What if Apple spent $3.9B on high-end camera sensors?

It’s no secret that the digital camera industry is kind of clueless. In fact, right now it looks a lot like the cell phone industry did before a certain company named after a kind of fruit entered the market, grabbed a huge chunk of the profit, and made them all look like idiots. (The camera market even has weird lock-ins caused by proprietary lens mounts rather than carrier contracts.)

If Apple made a high-end iPhone  that was thick enough to accommodate a Micro Four-Thirds sensor and mount, it could still be pocketable (even with a pancake lens attached) and have even more battery capacity. Apple could commission a fast prime lens that was designed to be super thin and compensate for any failings (distortion, chromatic aberration, and falloff) in software.

Micro four-thirds is particularly interesting because it can be easily adapted to use almost any common lens mount including Nikon, Canon, and Leica. This would make a Micro Four-Thirds iPhone a wonderful “backup” for serious photographers.

An even more interesting option would be to pick a smaller sensor size (somewhere between 0.6 inch — the size of the sensors in premium compacts such as the Canon S95 — and 1.3 inch — the size of Micro Four-Thirds). The problem with Micro Four-Thirds is that the lenses can’t be made especially small. If Apple were to pick a 0.8 inch sensor (say) they could boast superior image quality to any existing compacts, and still have a slim phone with a fast zoom lens.

Some of Nikon’s cryptic utterances have suggested that they may introduce a mirrorless camera system with a smaller sensor than Micro Four-Thirds. If so, the lens size will almost certainly have been the reason.

The DSLR market is well over 6M units per year, and the “EVIL” camera market is the fastest growing segment. These are the most profitable sectors of the camera market (just as the smart phone market is the profitable sector of the phone market). Apple is already making serious inroads into the point-and-shoot market.

I had fun modeling and rendering it, anyway.