64-megapixel phone cameras are coming


Samsung has announced a new image sensor for mobile phones with a higher resolution than anything comparable on the market. The ISOCELL Bright GW1 is a 64-megapixel sensor that uses the same 0.8μm-sized pixels as Samsung’s current 48-megapixel component, meaning it’ll be a physically larger sensor that can capture more light overall.

The Bright GW1 will produce 16-megapixel images by merging four pixels into one, like how existing 48-megapixel sensors turn out 12-megapixel photos by default. Samsung’s new sensor will also be able to descramble the color filter for full-resolution 64-megapixel shots in good light. Sony’s IMX586 48-megapixel sensor has a similar capability, but Samsung’s doesn’t; today the Korean company is also announcing an updated 48-megapixel part that offers the same feature.

48-megapixel cameras are now a common sight on phones: Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and others have all shipped devices with the sensors. Samsung expects its 64-megapixel part to go into mass production in the second half of this year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the feature show up on spec sheets for late-2019 flagships — particularly if image sensor market leader Sony follows suit.


In a way, a little? It’s the overall size of the sensor that counts, especially now that we have tech that results in less wasted space on the sensor.

Sharpness. Plus, denser pixels also means more data points under the "optically black" region of the sensor to calculate and reduce noise.

Also, on a device with fixed optics, more pixels allow you to do more stuff, like there’s more information while cropping, etc.. When you have variable/moving optics, you might not necessarily require that as there are more ways to play with lenses.

Pixel count doesn’t affect perspective so you won’t get "more information while cropping". It won’t help in sharpness either, it only increase resolution.

If you take the same picture with a 5mp and a 10mp camera, and try to zoom in the exact same amount, You’ll see pixilation on the 5mp image before the 10mp one. So yes, if you’re cropping, there’s more data/information to work with. Consequently, with the optics being constant, you will get a sharper image with the higher res sensor.

At least that’s what I thought was happening when I worked on the IMX line of sensors.

to calculate and reduce noise

Which is completely ironic because the source of noise is current leakage between the pixels because the gain on smaller pixels needs to be cranked higher to capture the same amount of light.

Yup. Electrons are assholes. Also, gain on smaller pixels doesn’t need to be cranked up. The per-pixel amount of gain could remain the same.

I would have agreed a couple of years ago, but advancements in machine learning are such that sensor noise is about to be a thing of the past. There’s even a paper being shown at SIGGRAPH this year where they’re taking what amounts to a short video clip, and using your hand’s natural jitter along with some clever ML to computationally construct a super high resolution noise-free image. And with no bayer filtering, and no moire.

Actually this is how phone’s night sight works now. The details might be different but the method they use are similar.

If ALL you do is simply average 4 pixels to get the final image and never calculate anything with original pixels, having pixels bigger and everything else equal would be mostly the same. Having 4 averaged pixels offers slight benefit of finer Bayer filter and consequently higher resolution. Additionally, electrical noise on 4 pixels gets averaged and somewhat cancels out (2x higher signal to noise than with just 1 pixel of the same size in case where noise is independent). On the other hand, bigger pixels can be made less noisy electrically, narrowly winning in HDR and low light. Shot noise (= optical noise) characteristics are essentially the same with current gen BSI sensors after averaging (larger pixels have sizeable advantage for FSI though). So, mostly the same results in most cases.

However, having final image a suitable averaging of say 16 pixels (with central 4 contributing more than the other 12 around), you can get sharper and less noisy image than if your pixels were 4x bigger and you didn’t calculate anything. If you go slightly further, you can also correct inherent optical aberrations with suitable averaging, then you can reduce motion blur etc… all of these are much more precise with more pixels, even if your final image has the same MP count.

Considering abundance of chip performance available, fancy algorithms and good manufacturing capability, not to mention nice marketing opportunity, choice to have high pixel count is obvious.

Last I checked, all the 48mpx phones have trouble downsampling in a pleasing way. Theoretically, I understand the benefits of big data sensors. Practically, I haven’t seen one executed in a way that would make me jump for joy. At least not in phones and in recent years.

But why won’t they make BIGGER more light receptive megapixels instead of adding more tiny pixels that add to overall photo noise?

I think one of the more depressing reasons is that bigger numbers are considered "better" by consumers regardless of reality.

Lots of pixels means lots of gaps between pixels and therefore lost light that could otherwise incorporated into the image. I`d much rather have a 20 MP sensor catching more light as you point out.

Did some quick math, this is a 1/1.7" sensor. Pretty interesting if that.

That’s still quite small, I’d expect sensors over 1" now… even with the advancements in bsi etc you can’t beat a larger sensor. Nokia came out with a phone with a 1/1.2" sensor 6.5 yrs ago

The nokia 1020 was 2/3" and the Panasonic CM1 from a few years back was 1in in size.The CM1 was kind of thick for a phone and had an F2.5 lens and no IS.

Optics don’t follow Moore’s Law; 1" sensor means big-ass optics. Have you seen the Panasonic CM1’s camera module?

In ordinary way, 1"+ sensor will net you CM1-like device – a camera where phone functionality is marketing for the camera; not a good phone camera.

You CAN have phone (that looks like a phone) with enormous sensor in one of 3 ways I can think of, and only point 1 makes sense:

1. Ditch ordinary lens stuff and opt for Fresnel lens or something crazy. Fresnel lens is easy enough to make but it is more expensive at these sizes and performs worse than ordinary stuff. Should be still gain with bigger sensor. Crazy stuff could be either mixing multiple materials with sub-wavelength features, flexible lens perhaps by electrowetting etc – great for a prototype but not even close to real world use.

2. Use camera module that expands outwards to take pictures. Here you need to park all those lens horizontally – doable, but takes a lot of space, is expensive and fragile. Plus you have to wait for those lens to slide in place before taking picture – not very phone-like experience.

3. Just use a huge sensor, add iris and cover with a piece of glass for protection. That’s the phone and its pinhole camera works too. Now make dedicated lenses to stick to the phone (think DSLR-like interchangeable lens for the phone) to actually get something out of the camera.

Sure, there are likely other insane options, but only Fresnel lens is a viable way forward in a semi-near future.

But there is another way forward – use 2 or more smaller sensors, one tuned for general performance, other for say high-resolution BW, zoom performance, or simply to take 3D images by combining both cameras. This smaller sensors approach works well and is MUCH easier to realize.

Tell me how thick a phone can be and (not me) someone technical will tell you how big a sensor you can have. At 1", you’re looking at a pretty hefty phone. Unless maybe if you put in really bad glass (please don’t) or combine more sensors like the new Lumia (go right ahead if the software actually makes good images.)

Thanks! That’s interesting. If Samsung puts this in future S-puones, it will be quite … big.

Might not be, the Huawei P20, P30 and Mate 20 phones all have a 1/1.7" sensor in them. Strangely enough, I can’t find the sensor manufacturer for them.

Nokia how I miss thee

Guessing this will be one of the cameras on the Note 10.

yeah nokia 10 purestest view

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