Apple patent hints at ‘social camera flash’ using multiple iOS devices


A patent filed by Apple in 2011 and discovered this week by seems to hint at a ‘social camera flash’ system, allowing multiple iOS devices to be connected and used as secondary strobes. The patent is filed as an ‘illumination system’ and describes ‘initiating a master-slave relationship between the image capture device and at least one secondary device’.

As usual, the legalese gets a little dense but according to the analysis done by, ‘the patent application can be considered a ‘social camera flash’ system, perhaps useful in impromptu photo shoots that require more than one source of lighting.’

An image from the Apple patent shows multiple iOS devices being connected together to provide flash illumination of a subject. (image: USPTO)

Among the possibilities listed in the patent is for a graphical user interface to be used to preview test shots, and for handheld devices in the impromptu setup to offer instructions to the photographer/subject ‘to move in a particular direction, for a particular distance, to angle or move the device in a certain manner, and so forth’.

We’d recommend not getting too excited about this, since large technology companies file patents all the time, and only a fraction of them ever see the light of day as finished features or products. That said, we’re intrigued by the idea. What do you think? Let us know in the comments. 



Is there a “why” somewhere hidden?

Glen Barrington

Just how angry would people be if you used their precious battery life for shaky crappy photos?


So, because they use the phrase “social camera flash” it would make it patentable? Most camera systems today call this technology wireless flash.

Glen Barrington

Yeah but you can bet those manufacturers will hear from Apple’s lawyers!



Nishi Drew

So, an ipad in one hand for the photo, and an iphone in the other for the light


That might come in handy. Exciting times!


I really wonder what this news does here on the main site, this is at best stuff for Connect.
It’s been over 100 days since Jeff Keller joined, normally he does 10 reviews in that period of time, here he has done half a review- what is holding him back? Why are 2 former dpr writers now doing cell phone stuff? (Lars and Andy).
I thought the amazon purchase would make everything better, I thought Connect wouldn’t slow reviews down even more.
End of rant.

Barney Britton

Andy helps out on connect on the rare occasions when something happens in England that we need to get access to (The Nokia 925 launch, for instance). The vast majority of his time is spent writing lens reviews and occasional previews. You’ve probably seen his length preview of the E-P5, and his next lens review will be online very shortly.

Jeff did not in fact join us ‘more than 100 days’ ago, and he’s written 2 reviews for us so far, is nearly done with a third, and he’s also lining up a grouptest for later this summer. Not bad for someone who’s still in training, and bear in mind that *our reviews are much more involved than his ever were*.

Lars has been writing technical content for connect for a few months and will continue to do so as necessary – he’ll also be writing a camera review for the main dpreview site in coming weeks.

Moan and complain all you like, but please – get your facts straight.


Well he said he would take Jannuary off and start February.Maybe he didn’t mean the first? Anyway, I doubt you can say he’s still in training, come on.
Great to hear Andy spends his time doing lens reviews, I remeber a Pana lens that had it’s first anniversary as a PREview 😉 And some others.
Sorry to be such a pain but you have to admit this is getting really ridiculous.

Barney Britton

No, I don’t admit that at all. You are factually wrong. And FYI, we don’t normally consider a reviewer to be fully trained for about a year. If you read our in-depth reviews (the ones we still publish regularly even though you think we don’t) you’ll understand why.

Sam Carriere

How is this interesting, relevant or important?
DPReview just seems to get hoplesser and hopelesser.
I now consult it once or twice a week just to see how crazy or useless the most recent content is … which puts you in the same league as Ken Rockwell.

Barney Britton

Using a mobile device as an off-camera flash doesn’t interest you, at all? I’d be happy to continue this conversation, feel free to send me a PM.


It may be interesting but so far only 3 or 4 phones have ever had a real flash. Can’t see a LED flash doing much. So no, this doesn’t sound too exciting at the moment.
There must be 100 photography related news that are more relevant right now.
The KR comment was uncalled for though, nobody deserves that comparison.

Simon Joinson

hey george, could you send us the 100 stories? I’d love to see them!

Nishi Drew

Lol Sam, but you still visit here twice a week and that’s above average compared to other tech guys I know. And you obviously care enough to share your opinions for everyone to see, because what you say will change the world~


Hi Simon,
I actually expected that LOL. Well, I’m not running a photography site and have spend my time doing other things. But still, one news item would be more interesting, just as an example:

Olympus to kill off point-and-shoot camera line


I think it’s not only interesting, but also innovative.

Jerry Ci

Innovative? I disagree. It is simply wireless flash with master and slave. Using a wimpy phone-camera flash as the slave doesn’t change the concept. It’s absolutely arrogant and delusional of Apple to think they invented something … again.

Tim F 101

You know why this is cool? So far as I know nobody has ever gotten an idevice to sync with an external strobe. The dinky direct flash LED has too broad an on-off time to trigger optical slaves, so people who want to take portraits with it have to use direct flash (gah!), natural light (grr) or modeling lights (bleh).

That simple functionality would make the Apple iwhatever so much more useful for those of us who like taking pictures of people that look good.

Optimal Prime

If it’s not worthy of too much excitement as per your recommendation stated in the last paragraph above, then why make it a headline feature?

Alberto Tanikawa

I’ve heard of people doing weddings entirely on an iPhone with SLR lens adapters, but now it’s getting to a point of diminishing results. This is similar to what Canon and Nikon already do with their flash systems, without using wifi. It’s interesting piece of technology, but as I recall wifi latency was much longer than what current radio transceivers (ie Pocket Wizard Plus III) offer: ~20ms vs 0.83ms. That can adversely affect flash timing when working with multiple remote units at varying distances, specially if you’re trying to use the maximum sync speed on some cameras (4ms for 1/250s sync). Also, current radios are very power efficient, using less than 1mW while an iPhone 4, for example, uses 700mW just idling. Right now I think this is a gimmick, but in time, if latency and power issues can be overcome, I’m sure this could become a powerful tool for both consumers and professionals.

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