This week Sony released a super impressive image sensor featuring both the industry’s highest ever pixel count and the world’s first ultra-compact pixel size of 0.8 μm. What this means is that you get a record-breaking 48 megapixels packed into a tiny 8.0 mm sized diagonal unit ideal for even the most compact of smartphones.
The last time a phone made headlines for its pixel capacity was back in 2013 when Nokia released a 41 megapixel sensor. The firm claimed the phone would record “details never thought possible from a smartphone" and analysts called it the best smartphone camera on the market.
Higher pixels and higher quality
Nokia has upped the ante with its 7 extra megapixels but are they risking a decrease in quality? Normally, such a high megapixel count on such a small chip would result in poor nighttime shooting capacities.
However, the new sensor, called IMX586, counters that effect with the introduction of a Quad Bayer color filter. Sony’s advanced filter features adjacent 2x2 pixels in the same color which means it can merge four pixels into one for use in low light situations.
Adding these four adjacent pixels raises the camera’s sensitivity to the equivalent of an efficient 1.6 μm pixels (12 megapixels). This amount is even superior to Google's Pixel 2 XL which at 1.4 microns is currently one of the best low-light smartphone cameras available.
Quad Bayer is not a completely novel addition. The feature is similar to Huawei’s P20 Pro smartphone Light Fusion technique.
A clever and useful combination
Light Fusion’s default setting combines data from four adjacent pixels into one for clearer shots. What is unique to Sony’s newly revealed tech is the combination of the highest pixel count balanced out by a competent sensitivity adjusting filter.
Recycling what works, Sony has also built its original exposure control technology and signal processing functionality into its latest image sensor. This duo enables real-time output and a dynamic range four times bigger than that of conventional models.
What this means is that even highly contrasted scenes featuring both bright and dark sections can be captured in detail with little highlight blowout. Last but not least, IMX586 also boasts full-resolution burst shooting at up to 30 frames per second and true-4K (4096 x 2160) video recording at 90 fps.
Sony’s image sensor business so far has been quite profitable racking in $5.9 billion in revenues in 2017. The firm supplies its components to many manufacturers worldwide.
In its latest mid-term strategy paper, the company vowed to spend $9 billion in research and development in the next three years in order to become the top camera brand by 2021. Its record-breaking 48-megapixel sensor is bound to be a step in the right direction for the firm’s ambitious goals.
However, although Sony has announced the introduction of the new sensor, the firm has provided no information on what manufacturers will be incorporating the tech in their devices.