As Samsung closes the gap on the iPhone's superior photographic skills, future Apple handsets could soon feature 3D depth-sensing cameras and SLR-quality photos.

The innovations could stem from Apple's acquisition of Israeli camera start-up LinX, which produces the sophisticated cameras, which are small enough to be used in smartphones. LinX claims its technology can produce SLR quality photographs without the need for a bulky device.

Other than Apple confirming the buy-out has taken place, neither company has spoken further about it. A spokesperson for Apple said: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally go not discuss our purposes or plans."

LinX was founded in 2011 by Ziv Attar and Andrey Tovchigrechko. Beforehand, Tovchigrechko led a team of algorithm developers at Samsung, and Attar was a senior optics specialist at Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.

People "familiar with the matter" revealed to the Wall Street Journal that the two companies have been discussing a purchase price of about $20m ($13.6m, €18.9m), a tiny fraction of Apple's $178bn cash pile. LinX produced cameras for tablets and smartphones, and uses an array of sensors which capture multiple images at the same time; proprietary algorithms are then used to gauge depth and create three-dimensional images.

The technology is similar to that used by the HTC One (M8) phone from 2014, which used a sensor above the rear camera to read image depth. This was then used to adjust the focus point of images after they were taken. But, as this trick can be performed to a similar quality with software, HTC scrapped the sensor for its latest flagship, the One M9.

No other smartphone maker has explored the use of depth sensors, but with Samsung's Galaxy S6 finally closing the gap between Android and iPhone cameras, it could be time for Apple to try something new and re-establish itself as the market leader.

LinX's cameras, the company claims, produce better pictures in low-light environments and have faster exposure at normal indoor lighting conditions. Other features possible with the depth sensor include automatic removal of an image's background, facial recognition and 3D object modeling.

Apple has a history of acquiring Israeli technology companies. In 2013 it bought PrimeSense, which developed the first version of the Kinect camera used by the Xbox 360 games console for $345m.