Adding strange lens attachments like Carson Optical's adaptor or the WoW Lens may well improve on the iPhone's integrated lens, but there's not much you can do to boost the performance of its image sensor. A design team working out of the University of Singapore is looking to change that with ladibird, a smartphone case that sports its own portrait lens and large camera sensor.
Adam Latip, Hansheng Chiu, Surekha Yadav and Allan Ling have designed ladibird to give iPhone 5 users DSLR-like image quality in a portable, lightweight, easy-to-use package. The concept design features a mirrorless CMOS sensor reported to be 7.5 times larger than the iPhone 5's own 1/3.2-in image sensor, and twice the size of those found in many compact cameras. Important gains will include higher resolution images (though precisely how high has yet to be revealed) and improved low light performance.
The device will also have its own 50-mm f/1.8 portrait lens capable of bringing subjects into sharp focus while creating that much-desired bokeh blurred background effect. There's a single shutter button on the side, which is depressed half-way to focus, and all the way to capture the image. A ladibird app will also offer simple touchscreen controls, and will include compression algorithms to keep image file size down.
The image recorded by the sensor is sent to the iPhone 5 via a Lightning connector. The iPhone's own camera is not used at all, while the Apple smartphone is only used for uploading to social feeds and cloud storage, or to touch up captured portraits using favored photo editing apps. The ladibird device can also be used to record video, although details on this aspect of the concept have not yet been released. When not in use, the ladibird's lens gives the iPhone's display a bit of an angle for comfortable viewing of onscreen content.
The developers are currently working on building the first prototype, and have launched the first of two rounds of crowdfunding on Indiegogo. This outing will fund the very first production run. Early bird units have already gone, so backers will need to pledge at least US$167 to secure delivery of a ladibird when shipping starts on September 30, 2014.
The current design doesn't include its own flash, but future iterations will likely include some form of lighting system. Support for future iPhone models is also in the cards.
At the time of writing the ladibird team has almost reached its funding goal, but is committed to continuing with development and production even if the final target is not reached.
The short Indiegogo pitch video can be seen below.