In so far as smartphones are concerned, Sony still has a lot of catching up to do to match the Apples, Samsungs, and the Huawei’s of this world, but when it comes to image sensors, it is the undisputed king of the ring.
Its latest stacked CMOS image sensor for smartphones, the IMX 586, announced today (July 23), is going to take it even further ahead in the smartphone camera race.
Of course, it’s going to take some major catching up by the competition to close that ever-widening gap, but one gets the feeling it’s not happening anytime soon.
The IMX586 features a whopping 48 megapixels, which, according to Sony, is determined on the basis of “image sensor effective pixel specification method.”
The record-breaking 8,000 x 6,000 resolution image quality, which Sony claims is “the industry’s highest pixel count” among smartphone image sensors, is sure to take smartphone photography to a whole new level, be it videos or stills.
There is a general impression that the more the megapixels in an image sensor, the better the image quality, which is far from the truth; as a matter of fact, smaller pixels can hamstring the image quality, leading to noisier photos in lowlight conditions.
The ultra-compact pixel size of 0.8 μm used on the IMX586 is supposed to be the smallest there is on the market today, but Sony has the perfect solution to get around this.
In fact, the small size makes it possible for Sony to “pack 48 effective megapixels onto a 1/2-type (8.0 mm diagonal) unit,” which then allows for enhanced images on smartphone image sensors.
To give it to you straight from the horse’s mouth, Sony says:
“Generally, miniaturization of pixels results in poor light collecting efficiency per pixel, accompanied by a drop in sensitivity and volume of saturation signal.
“This product was designed and manufactured with techniques that improve light collection efficiency and photoelectric conversion efficiency over conventional products, resulting in the world’s first 0.8 μm pixel size, with both high sensitivity and high saturation signal level.
“This smaller pixel size allows the new product to deliver 48 effective megapixels on a compact unit with 8.0 mm diagonal, which can be fitted on many smartphones.
“The increased pixel count enables high-definition imaging even on smartphones which use digital zoom.”
Adjacent 2X2 pixels come in the same color in the Quad Bayer color filter used on the IMX486, which, basically, translates to high-sensitivity photography.
So, when you’re shooting in lowlight conditions, signals from the four adjacent pixels are included, causing the sensitivity to increase to the a level which is the same as that of 1.6 μm pixels, or 12 megapixels, thereby producing images that are bright with negligible random variation of brightness or color information – effectively meaning low-noise images.
Well, it doesn’t end there, because Sony has integrated its original exposure control technology and signal processing functionality into the IMX586, thereby allowing for “real-time output and a superior dynamic range four times greater than conventional units,” says Sony.
“Even scenes with both bright and dark areas can be captured with minimal highlight blowout or loss of detail in shadows,” said the Tokyo-based electronics behemoth.
Sample shipment of the IMX586 CMOS image sensor is expected to start from September. It will cost 3,000-yen, or $27 (before taxes).
Key specs of the Sony IMX586 Image Sensor
Number of effective pixels: 8000 (H) × 6000 (V)48 megapixels
Image size: Diagonal 8.000mm(Type 1/2)
Unit cell size: 0.8μm(H)×0.8μm(V)
o Full: 30 frames per second
o 4K (4096×2160) at 90 fps
o 1080p at 240 fps
o 720p at 480 fps
Main functions: Image plane phase-difference AF, HDR imaging
Color filter array: Quad Bayer array
Image output format: Bayer RAW