Sony has unveiled a new mobile camera sensor which could ensure the smartphones of the near future pack way more punch. If Sony’s claims are true, they’ll produce better images with less motion blur, and way faster and accurate autofocusing. All of this in a ‘stacked’ sensor which is smaller than its current version.
Part of Sony‘s motivation for building this camera sensor is the trend of manufactures releasing thinner devices. Despite the fact that smartphones are becoming slimmer, customers still want to be able to take good pics. The challenge is making cameras that fit in those thinner phones without sacrificing (or even improving upon) quality.
The new Exmor RS sensor (specifically IMX318) is a stacked CMOS sensor with 22.5 effective megapixels. According to the manufacturer, it’s the first to be “equipped with built-in high-speed autofocus”. It can lock focus in just 0.03 seconds, and has a built in 3-axis electronic image stabilization for video capture, ensuring that handheld shots remain steady.
Because the sensor is smaller, that obviously means that individual pixels are smaller. The predeccessor sensor featured 1.12μm pixels, while the IMX318 has 1.0μm. And yet, Sony says there’s no drop in image quality.
As for the new super-fast autofocus, the company has introduced a new ‘Hybrid AF’ system which combines phase detection autofocus with contrast detection autofocus. While this type of system has been developed in the past through the combination of a sensor and application processor, Sony has built the stacked CMOS image sensor with the hybrid AF built right in to the sensor’s ISP. Even while shooting video at 60 frames-per-second, the sensor can lock focus as fast as 0.017 seconds.
Image stabilization methods seems pretty high-tech too. Essentially, while shooting video, it uses information obtained from a motion sensor to cancel out any motion, or shake during shooting. This makes it ideal, not only for smartphones, but also aerial drones with built in video cameras. The result looks like this:
Almost as impressive as all of this is that during 4K video recording, the camera sensor has access to all 22.5 million pixels if you decided to take a still photo. So if you’re shooting at 30 frames per second and decide to snap an image while recording, you have a full resolution photo as a result. No drop in quality.
Sony wants to bring the new Exmor RS sensor to market from May this year. We’ll undoubtedly see it in Sony’s next flagship phones, along with devices from other manufacturers as the Japanese manufacturer seeks to put its stamp on the mobile photography market this year.