 sensors, not 4,000,000. We're being ripped off here by nearly 200,000 sensors.

    1. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

      Re: 20 years from now .....

      Nope. 4MS / 4 megasensors is 4,000,000 sensors. You're thinking of 4 mebisensors, which is a different unit entirely (4MiS).

      The computer business glories in this nonsensical redefinition of standard (SI) unit prefixes, except when they don't. How many bits per second on a gigabit Ethernet?

  8. N2 Silver badge

    It's all about composition and lighting

    I have some perfectly good images taken on my iPhone3.

    Perhaps they want to fill the worlds data centres with high res cat pics and videos?

  9. Suricou Raven

    Familiar optics.

    That lens array looks a lot like the optics of a light field camera. Those are bulky though - has LG somehow managed to squeeze one down into a phone-friendly package? It'd be useful if they have, because they could dump all the focusing optics and do that purely in software, and do it better than hardware could too.

  10. Waseem Alkurdi


    Some have that many, and some have even more, eyes.

  11. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Well but didn't the IPhone X already come with 438 cameras?

    My source is the always reputable "Postillion"

  12. Eugene Crosser

    Abstruse Goose | Camera Crazy

  13. TechnicalBen Silver badge

    What has the world come to...

    Fig A) vs Fig B)

    So we are patenting "rotating by 90 degrees" when it's "mobile" now?

    Where is the next intergalactic bus stop? I wanna get off! (At this rate, I won't even wait for the stop to jump out!)

    1. Giovani Tapini

      Re: What has the world come to...

      Careful, you may retain your intergalactic velocity, and being just outside the door you may find yourself flying towards the queue. It may be a useful way of making sure there is no crowd stopping the other passengers from getting off though, just try to make sure the crater is not too big...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Natures solution (spiders ?)

    I seem to recall that from a really low resolution of just a few receptors, spiders are able to build up a pretty detailed view of what's around them by slightly shifting them and aggregating the dark/light bits to get an idea of edges and movement.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Natures solution (spiders ?)

      Interestingly, that's not far from how humans do it as well -- if you could get a raw video feed from your eyes, you'd be stunned at how bad the image is. It doesn't look bad to us subjectively because our brains are always filling in blind spots and details is a similar manner as spiders (and probably all animals with eyes) do.

  15. Teiwaz Silver badge

    How much 'better' does the camera on a phone have to get?


    For most peoples drunk night out drunk shots of drunk friends and lopsided selfies, the quality improvement due to more sensors, post processing or merely megapixel count added has got to bottom out at some point.

    In fact It's got to have bottomed out by now.

  16. J27

    Give up on the stupid gimmicks LG, they're not what sell phones. Just put one good-quality lens on the back and call it a day. Samsung might have a bunch of stupid gimmicks, but that's not what sells their phones, it's marketing. Samsung phones are front and center at every cell phone retailer. Unless LG can replicate that they don't have a chance, even with a fairly good product like the LG G7 ThinQ (also, dumb name).

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Hell, I personally only very rarely use the camera in my phone. Leaving the camera out entirely wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me.

    2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

      The last four smartphones I bought (i.e. the last two for each of me and my wife) were chosen specifically because of the quality of the camera. And while I care about mine, she _really_ cares about hers.

      It's really the only qualitative measure to care about these days, given that pretty much everybody's radios work well enough (this used not to be true, even if you held it right).

      Those four phones were, as it happens, LG phones (V10/G5/V20/G6). Doesn't hurt that the things have microSD card slots and the V10/V20 have old-school removable batteries (less necessary now with fast charging, but still useful after a long flight to be able to switch batteries and carry on...), but the decision was based on the camera quality.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How does it compare to this?

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