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Coming Soon: High-Resolution Smartphone Sensors

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra will utilize the 200-megapixel High-Resolution camera sensor the company founded last year. Get ready for cameras with many pixels from Motorola, Samsung, and Apple.

There are many pixels, and Samsung isn’t alone in this most recent megapixel arms race Motorola beat the company to the punch with the Motorola X30 Pro.

Even Apple, a 12-megapixel camera devotee, looks like it will finally move to higher resolution 48-megapixel camera sensors with the iPhone 14.

It’s not all about big numbers; moving to higher-pixel-count sensors has actual image quality benefits. This chapter of the megapixel race it’s all about pixel binning. Samsung already employs this with its 108-megapixel sensor, and taking a super high-res photo isn’t the point instead, combining individual pixels into four-by-four or two-by-two configurations is.

Bigger pixels can collect more light and make your low-light images better. However, this new sensor takes the technology a step further. The 0.64?m pixels on Samsung’s 200-megapixel sensor are relatively small, considering that the pixels on Apple’s newest 12-megapixel sensor measure 1.9?m. But putting 16 of them together makes for pixels that are effectively 2.56?m. 

All things being equal, bigger pixels will collect more light and improve your low-light images. By default, you get a 12-megapixel final picture, so there’s no risk of unknowingly filling up your phone storage with 200-megapixel photos.

There’s a catch based on rumors right now; it looks like only the most expensive models in Samsung and Apple’s lineup will get the high-res sensors: the S23 Ultra and the Pro models of the iPhone 14. So many of us will have to keep making do with 12 (or, if you’re lucky, 50 megapixels) until high-res sensors trickle onto the basic flagships.

Mobile photography has significantly enhanced over time, and there’s no rejection. With the meteoric rise of smartphones turning them into necessary, everyday communication devices, phone cameras have brought the ability to take superior photos to users’ fingertips. But, of late, companies stood up and realized they could do more with the typical mobile image sensor. By more, they meant stashing more pixels into it.

Sony and Samsung respectively came up with a high-resolution sensor, going beyond 40 megapixels and increasing the sensor size. The principle is relatively simple halving the smallest particle in a camera sensor’s pixel size allows companies to stash double the number of pixels onto the sensor. Moreover, it has multiple benefits for one, the large resolution count leaves the sensor with the option of capturing minute amounts of data, which would have otherwise been lost due to movement noise.

Second, any of the new, high-resolution sensors come with pixel binning, or quad pixel combinations. But, this incorporates four such small pixels into a 2×2 grid. For example, in the Sony IMX586 48-megapixel sensor, the respective pixels are sized at 0.8m. When “binned” or integrated into the 2×2 grid, they form an acceptable single pixel size of 1.6m. In layman’s terms, the larger pixel means more light captured. By merging smaller units into bigger pixels, the sensor underestimates the amount of light that might have gained lost in other, more conventional sensors.

The Sony IMX586 employs one red pixel, one blue, and two green pixels within one super-pixel. The extra green pixel helps in other color data. Consequently, a sensor’s dynamic range is improved with added color information. In more straightforward terms, it will simply capture more color information. It will, in turn, means that parts of photographs such as the shade underneath leaves, the texture of the sky during sunset, and colorful wall graffiti will look much more detailed, close to reality, and rich.

Interestingly, the Huawei P30 Pro, set to launch in India, takes a negligibly distinct turn. It employs a 40MP sensor, which, instead of two green pixels, completes the use of two yellow pixels within the collective super-pixel. It should theoretically help the sensor make even greater use of incident light and allow the camera to perform exceptionally better in low light than rivals. It would even decrease the need for an additional camera module to provide more light during low-light photography, meaning that Huawei is free to use the remaining camera modules for its impressive 5x optical/50x digital zoom.

Key benefits of the high-resolution sensors

  • Greater ability to capture color data, replicating the dynamic range of a larger APS-C sensor.
  • In specific cases, more remarkable ability to capture light, hence improving low light photography an area where smartphones have typically struggled.
  • Combined pixels can capture more comprehensive information, improving the details of photographs shot with a smartphone camera.
  • Combined pixels help limit the adequate size of photos to 10 or 12 megapixels, which holds them balanced in terms of quality and file size.
  • Such sensors also leave room for using other, standard sensors in use cases such as ultra-wide angle or telephoto photography, replicating the versatility of an interchangeable lens camera.

The high-resolution sensors, hence, are noticed as the immediate destiny of smartphone photography. Qualcomm, the chipmaker that powers most smartphones, has further revealed that the Spectra image signal processor, which can be seen in the latest generation Snapdragon 855 processor, is theoretically capable of supporting up to a 192-megapixel sensor. In this light, the company expects to see sensors amounting to nearly 100 megapixels roll out, bringing technology from superior cameras like the Hasselblad medium-format cameras to mobiles.