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Sony, Samsung and OmniVision Introduce Latest 50MP Image Sensors for Flagship Smartphone Photography

by Jeffrey Mathews | Feb 23, 2021

The race for superior smartphone photography application is getting exciting every year as OEMs are looking to feature their smartphones with the latest CIS technologies from component vendors. Smartphones are expected to witness strong demand momentum this year, giving CIS vendors the opportunity to drive next-level innovations in the market.

Recently, Sony introduced its newest 50MP IMX766 image sensor for premium and high-end smartphones launching in 2021. While last week, OmniVision announced its first 50MP OV50A image sensor for flagship and high-end smartphones.

Today, Samsung announced its latest update to its high-resolution sensor portfolio, the 50MP ISOCELL GN2 image sensor for top-tier smartphones.

We detail the product features for each of these sensors below.

Sony IMX766



Image Source: Sony


  • The IMX766 is a 50MP resolution image sensor with a sensor size of 1/1.56” and a pixel size of 1.0μm. The large sensor size combined with increased pixel size offers higher light intake compared to previous Sony sensors.
  • The sensor is based on Sony’s 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 allows detecting phase differences across all pixels and enables high accuracy for small objects. This also boosts focus performance in low-light conditions.
  • This sensor utilizes the Quad Bayer color filter array to create a 12.5MP high resolution binned image with a boosted pixel size of 2.0μm. The sensor also supports 4K resolution video recording at 60fps. The sensor can capture at a maximum resolution of 8192 x 6144 pixels with real-time HDR support.


OmniVision OV50A



Image Source: OmniVision


  • This image sensor features a 50MP resolution having a sensor size of 1/1.5” and a pixel size of 1.0μm. The sensor combines large sensor size and pixel size with the selective conversion gain’s low-noise, high conversion gain mode to offer superior low light performance in smartphones.
  • The sensor’s key highlight is OmniVision’s Quad Phase Detection (QPD) autofocus technology, offering DSLR level autofocus performance. This solution enables 2x2 phase-detection autofocus across the image sensor array to capture 100% of the phase-detection data. This leads to faster autofocus and better low light performance.
  • The sensor is designed on OmniVision’s PureCel®Plus stacked die technology that uses a 4 cell color filter array and hardware remosiac to deliver a high resolution 50MP Bayer output. In low-light capture scenarios, the sensor uses 4-to-1pixel binning mechanism to amplify the total sensor pixel size to 2.0µm to output a 12.5MP image with higher light sensitivity. The sensor supports 8K video recording at 30fps along with 4K video at 90fps and offers staggered HDR with 2/3 exposure timing.

Samsung ISOCELL S5KGN2



Image Source: Samsung


  • The new GN2 image sensor features a 50MP resolution with industry-first sensor size of 1/1.12” and having one of the largest image sensor pixel size of 1.4μm. The sensor’s large pixel size combined with the massive sensor size captures exceptionally detailed photos across various smartphone capture scenarios.
  • This sensor is based on Samsung’s Dual Tetrapixel color filter array (Tetracell Technology) with 4-in-1 pixel binning and amplifies the pixels into a large 2.8μm pixel, effectively boosting the light absorption capabilities of each pixel in low-lit conditions. The sensor produces a resulting output of 12.5MP resolution when binned. Samsung also uses a software-based algorithm to scale and merge the images to an ultra-high 100MP resolution.
  • The sensor also features Samsung’s newest autofocus technology in the market called the Dual Pixel Pro solution which utilizes 100 million phase detection agents across vertical horizontal phases for ultra-fast and accurate autofocusing.
  • The sensor takes advantage of Samsung’s Smart ISO and the latest Smart ISO Pro solution to enable taking pictures at optimal ISO and apply intra-scene dual conversion gain to create lifelike HDR images with reduced motion noise especially in low-lit conditions. The sensor supports staggered HDR and 4K video recording at 120fps.


Outlook

The latest 50MP image sensors from Sony, Samsung and OmniVision promise superior smartphone photography experiences especially in high-end and premium smartphones.

Sony’s IMX766 is the second 50MP sensor introduced by the sensor vendor, the first one being the 50MP IMX700 used in the Huawei P40 series. Both these sensors are custom sensors, the 50MP IMX766 has been developed by Sony and OPPO. This sensor has already been applied on Oppo’s Reno 5 Pro + high-end smartphones. The sensor would likely be used by Oppo’s upcoming Find X3 series.

OmniVision’s OV50A is the first 50MP sensor by the sensor vendor for the smartphone market that aims to offer high resolution, large sensor and pixel size CIS with strong autofocus performance for high-end and flagship smartphones.  We note that the sensor is positioned to meet the needs of the China Smartphone vendors who are actively shifting their rear and wide camera smartphone CIS application to OmniVision’s image sensors.

Samsung’s ISOCELL 50MP GN2 sensor is one of the largest image sensors to be offered by the vendor in the CIS market.  The sensor’s large footprint allows it to capture the highest possible light by an image sensor which makes pictures highly detailed even in low-lit conditions. The sensor is expected to be featured first in Xiaomi’s upcoming Mi 11 Ultra series. The demand for the sensor is expected to be high especially in the premium and high-end segment from Xiaomi and Vivo along with other major China Smartphone vendors. Samsung has been very aggressive in capturing the demand from the smartphone vendors for its own CIS products, seeing huge design wins across smartphone tiers.

In Q4 2020, we note in our report that Sony Semiconductor continued to lead the market in terms of revenue with 47% share followed by Samsung LSI and OmniVision Technologies. However, Sony's market share in the smartphone image sensor market declined in 2020 due to the challenges of reduced demand from Huawei who is a key customer for the vendor and also due to the increasing competition from Samsung, OmniVision and SK Hynix in the smartphone CIS market. As demand continues to remain positive, the smartphone image sensor market promises a strong growth opportunity for component vendors. 

Key Questions

  • Each of these 50MP image sensors offers advanced autofocus solutions promising superior capturing of details in a wide range of scenarios. How do these solutions vary by vendor? What are the benefits of each autofocus implementation?
  • The latest 50MP CIS products from Sony, Samsung and OmniVision are positioned as premium image sensors. What will be the positioning of these sensors in smartphone vendor devices across various price points? Which CIS vendor would lead the flagship smartphone camera market this year?
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