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Sony’s new 64MP sensor to challenge Samsung’s high pixel sensors

by Jeffrey Mathews | Feb 04, 2020

The demand for high pixel image sensors has continued to gain momentum as smartphone OEMs are adopting this as a key differentiator and selling point for their product portfolio, creating a big opportunity for the image sensor component vendors. Two of the largest image sensor vendors Sony and Samsung are competing with each other for market share gain.

Last year Samsung introduced major image sensors for the smartphone industry namely the ISOCELL Bright GW1 64MP sensor, the ISOCELL Bright HMX 108MP sensor and few other sensors that boasted high pixel resolution and smallest pixel size for smartphones. The vendor saw successful design wins in Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo, and Realme devices for these sets of image sensors.

During the same time period, Sony introduced the first 48MP sensor, the Sony IMX586 that saw successful design wins in OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme and Honor devices. Sony’s IMX branded (Exmor RS) image sensors continues to be in great demand in the smartphone ecosystem.

This year Sony has launched its next major update to its image sensor portfolio, the Sony IMX686 line of image sensors for the smartphone OEMs. This is a successor to the IMX586 branded image sensors.  The sensor was teased in late 2019 but no details were available. This year we have already seen a few smartphone launches with this image sensor, now more details can be explained on the image sensor.

Image Source: Sony

Key Features

  • The Sony IMX686 is a 64MP image sensor with a large sensor size of 1/1.7” and a pixel size of 0.8μm. Such a large optical format allows higher light sensitivity to enable high quality captures with superior details of the subject even when zoomed.
  • The sensor uses a new pixel structure that Sony has created. The sensor uses a new image sensor technology called 2x2 On-Chip Lens (OCL) solution that utilizes a condenser lens on top of four adjacent pixels in a Quad Bayer color filter array. Such a mechanism improves phase detection and enables high accuracy for small objects. This also boosts focus performance in low-light conditions.
  • The new sensor technology also enables the sensor to improve low light captures by boosting the light utilization factor. The sensor utilizes the Quad Bayer color filter array to create a 16MP high resolution binned image with a boosted pixel size of 1.6μm.
  • The sensor supports 4K resolution video recording at 30fps.
  • The sensor can capture at a maximum resolution of 9248 x 6944 pixels with real-time HDR support.

Outlook

We expect this sensor to feature in mid to high-end devices that would be launched in 2020. Currently, the Redmi K30/Poco X2 and Oppo Reno 3 are using the image sensor within their devices. The sensor would be adopted by OnePlus 8 series, Realme X series, Oppo Reno and Find X series, Xiaomi Mi series and Honor V series devices launching this year.

Sony has been quiet in marketing its new line of sensors as opposed to Samsung who has been aggressively promoting its ISOCELL branded sensors. This could be due to the fact that Sony has been struggling to keep up with the demand for its mobile image sensors from smartphone OEMs. Sony’s existing factories are already running at full capacity and cannot cater to the demands of every customer.

With Samsung announcing its 108MP sensors, Sony is still not competing in the megapixel number game. The vendor believes it’s very early to introduce a 100+MP sensor and instead would be focusing on larger pixel size and sensor size.

Key Questions

  • Sony’s product line of 64MP IMX686 competes with Samsung’s ISOCELL Bright GW1 64MP and HMX 108MP sensors. Smartphone OEMs can now utilize these sensors in their product planning for the year. In the high pixel space, Can Sony’s single product line compete against Samsung’s two growing high-resolution image sensors? It will be interesting to see which brand of sensors gets the most traction among smartphone OEMs.
  • Sony’s current capacity issues in meeting the demand could lead to a missed opportunity for the vendor and allow Samsung to cater to the demand of those customers. What implications could this have on the revenue outlook for Sony’s FY2020?
Previous Post: Samsung Introduces the First Mobile Image Sensor with 0.7μm Pixels, the Smallest Pixel Size in the Industry | Next Post: Samsung’s New 108MP Sensor Powers the S20 Ultra’s Camera

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