Samsung shows off next-generation big-pixel camera sensor tech, coming to an Android phone near you

Good chance a phone you buy this year will use this photography tech


Samsung today announced its latest smartphone sensor tech, the ISOCELL GN2. Already in production, this image sensor promises improved low-light performance over its predecessors, despite supporting a high (50MP) megapixel count.

Why does that matter? Because as of H1 2020, Samsung was the second-largest maker of smartphone cameras globally, accounting for 32 per cent of total sales in the market, according to Strategy Analytics. In first and third spot were Sony (which also produces sensors for the iPhone) and Omnivision, which took home 44 per cent and 9 per cent market share respectively.

As a result, there is a decent chance that buyers of Android phones in the coming year or so may well bag a blower that uses a sensor made by Samsung.

Arguably the most significant point of distinction is the image sensor's large pixels, which measure 1.4 microns across.

When it comes to pixels, more is almost always less. You don't want quantity – you want size. Bigger pixels absorb more light, improving image quality in less-than-ideal conditions. That's the main reason why the iPhone 12, with a 12MP camera, handily outperforms phones with 48MP (or even 108MP) sensors, which have pixel sizes as low as 0.7 microns.

Samsung will also support pixel-binning on the ISOCELL GN2. Pixel-binning effectively combines multiple pixels into a single unit, allowing them to absorb more light at the expense of image size. On the GN2, this produces 2.8-micron virtual pixels, albeit with the resolution shrunk to 12.5MP.

Attention has also been paid to the auto-focus tech, with GN2 the first to use Samsung's Dual Pixel Pro solution. This has each pixel accompanied by two photodiodes, resulting in 100 million phase-detection agents. These are arranged both vertically and diagonally, allowing it to work equally well in both portrait and landscape modes.

Separately, power consumption has been reduced by up to 24 per cent when capturing HDR (high dynamic range) images. Cameras typically are not exactly known for being particularly power-hungry, especially when compared to chipsets and displays, so it is unlikely this would have a pronounced impact on user battery life.

HDR performance has also been purportedly improved further with the GN2's Smart ISO Pro tech, which reduces motion artefacts. Sammy claimed this can raise the sensor's light sensitivity to as much as 1 million ISOs, which it expects will lend favorably in after-dark photography.

On the video front, Samsung said the GN2 can capture full HD at 480fps, or 4K at 120FPS. The sensor is currently in mass-production, although there has been no word about which vendor will be the first to use it. ®

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