Samsung files patent for see-through camera display

by Liam McCabe

posted Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 10:28 AM EST


You’ve got to give them a few points for creativity: Hot on the heels of the new NX Mini announcement, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Samsung recently filed a patent for a camera with a transparent display.

As the diagram below shows, the proposed design would be extra-wide by current point-and-shoot standards. The display would be a gigantic viewfinder of sorts, with the rest of the vital components housed off to the side. The point is to allow “the person taking the photo and the subject of the photo-shoot to look at each other and have direct eye-contact for photo shooting,” according to the filing obtained by the Journal.

A diagram from Samsung's patent filing.

The design raises some pretty interested questions: What’s the technology behind the display? It’s probably transparent OLED. It isn’t ready for primetime yet, though some promising prototypes have popped up, and OLED production yields continue to improve. And since the display is see-through, how would it handle the parallax issues with the lens off to the side? Would there be some kind of electronic overlay? Could you even see an overlay in direct sunlight? As the Journal puts it, “the design may remain a concept or evolve into something totally different by the time the product reaches customers, as is the case with many of these patent filings.”

Samsung is certainly no stranger to trying new approaches to camera design, though it’s hard to remember when any of them panned out into meaningful changes that affected many photographers at all. There was that line of point-and-shoots with front-facing LCD screens, aimed at making it easier to shoot selfies (years before the word made it into the dictionary). The proliferation of smartphones with front-facing cameras (and data plans) rendered that development moot. In 2013, Samsung introduced the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, a smartphone with an optical zoom lens. It added a lot of bulk to the phone, and it doesn't seem to be a popular model. A workaround that's catching on instead is a computational approach to mimicking zoom—something that adds no size or weight to a handset.

But hey, A for effort Samsung. We’ll see if the looking-glass camera materializes in the next few years.

(Via Wall Street Journal)