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64Mpixels on a smartphone

The two new image sensors chips providing 48 and 64Mpixels resolution, designed for use in smartphones. Image credit: Samsung

Samsung has announced the availability of two image sensors designed for smartphone cameras, one cramming 48Mpixels on the sensors, the other 64Mpixels. Both have a pixel size of 0.8µm, hence the 64Mpixels sensor is a bit larger in size than its sibling.

The small size of the pixel is bound to make noise noticeable in low light (having a small size to capture incoming photons means that in low light very few photons will end up on the pixel hence the signal to noise ratio will go up). This would result in poor images. To avoid this Samsung engineers have designed the sensor in such a way that when the light is below a certain thresholds the electronic circuit managing the pixel will use 4 pixels and merge them into one. This will reduce the resolution by 4 (from 48 to 12 Mpixels and from 64 to 16Mpixels respectively). This will bring the sensor resolution au pair with the sensors in today’s top of the line smartphones.
At the same time, when photographing in daylight the circuit will pick up data from each individual pixel, thus delivering the maximum resolution.

Ingenious, isn’t it?

The question is: what can I do with so much resolution? For one you can have a zooming capability that can transform your lens into a tele, still keeping a sufficiently high resolution to make photos that can be printed on a big sheet. For another, applications can do tricks on the data captured by the sensor, like improving the image stability or extending its exposure latitude (HDR) by using nearby pixels in different ways. This results in lower resolution but since you are starting with a very big resolution the smaller one will still be quite good.

Nice to see the ingenuity of researchers, finding ways to go around physical limitation that seemed unsurmountable just few years ago!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.