Samsung shaves 0.1μm off pixels to make new ISOCELL sensor lineup 15% slimmer

Bid to banish camera bumps from smartphones, but smaller doesn't always mean better

The latest crop of ISOCELL sensors from Samsung continue the trend of chasing ever smaller pixels, resulting in a dramatically reduced footprint and height.

For rear-facing cameras, Samsung now has three configurations in 108MP, 64MP, and 48MP flavours. There's also a front-facing ISOCELL option rated at 32MP, which Samsung said is suited for hole-punch and motorized selfie camera systems.

With its latest effort, Samsung claims it has reduced the pixel size from 0.8 micrometres to 0.7 micrometres. In doing so, Samsung has managed to fit the same number of megapixels into a sensor that's up to 15 per cent smaller than the previous generation.

Samsung also reckoned its latest-generation ISOCELL sensors are 10 per cent thinner than the last lot, which will help limit the prevalence of "camera bumps".

But there's something paradoxical about smaller pixels. Bigger is, in this case, almost better. When you reduce the size of a pixel, you reduce the amount of light it can detect, thus impinging on night-time performance. You also increase the risk of "noise" resulting in less detailed and sharp images.

Smartphone manufacturers get around that by using a technique called "pixel binning", which combines several pixels, often at a four-to-one ratio. While this produces smaller images (using pixel-binning, a 48MP sensor will typically produce a 12MP photo), it does reduce the impact of having a high-pixel-density sensor.

In addition to pixel binning, Samsung's ISOCELL sensors improve low-light performance by having a wall structure surround each pixel cell. The chaebol claimed its updated sensors improve that wall structure, thus increasing light sensitivity by 12 per cent.

Not all phone vendors are convinced by high-density sensors. Apple, for example, uses a 12MP primary sensor on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, with individual pixels measuring 1.4 micrometres. That's almost double Samsung's latest model.

Though it's inevitable we'll see the new ISOCELL family appear on Samsung's upcoming lineup, Sammy is a major supplier to other rival smartphone manufacturers. As such, don't discount seeing these sensors appearing on other devices from brands such as Xiaomi and Nokia. ®

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