What is a Depth Camera?

A depth camera, also known as a time-of-flight camera, is a type of camera that can measure the amount of distance between itself and objects in the frame. It may or may not be able to take photographs in addition to this.

My name is Caleb, and I’ve been a photographer for more than four years. I’ve primarily specialized in sports photography, shooting games at both the semi-pro and college levels.

In this article, I’ll explain what a depth camera is, how they work, and what they’re useful for. If you’ve ever wondered about this term or are thinking of getting a smartphone with a depth camera, keep reading.

What Is A Depth Camera?

A depth camera is any camera that measures distance, also called depth. Sometimes, these are called time-of-flight cameras.

Generally, they work with a form of LIDAR, or Light Detection And Ranging. This means the camera quickly shines an infrared light and then measures the time taken for the light’s reflection to reach the lens.

Through this method, the camera can tell how far away an object is. Because of how fast light travels, this can all be done very quickly without delays.

This technology is used by both of the biggest manufacturers in the smartphone business, Apple and Samsung. Apple refers to it as TrueDepth, while Samsung calls their own version of this technology DepthVision.

What Are Depth Cameras Used For?

You’ve probably come across depth cameras at some point without realizing it. They often play background roles or are used to support more notable features.

For example, depth cameras will probably see increased use as drones, and other forms of automation become more common. They can help automated devices to move without running into objects or people since they can detect when something is too close.

They also have uses in the photo editing space. When you record the depth information along with a photograph, it becomes much easier to make certain edits, like removing a green screen or background.

Instead of tediously selecting and deleting the background by hand, the editor could instead select everything past a certain distance and remove it easily.

Depth cameras are already present in mainstream devices. Apple uses its TrueDepth technology to improve its devices’ portrait photo mode and Face ID system. Apple also uses TrueDepth for Animoji facial tracking.

Newer Samsung phones like the Galaxy S20+ also feature depth cameras, allowing users to measure distances with the Quick Measure app. The user can also blur out the background easily while using the live video mode.


Here are some other frequently asked questions about depth cameras.

What Is A Time-Of-Flight Camera?

A time-of-flight camera is just another name for a depth camera. The name refers to the method the camera uses to measure distance.

What Is A TrueDepth Camera?

TrueDepth is Apple’s brand name for their iPhone depth cameras. These cameras are used in newer iPhone models to help with facial recognition and portrait photography mode.


Depth cameras are an exciting technology with several uses that range from obvious to more subtle. The smartphone versions of these cameras are somewhat limited right now, but in the near future, we’ll probably see them gain both popularity and capability.

Did you know about these cameras before reading this article? Does your smartphone have a feature like this? Let us know in the comments.

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