Since the end of 2018, many smartphones have started to introduce Time of Flight (ToF) camera lenses to their rear array. This trend looks likely to accelerate during 2020, with even the successor to the iPhone 11 mooted to have one included. So, what is a ToF sensor and what benefit does it bring to your smartphone? Read on to find out.

What is a ToF camera?

A ToF camera is a better way to provide depth mapping for use with images picked up by the other lenses in the array. Then the phone’s software will process these images to produce the final image you see.

Basically, it emits a pulse of infrared light, like your TV remote control when you press it. When it hits an object, this pulse then reflects back to your smartphone and is picked up by the sensor in the ToF lens to allow it to accurately map the depth of the object you are going to photograph. Unlike other technologies it does this with a single pulse of infrared light. This technology is relatively inexpensive and can process information at up to 160 frames per second.

How does it benefit my smartphone?

So far not all of the benefits that a ToF sensor brings have been exploited by smartphones, but it is only a matter of time until they do, with manufacturers always looking at getting one up on their rivals.

Currently, it is most used for taking portraits by ensuring the person is in full focus against whatever type of background you set them against by blurring the background. They are also useful when there is not much light, as the infrared pulse can still be measured in the dark.

Going forward the fast and accurate mapping capabilities of the ToF sensor will likely be used in 3D photography and also augmented reality as smartphone manufacturers look to add these capabilities to their handsets in an effort to keep getting us to regularly upgrade.